From my previous work experiences as a case worker, social work (SW) practices became embedded in my insight as a Jordanian-Palestinian: I came to believe that nothing is more sacred than protection from gender based violence (GBV) and sexual violence (SV). SV is “any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances or threats of harm, by any person regardless of relationship to the victim” (ISAC, 2008). In Jordan, women are at risk of SV including rape and sexual harassment (SH). Most women and girls who experience the trauma of SV will be left with psychological after-effects, which may need to be addressed such as post-traumatic shock disorder, loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt and shame, self-blame and suicidal thoughts.
Cultural structure and function are primary factors when discussing SV, since these play an integral part in the harassing of women by strangers. Therefore, it plays a very important part in the issue of SV because this kind of gender-based violence is specifically informed by cultural practices. However, we should not serve to legitimize such violence under the banner of cultural norms. Specific programs to counter these must be developed, both at the local and national levels.
In Amman, I had the chance to interview two cases of exposure to SH where it most commonly occurs, on the main road or in the workplace. My first case Kate (not her real name) was an American-Asian woman in her 30s. Her incident happened in the evening around 8:00pm. She was walking by herself on a foot bridge at 3rd circle. The perpetrator was walking from the other side of the bridge, and when he passed her, he turned around then groped her from behind. Kate said: “When the perpetrator harassed me, I told him ‘haram aleik’ (what you did is prohibited).” He calmly smiled and walked away. After the incident, Kate expressed that she felt sick to her stomach. For many months, Kate became afraid to walk by herself, particularly at night, and she felt hatred for males, seeking to avoid contact with them for over a month after the incident. Another case Nadine (not her real name) was walking in the early morning around 8:00am up some steps leading onto Rainbow Street in Jabal-Amman, and a man was waiting there. Nadine mentioned that when she walked past him, he placed his hand on her breast – she immediately smacked it off and screamed. The perpetrator turned around and calmly walked down the steps and acted as if nothing had happened. Nadine stated that she screamed “haram!” at him, “but that would not mean anything to someone as Godless as he was – so even using that word was futile.”
These two cases are examples for other women and girls who are victims of SH in Jordan. Unfortunately, these result from a socio-cultural heritage and a weak legal framework in which a woman’s body is treated as property. Jordanian laws provide little or no protection for female victims of violence. Jordan’s penal codes classify SV as against public morals and ethics, explaining that any crime against an individual is a crime against the norms and values (Amnesty International, 2005). The legal and social barriers (culture of silence) and discriminatory legislation in force in Jordan does not act as a restriction to violence, nor does it provide victims with adequate rights for the abuse they have suffered. Therefore, these risks should be taken into serious consideration when confronting the phenomenon of SV.
The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), requires the Jordanian government to take action to eliminate violence against women as a form of discrimination that inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. Despite the ratification of CEDAW, it is evident that the Jordanian government continues to fail to take this convention seriously. Researchers should focus on analyzing: the notion of GBV and the dynamics of acts of SV in the Jordanian society, with the aim of providing feedback for a comprehensive action program on this issue. Also, they should refine the concept of SV through workshops, which would prepare the ground for qualitative field research in Jordan that could help examine the link between cultural norms of gender, ethnicity, and age.
A critical area for the 21st century that has great potential for bringing about change is the issue of gender activism. Gender activism can bring about expansive change by implementing action against crimes of violence, like SH and by creating public awareness of this issue. These activists can redress various instances of gender discrimination and constantly monitor government agencies, police, and the judiciaries. They should also be aware of the local policies and laws affecting the victims of SV.
SV is a crime not only against women and girls, but also a crime against humanity. Institutions and leaders must join efforts with the wider civil society, including political parties, to put an end to this horrific phenomenon. Victims must be protected and the perpetrators of these crimes must be appropriately punished and re-educated.
Amnesty International (2005). Women and conflict, the untold story. Available at: http://news.amnesty.org/. Accessed November, 2009.
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (2008). Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence interventions in Humanitarian Settings. Geneva.
The United Nations Population Fund (2005). Discrimination against the girl child Available at: www.unfpa.org/. Accessed November, 2009.