“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”-Simone de Beauvoir As most of my friends and family back home are Americans, I write this to you. Please! Please, put aside your own images and stereotypes of Jordanian and/or Arab women, and understand the experiences I am conveying through writing are images of first-hand accounts without pre-existing stereotypes.
Jordanian women, much like American women are challenging these stereotypes constantly. The image the American media wants people to assume is that all American women should be thin objects of material—as Americans we know better. Women in the US have been fighting for civil rights since the 1940s and women are still challenging stereotypes and burning bridges today. It is small steps forward that have helped women achieve equality in society.
Jordanian women’s rights, unlike American women’s rights, have not progressed as far yet, but they are making great strides such as Sisterhood is Global Institute [SIGI], Jordanian National Commission for Women [JNCW], and The Jordanian Women’s Union [JWU]. SIGI is a non-governmental organization gear towards promoting a culture of human rights for women and aims to provide services to society as a whole, especially to under served or underprivileged women in rural and remote areas. More politically, the JNCW is a mainstream government run organization that hopes for gender-equality perspective in all policy areas, by which, narrows the gap between women’s rights and legislation and societal attitudes towards women. Finally the oldest established–since 1945–organization, the JWU, after decades of being disregarded by government authority, it is the first organization focus on a feminist movement and focus on all areas of human rights for women–societal and political.
In Jordan, feminist movements are broken down into four groups:
- Liberal Movement: Aimed at human rights laws and political equality between men and women.
- Marxist Movement: Looks at the relationship between the sexes as men are slaves to capitalism the women are slaves to the slaves.
- Socialist Movement: Examines the social aspects of women in the culture, and how to achieve social equality.
- Extremist Movement: Reasons that the natural relationship between the sexes and putting women above men.
Jordanian women are currently in the 1960s “American” stage of their women’s movement. In the early 1900s during British and French occupation over most of the Middle East, the Arab women’s movement started as a patriotic movement to achieve freedom for their countries. According to Salwa Zayadeen, a founder and witness of the Palestinian and Jordanian women’s movement, even by the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s women were still under control of tribal and societal norms. Most of the concerns were geared towards helping the newly inquired refugees from Palestine. By 1955 under the communist party in Jordan, the women’s movement petitioned for the right to vote in parliamentary elections if she completed her primary level education. In the same year the women’s movement asked for complete political rights therefore like men being able to run in elections and vote even if they are illiterate. It wasn’t until 1982—30 years after—these rights were finally approved.
The media culture tells society here, that all women should wear the hijab and without it, they are indecent. The media culture is directly linked to the larger patriarchal culture of Jordan. As I mentioned past blogs, interactions between men and women here are very short; getting a ride in a taxi, ordering food at a restaurant, and saying ‘hello’ to a male friend as you pass by them at school. Otherwise, unless the woman is in a position of power, such as director of a university department or head of an organization, she has very little power over men.
Politically speaking, women are able to vote in Jordan—so they have passed the 1940s stage in the American women’s rights movement. But issues of honor killings are still widely debated in Jordan, men received a reduced prison sentence for killing their wives or family members that have ‘dishonored’ the family or not agreed to an arranged marriage or have had sex outside of marriage. In addition to honor killings, there is no civil marriage or divorce in Jordan. Divorce and settlements vary between Muslim Courts and Christian Courts. In most cases women will have custody over the children; however, the father still has a great deal of influence of the children and even must give permission for the mother and the children to travel. In many cases in Jordan, Jordanian men are married to non-Jordanian women; if this is the case the men will get custody of the children. In most settlements, the woman is not given much financial compensation; unfortunately, in cases of domestic abuse women have very little authority or power to report these charges. Domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse for children and women are often not reported and very little is being done. Fortunately, privatized institutions that open their doors to abused and neglected women and children, but their efforts are very minuscule considering there are 2.8 million people living in Amman.
The Symbiotic Relationship
The symbiotic relationship between the media and culture is at the root of these political and social issues. Jordanian and international Arab media on the whole is an organization dominated by men, while—as previously stated—Jordanian culture is one dominated by men. Therefore, in order for the media to reflect women in the culture more accurately, there must be continuing efforts to change the social and cultural norms. I am not saying, girls go crazy and take off your hijabs—that would be religiously unacceptable, but women do have the right to an education in Jordan. By encouraging every girl to get a college degree, travel outside of Jordan, and contribute to their society further changes can be made.
Simultaneously, media organizations widen their gaze and try to appeal to a wider audience of people outside of the stereotypically hijab-wearing female. They can create images of hijab-wearing females and non-hijab wearing females working alongside men contributing to their societies as scientists, doctors, teachers, journalists, etc.
Time Will Tell
Another factor impeding the advancement of rights for women is the myriad issues within Jordan and its neighbors. Much like issues in the United States that at times—politically—take a back seat to those that are more pressing, Jordanian women have also had to deal with similar issues.
One of the strongest examples is the Arab Spring; although the Arab Spring seemed to pass over Jordan, there was still some debate and tension for the government in Jordan. Jordanians in solidarity with their neighboring countries they Facebooked, Tweeted, and took to the streets to for hope these issues would be resolved. In those that planned and protested at these events, many of them were women. However, as discussed in Christiane Amanpour’s book, The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights, at the time of these revolutions these women did not know if these new steps would actual bring about changes in civil rights to them. With many loose ends still to be tied, Jordanian women and women around the Arab world are finding a voice in these revolutions.
Where do you think women in Jordan could be in the next 10 years? What are some of the factors that will advance their civil rights?