Are Jordanian women their own worst enemies?

When a victim believes it is justified to be hurt at the physical, emotional and sexual levels, how can we convince the perpetrator that it is wrong?

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Ninety percent of Jordanian women justify wife beating, according to a recent UNDP report. The same report shows that Jordan ranks 101 in the world in the gender inequality ratio, despite it having a human development index which places it in the "high" category. A statistic like this raises the question: are women their own worst enemies? When a victim believes it is justified to be hurt at the physical, emotional and sexual levels, how can we convince the perpetrator that it is wrong?

Some of the strongest Arab feminists I know are Jordanian. They are constantly at the forefront for the right to pass on citizenship to their children when married to foreigners and are pioneers in the fight against honor crimes and domestic abuse. Yet I am dumbfounded as to where this passion comes from, given this statistic.

Fighting governments is fighting the wrong battle

The Arab world has very poor legislation protecting women from domestic abuse and we are quick to blame governments for not taking action, or poor implementation of legislation. Modern society also condemns an outdated and backward culture that favors silence from the victim for the sake of chastity. Yet it seems that women drive this very culture that feminists fight against. How can we expect governments and men to end domestic abuse when we believe we deserve it?

It seems that women drive this very culture that feminists fight against

Yara al-Wazir

It seems that we’re fighting the battle for women’s rights on the governmental front, when we need to fight it on the cultural and social fronts first in order to get to the deep-rooted cause of the problem.

Kuwait has no laws prohibiting domestic violence, sexual harassment or marital rape, according to Human Rights Watch. Kuwaiti women weren’t granted the basic right to vote until 2005, and yet the justification of wife beating is as low as 2.2 percent in women.

When fewer women justify wife beating, the statistics of domestic abuse fall drastically as well. In Turkey, where 24 percent of women justify wife beating, 42 percent report that they have suffered domestic abuse, compared to 60 percent of Jordanian women. The correlation is consistent throughout the region: the lower the percentage of women who believe in the justification of wife beating, the lower the rates of abuse.

The “justification to wife beating” index is a troublesome one, and indeed not one that is shared by Jordan’s neighbors. About 10 percent of Lebanese women believe wife beating is justified, and a mere 0.2 percent of Qatari women agree with the statement. Even in a country that didn’t grant women the basic right to vote until 2005, Kuwait, the figure is as low as 2.2 percent.

Don’t blame the rural lifestyle either

The majority of Jordan’s honor crimes happen in the rural parts of the country, yet when it comes to domestic violence, 70 percent of cases occur in big cities. The urban lifestyle seems to have exacerbated these cases of domestic abuse and the nonchalant attitude that comes with urban living has been projected to an issue as dangerous as domestic violence.
Scratches and bruises are not the only results of domestic violence. In fact, I would argue they are the mere side effects. The psychological and physiological trauma that comes with domestic violence poses a direct risk to the health and wellbeing of the compass of the household: women. The poisonous atmosphere that accompanies these cases often haunts the victims and perpetrators for years

Victim blaming and victim shaming must stop

In a culture that repeatedly blames and shames the victim, this builds an illusion of truth. If a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth, and, sadly, that is the nature of the victims of domestic abuse.

When it comes to countries pioneering women’s rights and making breakthroughs, Tunisia and Jordan are often first to make the headlines. Both have introduced laws to protect women from domestic violence in recent years, and both are home to prominent women’s rights activists as well. It seems that these activists are the product of decades of oppression and a direct result of a culture that blames the victim. Ultimately this is the root of this statistic, and as shocking as it is, it opens our eyes to a deeper issue that must be addressed.

The laws are changing but the attitudes are stagnant. The battle against domestic violence is not a feminist one, rather one for the overall wellbeing of humanity and the basic right to exist without abuse. It is a battle that must be fought on all fronts: cultural, societal, economical, and governmental.


Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.