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Special Rapporteur on violence against women finalizes country mission to Jordan

Arabic version in PDF

AMMAN (23 November 2011) – At the end of a 13-day mission to Jordan, which took her to Amman, Jerash, Karak, and Tafila, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, delivered the following statement:

“At the outset, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the full cooperation extended to me by the Government of Jordan. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials at both national and local level, representatives of civil society organisations, and representatives of United Nations agencies. I particularly want to thank the individual survivors of violence who shared their personal experiences with me.

The government has acknowledged the need to ensure equality and non-discrimination for women in the country, and has taken some important steps to achieve these goals. For example, I was informed that a quota system has been established to ensure more representation of women at the municipal level. Nevertheless, given the traditional roles that the majority of women have conventionally undertaken, a purely legal or programmatic approach will not be sufficient to achieve women’s de facto equality. Special measures are required to achieve the ultimate goal of substantive, and not just formal equality, thereby acknowledging the structural aspects of inequality and discrimination. Therefore, additional temporary special measures such as additional quotas, positive action or preferential treatment may be needed to advance women's integration into education, the economy, politics and employment. Furthermore, women need to be provided with opportunities and also an enabling environment to achieve equality of results.

I was disappointed to learn that the proposed constitutional amendments to include discrimination on the basis of gender within article 6 (i) of the Jordanian Constitution had not been accepted by the Royal Committee on Constitutional Review. Jordan has an obligation under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, to ensure that legislation is enacted prohibiting discrimination against women as per article 2(b). The explicit prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex and gender in the Constitution, would not only give women a practical tool to challenge inequality more effectively, but would also serve to educate and raise awareness among the Jordanian society as a whole.

Jordan has come a long way in terms of educational achievements for women and girls. Unfortunately, despite this achievement, women only comprise 14% of the labour force in the country. I have noted in many interviews that women’s career choices are to a large extent driven by what is perceived as appropriate or safe professions for them, such as jobs within the government sector, particularly in the education and health sectors. Women may also feel discouraged to enter the workforce, as they will face the double burden of house work and formal employment, and more so in a context of a lack of pay parity. Women can and should be active players in Jordan’s road towards economic, political and social development. I encourage the government to continue providing incentives to increase the employment of women within the private sector, and also to create responsive environments to encourage women to enter the private sector. Such measures will encourage women to make career choices based on their real interests, and importantly the development needs of Jordan.

Addressing de-facto and de-jure inequality and discrimination is essential to eliminating violence against women in the country. Despite the adoption of a dedicated law to address violence in the family, I have noted that the provisions in the Family Violence Protection Law prioritise domestic reconciliation and the interest of the family. The interpretation of such provisions could give rise to the privileging of family rights over the individual human rights of women victims of domestic violence. I have also received reports indicating that the law has not been effectively implemented and that certain amendments are pending. I encourage the government to expedite the revision of this law and to also strengthen all relevant legislation pertaining to violence against women. This will serve to transmit a strong message that impunity will not be fostered and that accountability for all acts of violence will be the norm.

I have also noted that, whether in shelters or in prison, protective custody seems to be the main system used to prevent violence against women. Although efforts have been made to refer women to the Wifaq women’s shelter, it is still common practice for Governors to sign administrative orders by which women at risk are sent to the Juweidah (Female) Reform and Rehabilitation Centre, when family reconciliation is not possible. I was pleased to hear about plans to establish a new shelter that will receive women who are at risk of suffering violence, and I encourage the government to expedite the establishment of such a centre.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence are other manifestations of violence against women that need to be addressed. Despite interviewees stating that this is not a problem in the country, it is necessary to acknowledge that sexual violence and sexual harassment occur both within and outside the family in every society. The fact that certain subjects might be considered taboo within a society that largely describes itself as traditional, conservative, patriarchal and tribal, might explain women’s silence with regard to these manifestations of violence.

With regard to the gender-motivated killings of women, I am pleased to learn that article 340 of the Penal Code has been revised so that it no longer exonerates perpetrators of so-called honour crimes. However, perpetrators of such crimes might still receive more lenient sentences under article 98, which reduces penalties for any crime committed in a “fit of fury”, and article 99, which reduces a perpetrator’s sentence when he is excused by the victim’s family. Murder is in many cases the ultimate act of violence against women following a pattern of abuse. The Penal Code should explicitly ensure that the provisions in article 98 are not applied to cases involving the killing of women and judges should ensure that past histories of violence are taken into account before considering any mitigating circumstances for offenders.

I welcome the fact that in 2011 no murder cases have been categorized as crimes committed in the name of honour, nor have perpetrators received lenient sentences due to extenuating circumstances. Even if the number of so-called honour crimes has fallen over the last years, the reported number of killings per year which varies between 10 and 20 is still too high. Despite positive developments, further efforts should be made to change societal attitudes that view women’s bodies as repositories of family honour, and which place women under extreme scrutiny by the family and society.

During my mission I had the opportunity to visit two Palestinian refugee camps and witness the conditions in which these communities are compelled to live. I was particularly concerned about the situation of the Gaza refugees and the higher levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy they face. Lack of documentation restricts their access to educations, jobs, property, health services, and social benefits. This has consequences with regard to violence, as refugee women generally face greater obstacles to access justice and services. Refugee women might also feel more reluctant to report instances of domestic violence to a system which they view as already discriminatory against them. Furthermore, I received accounts indicating that the precarious living conditions, poverty and unemployment, sometimes lead to early marriages as a means to reduce the economic burden of refugee families.

The political sensitivities in respect of the issue of “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, or any other considerations should not deter the Jordanian government from ensuring that refugees enjoy the full range of human rights while in Jordan. I also encourage national and local civil society organizations to ensure that their services reach these disadvantaged communities more comprehensively.

With regard to the situation of migrant domestic workers in the country, I received reports of physical, psychological and sexual abuse of these women. I welcome the establishment of the Directorate of Domestic Workers to monitor and regulate the practices of employment agencies, as well as the inclusion of provisions to protect migrant domestic workers in the Labour Law. I encourage the government to strengthen measures to prevent violence and abuse directed against women migrant domestic workers, particularly by ensuring that any case of abuse is thoroughly investigated and punished, in accordance with the law.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the need for holistic solutions which address both the individual empowerment of women, and also the social, economic and cultural barriers that are a reality in the lives of women. Empowerment must be coupled with social transformation to address the systemic and structural causes of inequality and discrimination, which most often lead to violence against women.

My findings will be discussed in a comprehensive way in the report I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2012.”

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three year. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx