Standing Up to Violence in Jordan
Interview by Laura Sheahen
Violence against women and girls in the Middle East is often hidden. The country of Jordan has made great strides in raising awareness of gender-based violence (GBV), in promoting girls’ education, and in empowering women to earn a living. Nevertheless, challenges remain. A CARE study showed that 67 percent of women respondents in Jordan are aware of laws that protect them from violence. But most do not report it, and 58 percent believe husbands have the right to beat their wives.
Ms. Kefah Al Hiesa of the National Center for Human Rights in Jordan is the Project Coordinator for CARE’s Hemaya project, which seeks to protect women from violence and teach them their rights under the law. Here, she speaks about the CARE program and the ordeals that some women face.
What does CARE’s Hemaya project do to raise awareness about gender-based violence (GBV)?
We have several activities. There is community theater with skits, speeches and poetry. We talk about the issues and then do things like art exhibits, encouraging young people to create art about gender-based violence. Another part of Hemaya is brainstorming sessions with parents, students and teachers about GBV. We do training of trainers -- we trained 14 ‘community messengers’ to spread the word and fight GBV.
When people see the community theater that shows men beating women, some say this kind of violence against women doesn't exist. Even when the skits are performed at universities, with educated audiences, some say that.
One group in a region that is very poor and uneducated made a powerful video of a teenage girl who accidentally accepts a young man's phone number. Her father is furious and refuses to let her leave to house to go to school or for any reason. Since it's a conservative society, the father feels his daughter and wife are part of his honor, his reputation. The girl eventually commits suicide by taking pills.
It's amazing that young men also participated in making this video. The local governor refused to air the video in front of audiences and the actors were upset. Some of them started to cry because the film wouldn't be shown. I got together a smaller group to watch the video.
Can you talk about some real-life GBV cases?
In one of our groups, a 13-year-old girl was asked, “What do you know about rights?” She replied, "I'm not allowed to play with neighbor children, go on field trips, I always have to come home at a certain time. I used to be on the volleyball team." When she got her period, she wasn't allowed to be on the team anymore.
There was a girl living in [the town of] Irbid whose name was Anoud*. She was 16. She went to visit a girlfriend's house at night. She didn't tell her family where she went. She stayed at her friend's house and didn't tell her family.
The father of the friend brought Anoud back to her father. He should have brought her to the Family Protection Department instead.
If there's gossip about a girl, the mother immediately calls the midwife to check that she is still a virgin. A midwife came and examined Anoud. She was a total virgin.
But she was locked in the bathroom for a year. Her father handcuffed her with police-grade handcuffs, the kind for criminals, otherwise she would have tried to escape out the window. They heard her yelling -- the yelling was so loud. Relatives came to see what was happening, but Anoud was not released.
Finally she died.
What is CARE’s Hemaya project doing to help such girls?
In addition to the other activities, we do surveys and go door to door.
During our survey in an area called Zarqa, our case worker Khawla knocked on a door and heard a small voice behind the door. A girl asked, "Is there a way you can help me?" She started to tell her story. Her name was Yasmin*. She was 17. Her two younger sisters were 13 and 12.
They were all locked in the house. The father did not allow them to go to school, shopping, anything. The mother was sick. Yasmin said, "I'm not allowed to go anywhere. I don't have the key."
Our team said, "We're not allowed to open the door, we don't have police permission. But here's a phone number for our center and a lawyer who can help."
After a few days, Khawla got a phone call. It was Yasmin. She said, "Our mother is very sick. We're going to the hospital. Can you help me escape?"
Khawla called the Family Protection Department and went to the hospital. She didn't know what the girl looked like, but Khawla asked which family had come with a mother who had a heart condition.
Khawla found Yasmin and pulled her aside. She said, "I'm the lady you called.” The Family Protection Department came too.
Yasmin told her story. Her father had started raping her when she was 14. When the mother found out what the father was doing, the father beat the mother. The father started doing this to the younger sisters. And there's a son, age 14. He started the same. Like father, like son.
The Family Protection Department evacuated the girls to a shelter. Yasmin is working in an orphanage. Her two sisters are getting psychological counseling before they can go to school. They've never been to school.
Where do you find the inner strength to keep doing this difficult work?
I was threatened when I worked at the first battered women's shelter in Jordan. I called a woman's husband and told him about the punishments for beating his wife -- 3 to 7 years in prison. I told him, "I'll deliver a medical report from a doctor with proof."
The man's solution was "Kill Kefah." He followed me with a knife. I ran. I got away.
What gives me strength is that I belong to Jordan. This is my community. When you believe in a case, you want to fight for it. This gives me the strength to go on.
I'd like to reach out more to the southern areas of Jordan. The rural areas in the south are like hell for everyone: Women. Men. Children. Women are cursed there. They're not allowed to move. I'd like to see more income-generating projects for women there. And I'd like to see much more severe punishments for abusive men.
Hemaya's a very successful program. In a very short time it's reached so many places. Hemaya saves lives.