Jordan's Feminists at the Forefront of Social Protest Movements

Article Summary
Jordan's social movements, particularly its women's rights groups, are large and diverse. They work together to fight honor killings, rape and harassment, writes Rima Ketteneh Nazzal. The next step? Change the terminology used to discuss the issues.

Protest movements in Jordan differ from other Arab countries: They're larger, and have diverse objectives and demands. They each have their own leadership and strategy, and these  movements reflect the urgent need for broad social reforms and the establishment of rights for disadvantaged groups.

In Jordan, women have their own movement. Feminist figures there have escalated their demands for legal and social reforms that would bring about a change in the status of women. It was only recently that Jordanian women were given the right to acquire passports for themselves and their children without a male guardian's approval.

The tools employed by feminist activists — both female and male — to communicate their ideas are attractive, creative, courageous and convincing. Activists have been making use of simple slogans that express their demands in a clear and succinct manner. In crafting their slogans, they have employed terms that ring a bell with Jordanian society, and fall within the the everyday vocabulary used to speak about women in Jordan.

Three similar campaigns were started in Jordan and Palestine. In fact, the social fabric in Palestine and Jordan are similar, as are the cultural realities that govern men and women’s conduct and interactions. Despite the modest amendments that have recently been adopted, the Personal Status and Penal Code still treats Palestinian and Jordanian women unfairly.

"Like Me, Like You" is the slogan of a social movement that aims to bring about legal changes and raise awareness of women's status. The movement’s clearly defined objective allowed it the necessary credibility and strength to bridge any divisions between it and other groups who may have similar visions.

"It Is Not Clever" is the slogan of another campaign against honor killings and rapes. The campaign hopes to shed light on and put an end to sexual harassment in Jordanian society.

The third campaign has adopted the slogan: "My mother Is Jordanian and Her Citizenship Is My Right." This movement is fighting to allow Jordanian women to pass down their citizenship to their children.

These campaigns aim to raise social awareness about  issues that have fallen by the wayside in official education and awareness campaigns. These issues are critical because they represent the pillars of discrimination against women and justify women’s lower status.

Some have said, “It is your problem if your rib is bent.” It is not because women are born with a congenital disability that they should be blamed and considered responsible for it. It is necessary to lift the historic injustice from which women have long been suffering. Since it is not the fault of the woman is she is created from man’s bent rib, why do we not relieve her of blame for something they did not do?

Killings carried out in the name of the so-called family honor are disturbing the Jordanian and Palestinian communities. The reforms being demanded in this area shall not solely focus on removing the legal article detailing how the killing shall have his sentence reduced were the act to be carried out in the name of “honor.” This has been the traditional line in Palestine up until now.

What is more disturbing are the guidelines that encourage victims of rape to marry their attackers to preserve their family’s reputation. This dynamic generates another silent, ugly and even more complicated problem: How can two partners unified only by violence and abuse raise a family? How can children grow up in an environment where the foundations of love, compassion and tranquility are shaken? It is of paramount importance that any legal amendment that would diminish a rapist’s criminal responsibility were he to marry his victim be shot down.

It is wrong for a man to be able to harass a woman with no laws in place to incriminate him. In fact, the law does not even consider harassment a problem that needs deterring. The law should deter all forms of harassment, whether it's verbal — which includes making dirty comments — or physical. In most cases of harassment, the victims remain silent to escape from a much worse situation.

Were they to step forward, it is more likely that these victims of harassment would be the ones accused, perhaps of having dressed inappropriately or of having engaged in situations of wrongful mixing of men and women. It is necessary to establish a penalty for harassment to deter this behavior. To solve this problem, it must be made legally punishable.

Women face similar issues across the Arab world. However, the ways and mechanisms used to address them reflect each individual community. We [Arabs] are the descendants of those who like to use powerful words and expressions, and people seem to compete in using difficult and obsolete terminology. For this reason, many complaints and pleas do not reach the public. This kind of terminology must be updated if it is going to reach a greater number of people, and above all, women.

Found in: women's rights, women's issues, social movements, rape, protests in jordan, protests, harassment, family honor, arab spring, arab

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