2012 a grim year for women in Jordan — activists

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Women’s rights activists have described 2012 as a grim year for women movements, witnessing “backward steps” on the path to reach equal rights in Jordan.

“I can say that 2012 was a bad and frustrating year for women because it ended without the women’s movement being able to pass amendments to Article 6 of the Constitution that clearly states that men and women are equal in Jordan,” said Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) Secretary General Asma Khader.

Women activists were promised in 2011 by the Royal Committee on Constitutional Review that the word “gender” will be inserted in Article 6 of the Constitution, which bars discrimination in the application of the law.

But the word was excluded from the final draft that was handed to His Majesty King Abdullah in August 2011 for reasons observers say were “political”.

Article 6 of the Constitution stipulates that “there shall be no discrimination between Jordanians as regards to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language or religion”.

Activists stressed that adding the word “gender” would make all articles clear and non-discriminatory and ensure justice for Jordanian women.

Excluding the word “gender”, they argue, means that Jordanian women cannot file lawsuits at the Constitutional Court to demand their full citizenship rights.

“We repeated our calls last year regarding amendments to Article 6 of the Constitution, but we were ignored by the government and we never received a clear justification of why this amendment is rejected,” Khader told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

Khader also pointed out that several laws which discriminate against women remained unchanged despite repeated calls by activists.

One of the changes that activists called for was related to the Labour Law regarding equal payment, according to Khader.

“We have constantly lobbied the government to include a clause that would force the employer to ensure equal pay for both men and women and to impose fines against violators, but our demands were never considered by the government,” Khader said.

Jordanian Women’s Union President Amneh Zu’bi echoed Khader’s remarks.

“Last year’s achievements were minimal and consisted only of adding three more seats for women in the Lower House of the Parliament,” Zu’bi noted.

Last year, the government increased Lower House seats for women under a special quota — from 12 to 15 out of a total of 150 seats “although we anticipated a higher number”, she added.

“This is a modest achievement… and I believe we deserve more than 15 seats,” Zu’bi said.

Zu’bi and Khader also cried foul over the lack of women’s presence in the current government, the Constitutional Court and the Independent Elections Commission.

“It is really discouraging and frustrating that women are being excluded from important decision-making positions this year. This is not a good sign at all,” said Zu’bi.

Khader agreed, saying that “it seems the government is succumbing to the conservatives who want to limit women’s role to staying at home”.

Nimat Habashneh, who heads a campaign to amend the Citizenship Law so that children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians can receive citizenship at birth, said she is hopeful that the government will take concrete action on this matter this year.

Habashneh said amending the citizenship law will remain a priority since the government did not take any action in 2012.

As it stands now, the Citizenship Law bans Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians from passing on citizenship to their spouses and children, a right that is fully enjoyed by Jordanian men who marry foreign women.

Habashneh, who organised dozens of protests in front of the Prime Ministry and the Parliament last year, said she is hopeful that the government will offer “civil rights to children and spouses of Jordanian women”.

“We will never give up our demands of full citizenship to children and spouses of Jordanian women, but granting civil rights will hopefully ease restrictions on thousands of families in Jordan,” Habashneh told The Jordan Times.

Civil rights include allowing children of Jordanian women who do not hold citizenship to work, obtain a driver licence, live in Jordan without having to pay residency fees and the right to enrol in public universities, she said.

The activists, however, remained optimistic that this year will be better than 2012 and stressed that they will never give up their demands, including ensuring a 30 per cent female representation in the political arena.