“Elephant in the room”: Jordanian women and equal rights | News on women’s rights

Amman, Jordan – A political row in parliament erupted into a fight over a discussion to add “Jordanian women” to a constitutional clause on equal rights.

The new amendment, which passed with 94 votes out of 120 parliamentarians present last month, changed the title of the constitution’s second chapter to “Rights and Duties of Jordanian Men and Women”, adding the feminine pronoun for Jordanians , “al-urduniat”.

Some activists argue that the amendment is unnecessary; only a loophole to avoid the real legal changes the constitution needs to properly support women.

‘It’s running away from the elephant in the room,’ said Salma Nims, secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW), referring to continually overlooked demands to add ‘sex’ to the article 6 of the constitution, which now only prohibits discrimination based on “race, language and religion”.

Nims added that the recent amendment is not legally binding, since the title of a constitutional chapter “has no legal effect”.

Political and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Musa Maaytah told official Jordanian media that the addition of “Jordanian women” was “in honor and respect for women”.

Nims questioned Maaytah’s reasoning and replied, “What? I’m not asking you to honor me with a term. It’s not about honoring women, it’s a constitution, you use it for legal purposes.

Others fear the amendment will have long-term legal repercussions, specifically affecting Jordan’s family law laws – based on Islamic legal teachings and nationality law – fearing the broadening of citizenship eligibility Jordanian.

“The addition of ‘Jordanian women’ is dangerous in the long run for society and for the family,” said Hayat al-Musami, a former lawmaker and member of the Islamic Action Front (IAF).

While it is now unclear whether the effects of the amendment will be far-reaching or insignificant, the discussions it has sparked reveal the intense politicization of women, the deep divisions in the women’s movement, and the conflicts that arise when women’s rights are on the table. in Jordan.

Women’s rights are “now linked to anti-Islam and anti-national identity”, Oraib Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies, told Al Jazeera.

“The more the politicization of this concept – the more it is linked to Islam and national identity – the more difficult the mission of women in the country will be.”

Equity or equality?

The Jordanian constitution delegates all matters regarding Muslim personal status law to specific courts, which deal with family-related matters based on interpretations of Islamic law or Sharia.

Sharia courts do not treat women as equals before the law, writes Jordanian activist Rana Husseini in her recent book, Years of Struggle — The Women’s Movement In Jordan.

However, some view the treatment of women in Sharia courts not as “inequality” but as “equity”.

“We want to keep the Social Status Law as it is, based on Sharia. What we are asking for even more than equality is the idea of ​​fairness,” Dima Tahboub, a former MP and IAF spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

Tahboub noted his party fears adding ‘Jordanian women’ would lead to international calls for ‘full and absolute equality’, which contradicts ‘positive discrimination’ against women in Islamic laws and the constitution. .

“The idea of ​​fairness is that you give someone in a certain social or economic status the best option so that they can perform their role in society in the best way,” Tahboub said. She referred to the quota system for women in Jordanian electoral law and inheritance law “where in some cases women can take more shares than men”.

Sauda Salem, a lawyer with 37 years of practice in Jordanian courts, noted how Islamic laws “distinguish” women.

For example, according to Salem, the laws give women the right to alimony “regardless of the wealth or poverty of the man, it is said that it is the responsibility of the man to provide for the needs of the women”. If the man fails to provide alimony after the separation, the responsibility lies with the woman’s father, Salem noted.

Al-Musami said, “We think these differences are good for the family, for the community. They are good for women and good for the community of Arab people.

‘NGO-ization’

The women’s movement in Jordan is often “demonized” as part of a Western agenda, which has caused divisions and blocked progress, Nims said.

“We have a problem with NGO-ization, which is happening all over the world,” she told Al Jazeera.

Since the kingdom ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1992, it has faced pushback mainly from conservatives who claim that the convention violates sharia law and enforces a western agenda.

