Women’s Access to Justice in the Context of a Crisis: Addressing Gender-Based Violence

ARDD-Legal Aid

AMMAN, Jordan – As Jordan responds to crises both within and without its borders, whether economic instability, political conflicts or refugee influxes, vulnerable groups in society –especially women – are in higher risk of violence. How can civil society actors use women’s access to justice to combat gender-based violence in a time of crisis?

ARDD-Legal Aid convened a panel of civil society leaders, academics, diplomats, psychosocial and legal practitioners at the Columbia University Middle East Research Center in Amman, Jordan on July 9 to address this question.

“Law protects when there is rule of law, which we lose in crisis. How do we empower vulnerable women then?” said ARDD-Legal Aid director Samar Muhareb. “Law is a tool to fight gender-based violence, but it’s not always enough. We must also push all of society to think twice.”

Think Twice is the name of ARDD-Legal Aid’s newly launched awareness campaign, targeting the Jordanian public to raise awareness first of gender-based violence (GBV), then of its relationship to women’s legal empowerment.  The campaign comes soon after a UK-spearheaded initiative to end sexual violence in conflict, especially using rape as a weapon of war. Amb. Peter Millett of the British Embassy in Jordan opened the panel with an overview of the campaign.

“We have a long way to go to end sexual violence in conflict, but awareness is a first and important step,” Amb. Millett said. Similar to the British campaign, Jordan’s fight against GBV must begin with changing the way people think.

“Gender-based violence is not just sexual or physical, but also psychological, social and more,” said Dr. Zaid Eyadat, Dean of the University of Jordan’s School of International Studies.

Early marriage, for example, is a GBV problem that can only be addressed through holistic social change. “This is a conflict of concepts: the conservative rural father against the girl’s new ideas of childhood, rights, and choice,” said Dr. Abeer Dababneh, director of the University of Jordan’s Center for Women’s Studies. “We can’t change the concepts without also targeting structures, or the girl will be trapped.”

Societal change is gradual, but civil society must combat GBV now, panelists said. “Larger change will come – in the meantime, we empower women directly,” Muhareb said. ARDD-Legal Aid lawyer Bassam al-Dmour and psychosocial unit officer Roza Van der Heide then spoke on their legal and psychosocial work with GBV victims in Jordan.

One case study raised was about a Yemeni girl ARDD-Legal Aid once consulted, who explained that she’d chosen early marriage to escape poverty and attain first-wife privileges. “Don’t underestimate women’s rational choices,” said WANA Forum executive director Erica Harper. “Often socioeconomic or cultural factors are blocking their access to justice.”

Women’s legal empowerment must therefore be supplemented by economic and social empowerment, especially in a time of crisis. “We don’t need a special law for women. We need equal rights and protection for men and women under the same law,” Muhareb said. The first step to attain that is asking our society and ourselves to think twice.

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