Syrian women refugees suffer in Jordan

The violence and abuse suffered by Syrian refugee women in Jordan exacerbates the wider problem of violence against women in the country.

al-monitor A Syrian refugee woman washes her clothes at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp, 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) east of the city of Zarqa, April 29, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

Topics covered

women, violence, syria, refugees, jordan, domestic violence

Jun 29, 2014

Asmahan, a Syrian refugee in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid, has no refuge but silence to escape from the flames of oppression inflicted [on her] by her husband. Perhaps this oppression decreased in intensity after displacement separated her from her relatives. For months, she has not known where they fled to, due to the insane battles raging in her country. She doesn't even know if they are still alive or not. 

No one knows the extent of physical abuse Asmahan is subjected to from her husband, aside from some of her female Jordanian neighbors whom she confides in. She is careful not to reveal to them what is happening in the explosive moments where she stifles her weeping and wailing. 

She asks in bewilderment: "Where will I flee? How can I leave my son, who isn't even six months old? Is the unknown better?" She said that her husband, who was able to escape from a prison in Daraa after the rebels took control of the city, was insistent on leaving Syria. They crossed the Jordanian border after they paid most of the money they had to a broker to secure their safe crossing. 

Asmahan noticed that her husband's temperament changed because of the torture he suffered in prison. He made her taste bitter punishment daily, especially after he became unemployed and waited for aid from charities and international organizations, which barely covered their basic needs. She added that he began to drown himself in alcohol to forget his new situation, after he had worked as an engineer with the Water Authority in Daraa. She noted that he has begun asking her for money to quench his thirst for alcohol, and she has been forced to work cleaning houses. 

Most Syrian refugees live in Jordanian cities, outside of the camps set up to accommodate them. The suffering of refugee women adds a new chapter to the suffering of women in general in Jordan. Women are subjected to various forms of violence, among them domestic violence, which includes beatings at the hands of their husbands, sexual abuse of female children, violence related to forced marriage and depriving a girl of dowry and inheritance, and marital rape. This is in addition to what falls within the context of societal violence, including rape, sexual abuse, harassment at the workplace and in education institutions, etc. Moreover, this violence includes the trafficking of women, forced prostitution and forced labor. 

The silence of Asmahan, and her acceptance of this injustice, do not differ much from Huda's silence and the injustice of her brothers. The latter forced her to give up her inheritance under the threat of cutting her off. 

Huda's husband works as an employee in the mail directorate, and his salary barely covers the cost of feeding his five children bread after he pays rent for the house. Huda was forced to give up her right [to inheritance] at a dinner they held for her. She chose poverty over being cut off from her family. 

A study conducted by the international organization Care in 2012 showed that 68% of women [in Jordan] are subjected to violence in the marital home, 59% are subjected to violence at their parents' home and 48% outside the home. 

According to the study, the proportion of women subjected to beatings amounted to 59%, while verbal abuse stood at 51% and insults at 42%. These were the three most common forms of abuse. 

According to the recorded answers, 82% of the women included in the study were confined to the role of raising children, while 59% worked in household chores and about 50% in serving the husband. 

While there is no justification for violence, the causes of violence mentioned in the study include: a poor economic situation, unemployment, poverty, lack of awareness of women's legal rights, the prevailing patriarchal culture, the fear of disclosure or complaining and early marriage. 

According to official figures recently released by the Family Protection Department of the [Jordanian] General Security, 7,931 cases of battered women were recorded [in Jordan] in 2012.

Of these, 27% were referred to the courts, 12% to the administrative ruler and 61% to the Office of Social Services affiliated with the Family Protection Department. Moreover, 578 women suffered sexual violence, including 295 adult females and 283 girls. 

Dr. Abdul Khaliq al-Khatatna, a processor of sociology at the University of Jordan, said that the official studies confirm that the rates of violence against women are varying and reach their highest levels in areas in the north of the country (42%), then in the south (32%) and finally in the central part of Jordan (27%). Violence severely increases in communities that suffer from poverty and underdevelopment, and between poor social groups. 

Khatatna explained that violence against women leads to a disruption of the development process, involving its economic, social and cultural dimensions, given that women constitute half of society. 

Dana al-Hajouj, a member of the National Committee for Women's Affairs, noted there is a lack of accurate figures regarding issues of violence against women in Jordan for a number of reasons. According to her, this requires working to provide a database that will help to address abuse cases. 

She said the committee monitors cases of abuse through a network of news sites in the regions, indicating that the committee — via its partners — provides economic, social and psychological services to battered women. 

Capt. Khawla al-Khirsheh, from the Family Protection Department affiliated with Jordanian General Security, spoke about significant obstacles represented by a lack of society's understanding of the reality of the department's work. He also noted the importance of identifying cases of violence against women. 

Jordan recently joined the UN initiative committed to the elimination of violence against women. The secretary-general of the National Committee for Women's Affairs, Asma Khader, announced real steps to be taken in this regard, including preparing a national strategy to eliminate violence against women, legal reforms to improve the legal environment to confront this phenomenon and developing mechanisms to provide information about the extent of its spread.

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