“There is an international agenda based on CEDAW, which means complete equality between men and women… In the future, they want there to be no gender difference in any law,” al said. -Musami. “What they are asking for will make our families unstable.”

However, Nims criticized the role of the IAF in perpetuating the gender discrimination seen in Jordanian laws. “What is the best way to delegitimize these demands? It is by saying that they are Westernized executives.

Rana Husseini, a senior journalist with more than 25 years of defending women’s rights in Jordan and the region, told Al Jazeera: “Whatever you do, whatever you work, they will tell you that you are a Western agent. .

Husseini also commented on the division within the Jordanian women’s movement: “The women’s movement is not united. I feel there is competition, everyone wants to be the person, the individual to make the change.

“A special case”

Conservative critics of the amendment fear it will broaden citizenship eligibility and shift the kingdom’s demographic balance in favor of Palestinians. This will require Jordan to become the “alternative homeland”, preventing thousands of refugees from returning to their ancestral homes in occupied Palestine.

The kingdom’s nationality law states that Jordanian women married to non-Jordanian men are not allowed to pass on their nationality to their children.

Despite the lack of access to public services and labor market restrictions that thousands of people without nationality face, the discourse to change the law is changing with the Palestinian struggle. Debates over changes to the nationality law are often fueled by fears that the decision will “fuel right-wing Israeli plans to find an alternative homeland for Palestinians in Jordan”, Husseini noted in his book.

“I am with women who give citizenship to children, but Jordan is a special case given the subject of the Palestinians and the right of return,” lawyer and legal expert Sauda Salem told Al Jazeera. “Even if many Western countries do this, that doesn’t mean we should expect Jordan to do the same.”

She added that with the addition of “Jordanian women”, the woman is now “equal to the man, including in nationality”. “The most important thing about adding this word is the fact that the old law could be removed,” Salem said, referring to the line that nationality is only passed on to children of children. Jordanian men.

During the contentious debate over the recent amendment, lawmakers added a clause that now requires two-thirds of parliament to amend the nationality law, noted lawyer and Jordanian Bar Association member Nour Imam.

Nims pointed to the “increasingly nationalistic fanaticism” in Jordan. “Hate speech towards Jordanians of Palestinian origin is scary,” she said, attributing it to refusals to change the nationality law.

“I find it humiliating for the Palestinians themselves,” Nims said. “To accuse a Palestinian that he is ready to give up his right of return by simply acquiring another nationality.

“If you are so worried about the Palestinian cause, why don’t you have a problem with men marrying Palestinian women and giving them citizenship? It’s okay if it’s a woman they bring to Jordan?

“Just to divert attention”

The women’s rights movement in Jordan often finds itself at the peak of contentious debate. Jordanians now find themselves in a context of unprecedented unemployment, with no healthy political outlet for their frustration – too often leaving women as scapegoats.

“When you look around you as a man and you don’t feel that your masculinity is expressed through your ability to have a job, to make decisions about the politics of the country or to express your opinion, the only place left to wield your power is inside the household,” Nims said.

“‘Let them take care of the control of the women,’ they say,” she added.

Rana Husseini said the controversy over the recent constitutional amendment was “fair game to divert attention from other things”.

Nims also noted how some activists believe the amendment was staged. “Everyone was busy with the changes that have no impact, while the changes that have an impact haven’t been discussed or analyzed enough.”

Dema Matruk Aloun, a women’s rights activist and professor of private law at Hashemite University, said the amendment was simply to “sweeten the picture” – with no real legal benefits for women.

She noted deep-rooted social attitudes towards women that need to be addressed.

“Men are afraid of strong women. In Jordan…it’s a fact that men want to be a step above women. Change has to start with society itself, people themselves,” Aloun told Al Jazeera.

The recent amendment, she said, “is like a fire that destroyed an important part of your house and you just put a big, beautiful sofa in the center of the room… You don’t see the destroyed debris around you don’t feel them. ”.

“Feel it.”