20 January 2000

Press Release



Expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women raised concerns this afternoon about reservations by States parties regarding articles 15 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Those articles deal with equality before the law, and marriage and family relations, respectively.

As the Committee concluded its consideration of the initial and second periodic reports of Jordan on compliance with the Convention, one expert noted the reservation entered by that country on the grounds that Article 15 was contrary to Islamic directives. Another noted that the right to divorce was not included in Jordanian law. That right offered protection to women, particularly in cases of polygamy.

Traditionally, Article 16 had the most reservations among countries, particularly Islamic States, another expert said. Interpretations of Islamic law tended to be subjective when reviewed by Muslim men. It was time to regulate polygamy as a first step to amending Muslim law to comply with the Convention. She encouraged Jordan’s National Committee for Women to embark on a courageous review of the practice.

Other issues raised by experts included questions relating to the representation of women in Parliament, whether in the appointed Senate or the elected lower house; the promotion of women to decision-making positions; government and non-governmental action to finance women’s projects; and follow-up action to ensure that young women could pursue careers in business.

The Jordanian delegation is expected to respond to questions raised by experts when the Committee meets on the morning of Wednesday, 26 January.

When the Committee meets at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, it will begin considering the initial country report of Myanmar.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to hear questions raised by its expert members on the initial and second periodic reports of Jordan. It was also expected to hear responses to those questions by the Jordanian delegation.

Questions and Comments by Experts

As the Committee took up Articles 7 to 9 of the Convention, on women in political and public life, participation at the international level and nationality, an expert requested information on the performance of women in top positions in the political and public spheres. She had received reports that they had demonstrated competency.

Another expert said the presence of women in politics was a crucial issue worldwide. In Jordan, the influence of the National Committee for Women must be strengthened in that area. Consequently, she wondered what strategy was being used to attract more women to Parliament in an effort to push women’s issues in that forum? She suggested that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) contribute to campaigns of women for the Senate or parliament or any other political appointment. Appointed women must also express readiness to function on behalf of other women and the work of lobbyists could be important in preparing them for that role as well as in assisting NGOs to collect funds.

Another expert noted that tools like quotas and campaigns for women to support their sister candidates were necessary to ensure victory in political campaigns. It was also important for women to be adequately represented in other organizations, councils, and so on. At least 40 per cent of each gender should be represented in any political forum.

Another expert asked why the report had mentioned that there had been 99 women elected to municipal and rural councils. Who were those women and why had that been mentioned? Why was there no mention of women in Parliament, either in the appointed Senate or the elected lower house?

She asked if Jordan had a national strategy or set target for the promotion of women, whether by appointment or elections, to decision-making positions? Did women hold leadership roles in political parties and what problems did they face in becoming qualified candidates? What was the participation of women in the police force? A woman had recently been appointed to head a police precinct in Seoul, Republic of Korea. She was already making an impact in ending illicit trafficking in Romanian girls.

Another expert asked whether there was any NGO for women that received institutional financing. Which were those organizations and what was the government doing to finance women’s projects? What limitations, if any, were there in regard to women’s involvement in political activities?

Another expert asked by what percentage women voters outnumbered men. How could they be encouraged to become even better voters? Were there national strategies or specific steps being taken to encourage women to become candidates? What training and education were available for them and what measures were being taken to open people’s eyes to women’s arrival as voters and candidates?

Another expert wondered whether the Jordanian Government had any intention of appointing women diplomats?

An expert stated that a woman’s inability to transmit her nationality to her children seemed to contravene Islamic law. She hoped there would be a review of that law to ensure its reversal. The proposed reform for women to pass her nationality on to her children in humanitarian cases seemed a contradiction of that law.

What about the 1.9 million Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan? another expert asked. She had heard reports that they were being granted citizenship, but could not hold public office. What kinds of jobs did they hold, particularly women? Were they allowed to vote? What was the reason for placing them in a different category? Also, what about a woman who was married to a foreign citizen, was she entitled to a family document -- like widows of Jordanian men were entitled to -- so that her children might enjoy the same benefits as those of the other widows? she wondered.

