Naseem Tarawnah

Silence: What’s Really Killing Jordanian Women?

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Try as I might, there are things in Jordan that I cannot fully comprehend, and will often times shock me.

The state of the country’s young population is one of those things. When I see two tribes suddenly going to war because one 19 year old male is caught staring at the sister of another 19 year old male on a bus – it baffles me.

It baffles me when they riot, set fire to shops, rampage in the street, call for blood. I was equally baffled (and admittedly just a tad bit humored) when one university student shot another student for throwing a snowball at him during last March’s snow day. Honor crimes baffle me, especially the fact that they are carried by Jordanian males who are typically under the age of 25. We are talking about a generation of people who were mostly born in the 1990′s. Does anyone remember what growing up in the 1980′s and 90′s was like?

I figured that was an appropriate context to pave the way for what comes next.

First. 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 the best of the situation and play the role of a good wife, mostly by putting this whole silly rape thing behind her.

Second. Another 19 year old Jordanian was condemned to death by hanging for raping and stabbing his teenage girlfriend to death before burning her body because her family refused to let him marry her. Evidently, this boy couldn’t find a judge to marry them first so that at the very least he could call this an honor crime.

And that’s just April.

Last October, a 46 year old man was charged for having killed his 19 year old daughter after having raped her for five years and impregnating her. He killed her by cutting her open to remove the fetus. He was sentenced to hanging. A few days before that, a 26 year old was also sentenced to hang for raping a 7 year old girl who was on her way to school.

What is going on with young male Jordanians these days? When did this level of brutality come about? Has it always been there and we’re just hearing about it now? Or is this all recent? How did we get here? Rape is a brutal crime on its own – but these crimes go beyond that. Kidnapping, extensive rape, burning bodies? The death penalty, which hangs plenty of men each and every year, doesn’t seem to have had an impact. Families, mostly out of shame, seem to back the males and are happy to condemn their female victims. We hardly ever hear the voices of activists or even female parliamentarians who supposedly represent women issues, or at least claim to.

Without a doubt, there is a chilling silence. And in my opinion, that’s really what’s killing Jordanian women.

Where is the moral majority that is always more than happy to speak out on a wide variety of issues (including night clubs, bars and defunct casino deals), but never on anything remotely close to the way women are treated in our own backyard? And that is the crux of the issue – these crimes are not random or rare, they emerge from a certain environment of which the justice system’s current framework has done little to counter. The crimes may not be widespread but the environment is, as are the people who prop up that environment. And no amount of civil society workshops, advocacy campaigns or academic research papers are going to make a dent in that environment.

I’m not a huge advocate of the death penalty, and if anything, the continued emergence of these crimes has proven that it’s obviously not working. I honestly believe that the risk of their honor being tarnished is more important to some Jordanians than death. If that’s the case, a Scarlet Letter policy (along with castration) would probably be a better way to go. Short of that, I don’t see the death penalty doing anything to stem the tide of this kind of brutality. Using shame as a tool might be an effective approach, and it might not. What I do know is that a radical approach is needed, and it starts with the killing of this appalling silence.

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