Sexual and Gender Based Violence: Break the social stigma in Jordan

Christien van den Brink

Although sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a daily struggle that many Syrian and Jordanian girls and women face, the majority of the cases are not reported to authorities. The main reasons that women do not seek legal or psychosocial support, is due to social and cultural stigma.

It is rare to find Dr. Lena Darras in her office. Her work as a psychosocial support counsellor for the Jordanian organization Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, requires her to travel to ARDD’s seven field offices, where she provides psychosocial support to female beneficiaries, both individually as well as in group trainings.

The doctor, who holds a PHD in counselling psychology, encounters many cases of SGBV in her daily work. The causes, according to her, are rooted in the masculine society of Jordan. Dr. Darras: “The most commonly reported form of SGBV among Syrian refugee women is domestic violence. Men in the Middle East are raised with the idea that violence is an accepted expression of their masculinity. They are taught to be dominant. This starts from a young age onwards. I recently saw a little boy no older than five years old, and he was playing on the street. When his younger sister arrived, he ordered her to go home, taking her arm to drag her off the street.”

Another problem that SGBV victims face is the social stigma that is attached to it. “During the sessions, I encounter many female victims who feel that they can’t speak up. They fear that they will get blamed for being harassed,” Dr. Darras explains.

Dr. Darras provides psychosocial support sessions within Accessing My Rights, a ten-month ARDD project funded by OCHA. The project aims to support vulnerable Syrian and Jordanian women and girls, as well as survivors of SGBV, to access justice and to strengthen community support networks and protection systems.

“During the sessions, we work a lot on strengthening the self-confidence of women and we increase their knowledge on Jordan’s legal protection system. Many of the participants do not realize that they are protected by law. In the case of harassment, the police will investigate the matter and the perpetrator will be punished. Or they can go to the Family Protection Department” (FPD), a police department, part of Jordan’s Public Security Directorate.”

According to Dr. Darras it is important for women to learn what their legal and societal options are. “When a young woman marries, she has the right to negotiate the terms of her marriage contract. If she wants to continue her studies during marriage, she can make that legally binding. Also, if she doesn’t agree that her husband marries a second wife, she can put that in the contract.”

Dr. Darras acknowledges that even though women are becoming aware that they have the law on their side, Arab society has a lot of social rules that can feel even more binding. “We care about each other, but we also care about what others think,” she smiles. “But,” she continues, “I remember the story of a 50-year-old woman who gathered all her courage to report her husband after he had hit her. After this incident, he never hit her again. Never, ever. It took her tremendous courage, but it really helped to speak out,” Dr. Darras says.  “She has become a role model for other women to speak out.”

The project includes a media and advocacy campaign, specifically targeting men and boys to encourage them to engage in the prevention of SGBV in their communities. Dr. Darras: “Working with men in the project is crucial, they are the ambassadors for change. By involving them in the project and by explaining what the effects of SGBV is on victims, we create more understanding among them.”

Dr. Darras, who has been working for ARDD for over 5 years with a never-ending energy, is positive that projects such as Accessing My Rights will support fostering the change that is so needed to put a halt to SGBV. “I do hear a lot of sad cases in my work. But I am positive that change does happen eventually. Ten years ago, there was reluctance for satellite tv, and even for the mobile phone. Now we cannot live without those. I am confident that even if a woman is hesitant to seek justice after we have provided her with the sessions, she will educate her girls in such a way that they will step up for themselves.”

About the project:

Accessing My Rights is a ten-month project with the goal of helping vulnerable Syrian and Jordanian women and girls, as well as survivors of SGBV, to access justice and to strengthen community support networks and protection systems.

Accessing My Rights increases community knowledge about women’s rights and SGBV prevention. The project strengthens the current protection systems for SGBV survivors. The project includes three components:

• Awareness raising on legal rights and psychosocial support.

• Provision of individual legal and psychosocial consultations.

• Referral of women to economic empowerment programs and emergency cash assistance.

The project also includes a media and advocacy campaign, that aims to develop a broader cultural understanding within the community, while specifically targeting men and boys to encourage them engage in the prevention of SGBV in their communities. The project also mobilizes allies and community leaders to actively support women’s access to justice through local campaigns and capacity building dialogues.

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