As four young women deeply interested and connected to women’s rights, our personal initiative during our EVS here in Amman is a circle of discussions around women in the MENA region, where we hope to connect local community and foreigners in the discussion about women in this region. We aim to create four moments of discussion: Women and Youth; Women, Education and Work; Women and Law; and Woman and Arts.
Our first discussion, around Women and Youth in the MENA Region, took place on the 26th of May at Naqsh Cultural Center in Weibdeh. This session focused on the challenges and aspirations of young women in this region. The speakers, Shorouq Zahra and Sarah Abaza, both students from the University of Jordan, were invited to talk about some of the issues they face in their daily lives and how they would like to see these issues addressed in the future.
Among the challenges they referred to, Shorouq and Sarah shared the same opinion on certain differences between men and women in society that are built-in since an early age. These differences are manifested in various forms, one of which being the freedom each child possesses: for example the restrictions girls face with an early curfew and that men don’t. Other restrictions are exemplified by the males’ possibility for to travel by themselves and study abroad and as opposed to the difficulty for a women to do so, however, exceptions are made if she belongs to relatively wealthier family. Both Shorouq and Sarah indicated that such differences in treatment are much sustained by the family members, but even more from the mothers.
In addition, they pointed out the continuous harassment by men towards women, and the fact that such behaviors are very much justified by the women’s conduct and garment.
Another challenge that they shared was ceasing to wear the Hijab and the difficult acceptance from not only the family but also from the community. From their experience, what is aimed for in a family is for a woman to choose to wear it or not from an early age and to stick with her decision. Therefore, to cease to wear it seems to bring a sense of disappointment to the family and the community, and in their case, especially for the mothers.
Some of the challenges that Shorouq and Sarah pointed out were related to the difference in education between boys and girls since an early age, the harassment towards women, the importance of Human Rights and Feminism, the restrictions that girls and women face compared to their male family members.
The concept of “honor” was also mentioned as a challenge, as it presumes the honor in Arab families to reside in the female members and therefore if their conduct and social activity is not following the normative cultural concept of women’s behavior it is regarded as non “honorable”. They defended that the concept of honor should be relocated from such to something that is of her responsibility and accountability. This discussion also brought up the Jordanian laws that fail to act in repairing crimes done against women, as the case of rape, a crime that is almost unpunishable as the rapist can marry the victim for 5 years and become absolved from his crimes according to article 308 of Jordanian law. Other laws, as Article 340 and 98 that diminish women’s security and justice regarding crimes performed against them due to the concept of honor.
After the speakers presented the challenges they see and feel in their lives, they presented several aspirations for the future. Both Shorooq and Sarah pointed out the need for more discussion about women’s rights, as our own, and also the need for stronger activism regarding these issues. They also referred to the importance of bringing women and men together to the discussion and a more participative role from the last.
The speakers pointed out that they can see changes already in society regarding women’s issues, but that they aspire to see more changes and that the law and education might change to fulfill the aim of women equality.
After the speakers presented their perspective of challenges and aspirations in their life, the public had the opportunity to ask questions or make comments about the discussion.
There were some interesting comments from the public as well, as need for feminism to be present in politics.
There was also a discussion about the situation of women’s rights and empowerment in other countries of the MENA region, for example the case of Palestinian women who according to some were very involved in the fight for justice in Palestine working alongside men in NGOs, seeming therefore more advanced in terms of women’s rights, but others evoked the example of Palestinian woman who still get beaten up by the police when reporting being raped. The example of Lebanese women also came forward, where according to some seem to have more social freedom and to others have their freedom accompanied by their sexualization.
In conclusion, it was a constructive discussion where both the local and international community in Jordan came together to gain more insight about what it is to be a young women in the MENA region. It was a proud moment for all four of us to see so many people attending the discussions, with the presence as well of our volunteer colleagues and WE center.
By Ana Guimaraes