Monday, March 1, 2010

Ending Violence Against Women in Jordan

By Gail Burkhardt

Edited by: Alexandru Cristea

In a country where at least 25 women were killed to protect their family's honor in 2009, a network of non-governm
ent organizations, human rights groups and political leaders are working together to stop violence against women.

Some activists in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan focus on changing the country's laws on violence against women, others work on spreading awareness on the topic, and others concentrate on protecting women who are at risk of violence. Most agree that a society where violence against women is acceptable, and allowed by the government, must change.

"We are doing our best as civil rights people in order to enhance the legal reform in order to change the discriminatory laws and put an end to all forms of violence and all for
ms of discrimination," said Layla Naffa, the director of the Arab Women Organization of Jordan, headquartered in Amman, the country's capital.

The organization is currently working to change laws on crimes in the name of honor, she added.

Crimes of h
onor occur when male family members kill female family members who have done something to tarnish their family's honor such as being seen with an unknown man or losing her virginity before marriage, which can include rape, according to "Crimes of Honor in Jordan and the Arab World," a report by Amman lawyer and activist Lubna Dawany Nimry.

Jordanian law removes penalties for a man who finds his wife or female relative committing adultery and kills or injures the woman, according to the report.

Nimry said
she worked with several NGO's in Jordan to change the law, but parliament only added that a woman may kill her husband if she finds him committing adultery in her bed.

"At that time
we did not ask anybody to kill anybody," said Nimry, who works with various organizations including Mizan Law Group for Human Rights, Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI), and the Jordanian Society for Family.

Another section of Jordan's penal code states that someone "who commits crime due to extreme anger caused by an illegal, and to some extent, dangerous act, committed by
the victim, benefits from reduced penalty," according to Nimry's report.

That law and the fact that if the victim's family drops the charges against its male family member the sentence is cut in half, creates light punishments for perpetrators of honor crimes and other domestic violence, said Asma Khader, the general coordinator for the government organization The Jordanian National Commission for Women, based in Amman.

"They go to prison for 10 months and they come out as heroes and socially it is accepted," Naffa said of previous sentences for honor crimes.

Although Jordan's parliament has not changed the laws of honor crimes, judges are beginning to lengthen sentences of the killers. In the past,
sentences for men who had killed female family members could be a few months long, but now some judges are giving more than 10-year sentences for the crime, Khader said.

SIGI was a
lso successful in championing the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, which passed in parliament on March 16, 2008, she added.

"Now judges can order the men who commit the violence to leave the house and women and children can stay," she said.

"We can say that we easily witnessed progressive steps taken by the state," she said.

Support from Jordan's King Abdullah II also has helped the movement to prevent violence against women, Nimry said.

"His majesty said that violence against women and children is a red line: it's not allowed; it's not permitted," she said.

"I thought that speech gives us so much support."

Other development, such as the recently-opened family justice center and women's shelters, show progress for women's rights, Khader said.

Mizan Law Group provides assistance to victims of domestic violence as well as women who are at risk for honor crimes or domestic violence including legal services, counseling and shelter, said Eva Abu Halaweh, the director of the group in the main office in Amman.

"We many times say that the family is also a victim because of [pressure] from the community," she said.

Community pressure is especially significant with honor crimes, because family members kill to cleanse their family name in the community, said Rana Husseini, a journalist for Amman newspaper The Jordan Times. In her book, Murder in the Name of Honor, which describes her coverage of honor crimes, Husseini lists several examples of killers who said they had to murder to be accepted again in their society.

"These crimes are cultural. It's not about religion, it's about culture; it's about control; about holding women responsible for the honor of their family," Husseini said.

Tradition often contributes to any kind of violence against women as well as restricting women's rights in general, said Zarka Chamber of Industry chairman Mohammed Arslan, who served in Jordan's parliament from 2003 to 2007. Zarka is a large city about 12 miles away from Amman.

"There is an Islamic definition of women's rights, which is quite different from the international standards of women's rights," said Arslan, who also is on the board for the Women's National Solidarity Foundation.

He added that collaboration among organizations and the government is key to preventing violence and promoting women's rights.

"I feel that we still need some reforms and also, besides the reforms, we probably need to push more on a national campaign, an awareness campaign; probably we need to highlight independent stories of women," Arslan said.

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