VAWG: Between Legislation and Awareness

Mari Bondevik

Every day women and girls are subject to different forms of violence. The widespread social acceptance of this violence against women and girls (VAWG) is due to a lack of legal awareness, a bias in legislation and an unequal implementation of the law. To discuss the issues of this topic, the local Jordanian TV station 7 Stars hosted HE Dr. Sawsan Majali, Member of Jordanian Senate,HE Ms. Wafa’a Bani Mustafa Member of the Jordanian Parliament, and Director of the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) Ms. Samar Muhareb on the 23rd January.

Regarding VAWG, lack of legal awareness was brought up as one of the most pressing issues, and as Dr. Sawsan Majali stated “lack of legal awareness is a major problem in Jordan and is one of the root causes for violence against women”. According to Ms. Samar Muhareb, Director at ARDD, the lack of awareness of legislation and the know-how in dealing with various crimes and violations that fall under VAWG are some of the pressing issues.

The legislations and laws in Jordan show a state of legal discrimination, according to MP Wafa’a Bani Mustafa, she identifies two states of discrimination: (1) inequality between men and women’s legal status, and (2) the inequality between men and women in the enforcement of the law. Bani Mustafa argues that legislations are highly discriminatory against women, all the way from the constitutional level, and down to various laws like the Penal Code, Personal Status Law, Labour Law and Citizenship Laws among others. In regards to the inequality between genders, examples range from Jordanian women being prevented from passing their citizenship to their spouses or children, the law only recognizes the father as the sole legal guardian, and that women face bigger hardships than men when divorcing.

ARDD, along with other organisations, are calling on the parliament to take the demands of civil society and the feminist movement into consideration in amending the Penal Code, stated Ms. Samar Muhareb. In addition, Dr. Sawsan Majali stressed the need for better communication between civil society organisations and activists in the field of women’s rights to provide solid numbers and cases to the legislators in order to showcase the impact of the implementation or lack of protection in the law for people in Jordan.

            Civil society organisations are currently working to empower women to understand the judicial process and be able to claim their rights, ensuring access to gender sensitive services and to make communities, in general, aware of the rights guaranteed to women under the Constitution, which states that all Jordanians shall be equal before the law. ARDD is currently working with two such projects: Know Her Rights and Women’s Access to Justice Phase 2.

Know Her Rights is a project a two-year project implemented by ARDD and funded by the UN Trust Fund. The goal of this project is to support women and girls to exercise their right to live a life free from sexual and gender-based violence in Jordan through awareness-raising and advocacy by different sectors in the community such as women’s organizations, national media, and educational professionals. On the 17th January, this year, ARDD hosted a panel discussion that engaged key civil society actors to raise awareness about VAWG. This discussion aimed at increasing the knowledge base on different forms of violence faced in Jordan.

ARDD works actively to fight injustices against women by promoting enhanced access to justice, which is exactly what the second phase of the project Women’s Access to Justice aims to do. Implemented in partnership with Oxfam and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the project’s aim is to reduce the vulnerability and suffering of disadvantaged women by building on their human capital, facilitating their access to the legal system and securing just outcomes. As part of its advocacy efforts, the WAJ project plans to conduct an advocacy campaign which aims at contributing to equitable access to justice for poor and vulnerable women by facilitating and creating a gender sensitive and informative environment at the Zarqa Sharia Court. Despite the noticeable changes in women’s access to justice in Jordan, there is still room for improvements, especially at the administrative/procedural level. Overall, the legal system lacks the capacity to respond to women’s needs, for example, the environment within the court is not adequate to support women and they often face unsympathetic and intimidating male court staff, especially in Sharia courts that are solely composed by men. Therefore, by facilitating and creating a gender sensitive environment in the court, with sensitized court staff, visible and user-friendly way to follow procedures, women will be more likely to use the judicial system and exercise their rights.

These two projects complement each other on crucial parts, and seek similar aims and goals. Hence, ARDD works to promote awareness of rights as well as provide venues for vulnerable people to access their rights and entitlements. As were stated by Wafa’a Bani Mustafa in the interview, “Knowing your rights is the first step towards claiming them”.

                                                                                                     

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