The fight to stop honour crimes in Jordan

jordan
5 min read
15 November, 2021
In-depth: The advent of social media has put a spotlight on honour crimes in Jordanian society, allowing activists to mobilise, raise awareness, and demand change.

In recent years, the issue of honour crimes has been widely covered in Jordan, mainly due to the efforts of investigative journalists like Rana Husseini who was among the first to report on the killing of women.

Yet, more than twenty years since Husseini filed her first story in the English daily The Jordan Times, what progress has been made?

Husseini believes there are reasons to be optimistic.

"There is a decrease in reported cases of honour crimes," Husseini told The New Arab, pointing out that this was mainly due to the Jordanian government's change in approach towards such crimes and violence against women and children more generally.

"They changed the laws, and they introduced services for women and children and survivors of gender-based violence."

"Looking at social media, I can see more people rejecting these kinds of murders, voicing their blunt opinions, and calling for better procedures"

Over the past two decades, several developments have happened in Jordan to address the issue of honour-based violence.

In 1997, the Jordanian government created the Family Protection Department, which investigates domestic violence and sexual assault cases against women and children.

Several years later, in 2001, a clause was added granting female suspects the same penalty reduction as men in Article 340, which stipulates that any man who attacks or kills his wife or any of his female relatives in the act of committing adultery or in "an unlawful bed" benefits from a reduced sentence.

In 2016, the government's Religious Endowments department issued a fatwa saying honour killings are incompatible with Islam.

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Then, in 2017, Jordan's parliament approved an amendment of Article 98 of the penal code, which considered "severe anger" as a mitigating circumstance for "honour crimes." That same year, Article 308, which stipulates that a rapist could be spared prosecution if he married his victim, was cancelled after pressure from activists.

A year later, the Ministry of Social Development opened a shelter dubbed "Amneh House" ("safe" in Arabic) for women whose lives are threatened by familial violence.

The impact of social media

With the advent of social media in Jordan, the issue of honour crimes has received more attention.

The brutal murder of a Jordanian woman called ‘Ahlam’ in 2020 caused fury on social media under the hashtag Sarkhaat Al-Nisaa, Arabic for “the screams of women," after audio of her killing was widely circulated online.

Prompted by the online campaign, a group of activists stood outside the Jordanian Parliament asking for the abolition of articles in the Penal Code that allow prison sentences for men who murder their female relatives to be reduced. 

Jordanian flag [GETTY]
Human Rights Watch estimates that between 15 and 20 honour killings occur annually in Jordan. [Getty]

"Looking at social media, I can see more people rejecting these kinds of murders, voicing their blunt opinions, and calling for better procedures," Husseini said, adding that social media is also being used by young activists to mobilise and demonstrate.

"For example, we had two demonstrations following two incidents of violence against women. One was following the murder of Ahlam and the second one was when a man gouged his wife's eyes," she said.

"But that doesn't mean that the problem is over," she emphasised.

Emy Dawud, who founded the Feminist Movement Instagram page, which is described as a Jordanian initiative to end discriminatory laws and societal violence against women and has over 100,000 followers, said social media helped raise awareness about crimes against women.

"For example, in 2021, the Family Protection Department recorded the highest rate of complaints of violence in its history, and we believe that is due to the spread of awareness through the press and social media," she said, pointing out that a total of 15 women were killed since the beginning of 2021, while 18 women were murdered in 2020.

Human Rights Watch estimates that between 15 and 20 honour killings occur annually in Jordan.

"Social media may have increased society's awareness of women's rights, but awareness alone is not sufficient, especially in light of the widespread rumours that accuse women movements of spreading deviation and hatred of men," said Dawud.

"We receive daily dozens of messages from people of different ages talking about how they became aware of women's conditions in Jordan through our page and similar pages."

"When I go back in time before there was social media, I feel a great pain about how women were killed without anyone knowing about them, and how discriminatory laws against women were worse than now"

Femicides vs. honour crimes

"What we need to be asking about is femicides, not honour crimes," the Secretary-General for the Jordanian National Commission for Women, Salma Nims, told The New Arab.

"Femicides are continuing. They are not decreasing,” she said, pointing out that there have been 77 cases of femicide between 2010-2020.

Nims pointed out that there are cases where family members fight over inheritance, and then crimes against women are committed.

"They used to attempt to use honour as an excuse to get a lower sentence, but after studying the cases, you see that the judge and the prosecutor saw that it was false under that concept."

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Nims continued: "We don't have a phenomenon of crimes of honour like it used to be. I think the media, starting with Rana Husseini's work, has affected the public and the prosecutors' consciousness."

While she acknowledged that social media has impacted the way the judicial system views these issues, unfortunately, it hasn't played a role in reducing the number of crimes themselves.

"When I go back in time before there was social media, I feel a great pain about how women were killed without anyone knowing about them, and how discriminatory laws against women were worse than now," said Emy Dawud.

Natasha Tynes is an award-winning Jordanian-American author and communications professional based in Washington, DC. Her byline has appeared in the Washington Post, Elle, Esquire, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, and the Jordan Times, among many other outlets.

Follow her on Twitter: @NatashaTynes