In the May / June issue of Foreign Policy, Mona Eltahawy writes about the experiences of women across the Middle East. It isn't pretty:
...Let's put aside what the United States does or doesn't do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I'll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt -- including my mother and all but one of her six sisters -- have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme.When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating "virginity tests"merely for speaking out, it's no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband "with good intentions" no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are "good intentions"? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is "not severe"or "directed at the face." What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it's not better than you think. It's much, much worse. Even after these "revolutions," all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian's blessing -- or divorce either...
Although Eltahawy's article (one I urge you to read in its entirety) doesn't mention Jordan, there's plenty of work to do in this country. One of the more disturbing trends as of late is the rising number of sexual assaults reported both in Amman and throughout the Kingdom. A Jordanian friend who has two school-age daughters believes that such violations are, at least in part, the result of increasing economic hardship and social frustration. As she sees it, young men unable to produce marriage dowries are expressing their hostility by attacking women and girls.
In Jordan, rape is an offense punishable by death. However, the Kingdom's legal loophole enabling perpetrators to escape punishment is equally criminal. Since last week, a petition has been circulating among citizens who are outraged that a fourteen-year-old girl is being forced by her parents to marry her rapist in order to save her "honor," as well as her family's. Naseem Tarawnah summarizes the facts of the case at The Black Iris, (an Amman-based blog at which King Abdullah II himself has commented):
A 19-year-old Jordanian kidnaps a 14-year-old girl (with the assistance of his family) – takes her to a location where a tent was set up for him to rape her repeatedly for three straight days before the police roll in. The court sentences him to death by hanging but he manages to produce a very recent marriage certificate signed by a judge. The court then stays the execution but claims that it will be reinstated should the boy divorce her without a “justifiable cause”. A professor of sociology from the University of Jordan was widely quoted by the original article produced by Arab Al Yawm – that “women are different in nature from men” and that the girl should now make her best of the situation and play the role of a good wife, mostly by putting this whole silly rape thing behind her...
From what I understand, the 14-year-old described above was kidnapped after school while walking to a convenience store. I've been told she's in a holding facility until her 15th birthday, the age at which she'll be returned to her "husband" / rapist. As a minor, she doesn't have the right to divorce. After all, her parents "consented" -- i.e. forced -- her into the union. The assumption, unfortunately, is that without her virginity no other opportunities for marriage will materialize. What's more, separation from her husband would constitute an additional act of "shame," one that would no doubt put the girl's life at risk.
Similar cases have turned up in Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries where young women and girls often choose suicide -- consuming rat poison, jumping from buildings, dousing themselves in gasoline -- rather than accept their perpetrators as husbands.
In my view, Jordanian law still decrees its original verdict: instead of sentencing the rapist, its system imposes the death penalty upon his victim.
As a guest of this country, a country I've come to love, I remain at a loss. What can I as an American offer this girl -- or any woman who falls victim to such policies? As Western citizen, my signature on the petition is invalid.
When I found out we were moving to Amman, my greatest concerns were gender-related. As a woman, would I face hostility, misogyny, discrimination? In almost two years, I've experienced nothing of the sort and have been treated with the utmost respect. Granted, people on the street look at me. Some stare. I have blonde hair. I don't wear a hijab. In fairness, people also stare at my husband and son. They sometimes ask to pose with us for photos. It's obvious we aren't Arabs. In other words, any extra attention I've received isn't necessarily because I'm a woman, but a Western woman. In light of recent news, I know I'm treated better because of this fact.
I don't mean to suggest in any way that the rape-related law reflects the general attitude of Jordanians. On the contrary, all of the locals with whom I've spoken are offended by the case and express disgust for both the girl's parents and the court. And yet, Jordan's international reputation is one of moderate sensibility; King Abdullah II, a leader whose life's focus has been promoting regional peace and the betterment of his people.
When I first heard about this story, I knew immediately that it wouldn't turn up in The Jordan Times, an English daily that happens to be government-owned. Stated simply, it's precisely the kind of story that reinforces the worst stereotypes about Middle Eastern people and politics.
A Jordanian friend argued otherwise. Of course it will be reported in the newspaper, she insisted. Just wait.
As of this posting, I've found case-related snippets on Facebook and at local blogs. I've seen links to the petition circulated via Twitter. To my knowledge, not one word about the girl and her offender has appeared in The Jordan Times.
King Abdullah and Queen Rania are parents to four children. Their daughters, the Princesses Iman and Salma, are 16 and 12.