Regarding Article 10, the right to education, one expert noted that Jordan had achieved progress in that area. However, with the portrayal of women as homemakers persisting in Jordanian textbooks and curricula, what programmes were being undertaken by the National Committee for Women? Did the plan of action include a related component?

Another expert noted that while illiteracy was declining among girls, women in vocational education were basically concentrated in more vocations considered to be feminine. That did not help to eradicate gender stereotyping, but reinforced and perpetuated it. What measures were being taken to correct that trend?

She asked what kind of follow-up was being done to ensure that young women pursued careers in business. There were more women in Jordanian universities while the number of men in foreign universities was higher. Was there a two-tier higher education system which valued education in foreign universities more highly than domestic university education? If that was true, what was being done to counteract that trend?

Although younger women were doing well in education, women’s overall illiteracy still stood at 21 per cent. What was being done to improve the quality of life of middle aged and elderly women by increasing their literacy? What was the career path of women academics in Jordanian universities?

Another expert expressed concern at the high unemployment rates for women in Jordan, which appeared to be out of line with Article 11 of the Convention, which provides for equal rights to employment. The delegation had described a Government policy barring women from certain professions. Did that go beyond the conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO)? While it might be protective, it could also be considered discriminatory, she noted.

On Article 12, which provides for the right to health, one expert commended the Jordanian Government on the strides it had taken. Jordan considered safe motherhood and life expectancy a human rights issue. Did the data provided include statistics for Palestinian women? Could the delegation provide updated statistics for HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, rape and abortion?. Another expert pointed out that the report had not mentioned the mental health of women, particularly those who had been victims of violence.

Regarding article 13, on economic and social rights, an expert noted that Jordan’s poorest women -- widows and divorced mothers -- mostly benefited from the same protection fund as men. However, husbands benefited more than women from tax relief, even when they had children. There should also be a fairer housing policy from women.

Referring to article 14, on the situation of rural women, another expert said there were great difficulties for them in the field of commerce with regard to access to credit and social security. She stressed the need to concentrate more on education for family life to reduce the high infant mortality rate. There was also a high illiteracy rate among adults. It was important to teach them hygiene and health. More access to that kind of education should be given to greater numbers of women.

An expert noted that Jordan had also achieved much in educating rural women. Motivating them to enjoy those benefits could include giving those women information on their potential influence in Jordanian society. Therefore, did the aforementioned economic and social plan contain targets for the participation of rural woman?

Referring to article 15, equality before the law, an expert noted the reservation entered by Jordan on the grounds that it was contrary to Islamic directives. Referring to the law that did not allow for married women to choose their place of residence without their husband’s consent, she said that under Islamic law, marriage was a contract where the woman could make certain choices. There was a contradiction between that law and the article referring to freedom of movement. She requested that the Government withdraw its reservation to article 15.

An expert noted that the right to divorce was not included in Jordanian law. That right offered protection to women, she stressed, particularly in cases of polygamy. Jordan should also withdraw its reservation on article 16, which embraces issues of marriage and family relations.

Another expert urged that Jordan review its reservations on that article. What were the personal status regulations for non-Moslem women? she wondered. Had the Christian churches decreed their own laws to counter Islamic ones? Certain proposals had been made to amend the act on polygamy, she continued. Who had made those and when did the Government plan to deal with them.

Traditionally, that article received the most reservations from Islamic countries in particular, another expert said. Interpretations of Islamic law tended to be subjective when reviewed by Moslem men. It was time for Jordan to regulate polygamy as a first step to amending the religious law to comply with the Convention. She encouraged the National Committee for Women to embark on a courageous review of the practice.

AMAL SABBAGH, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, promised that those responses to experts questions not provided by next Wednesday, when the delegation would again face the Committee, would be included in her country’s third periodic report.

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