COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN TAKES UP REPORTS OF JORDAN20000120
There had been a marked improvement over the past decade in acknowledging the existence of domestic violence against women in Jordan, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard this morning, as it began its consideration of Jordans initial and second periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Presenting the reports, Amal Sabbagh, Secretary-General of Jordans National Commission for Women, said that although there were no statistics on the phenomenon, the rising number of assaults on women and children, and the emergence of new patterns of criminal aggression had led to the establishment of a Family Protection Department in August 1997.
She said that the overall economic situation in Jordan, adversely affected by international economic crises, was a major hindrance to the involvement of women in the job market and contributed to an increase in the number of those living under the poverty line. Social and cultural factors had also influenced implementation of the Convention.
Since Jordans ratification of the Convention, she said, the Government had initiated legislative amendments to assist women and to prevent discrimination against them. Four of those had already been introduced, three were currently before Parliament, and the Government was examining seven others.
Also this morning, the Committees expert members praised the Jordanian States courage -- given the countrys traditional and religious practices -- in establishing legislation to benefit women. One expert, noting significant improvements in the condition of Jordanian women, pointed out a discrepancy between the variety of roles played by women in everyday life and the legal norms supposed to regulate those roles. It was a wonder that women had been able to do that with such restrictive laws. That achievement was largely attributable to the serious and committed political will at the highest level of Jordans leadership.
Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1157 448th Meeting (AM) 20 January 2000
Other experts recommended that the National Committee for Women be declared a ministry for equal opportunity, a step that would give it political empowerment. The institution had originally been established by decree in 1992 and that hampered its chances for successful implementation of its projects and programmes.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. to hear the Jordanian delegations responses to questions raised by the experts.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the initial and second periodic reports of Jordan under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention.
The initial report (document CEDAW/C/JOR/1) states that the majority of articles and provisions of Jordanian laws accord women equal rights and duties with men. Consequently, there are no existing practices based on the idea of gender-based inferiority or superiority. Instead, Jordan continues to be governed by customs and traditions where the man is the head of the family and where men have one role, and women another, particularly in matters of the family and upbringing of children. Moreover, certain acts, being within the domain of men, are unacceptable for women to carry out.
The report outlines the States compliance with the Convention in areas including education, employment, marriage and social services. It notes that in the period it covers, the relative increase in literacy among females compared to males could be attributable to socio-economic trends. With regards to employment, the report says that women who are employed occupy mainly professional vocations. In the rural areas, however, they play an important role in agriculture, undertaking traditional agricultural work that does not require skills. That contribution to agriculture has been affected by mens migration, as well as the inability to hire labour due to high wages as a result of increased migration from rural areas.
The second report (document CEDAW/C/JOR/2) covers the period from July 1993 to July 1997. It, too, emphasizes that present discriminatory practices affecting women in Jordan stem not from law, but from customs inherited from the past. The obstacles to rapidly improving womens status there can be explained by the gap between the law and its application, by ignorance of womens rights among society and among the women themselves, by lack of data and information on the role of women in many sectors, and failure of the media to publicize womens rights adequately, as well as by the absence of information on the issue in the States education curriculum.
The report notes that the restoration of democracy in Jordan has provided both men and women with many mechanisms for defending their rights. Furthermore, the newly created Jordanian National Committee for Women constitutes the national machinery for monitoring implementation of the Convention, although it is not able to receive and handle individual complaints and is limited to overall policy-making for strengthening womens rights. It is divided into three official subsidiary bodies - a Legal Committee, a Non-governmental Organizations Coordinating Committee, and a network of communications with public bodies. Since the Beijing Conference in 1995, it has developed a programme to integrate women into the political, economic, social and cultural sectors in Jordan.
The report states that health is one of the central themes of the national strategy for women, and that the majority of the beneficiaries of the States assistance fund are female, as the funds regulations tends to discriminate in favour of women. However, regarding marriage and family relations, the provisions of the national Act on that subject are governed by sharia (Islamic law) and are based on the Sunna (words and acts) of the Prophet and on figh (law and doctrine).
The report outlines Jordans attempts to comply with the Convention regarding its requirements for providing equal rights in the areas of legal representation and other fundamental freedoms, and it provides statistics relevant to State education, employment, health and family planning programmes for girls and women. Annexed to the report are details of the Jordanian National Strategy for Women and its National Population Strategy. The report also includes future measures Jordan would take to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention in the State.
Statement by Government
AMAL SABBAGH, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, stated that since the ratification of the Convention, the Government had initiated legislative amendments to aid women and to prevent discrimination against them. Four of those had already been introduced, three were currently before the Parliament, and the Government was examining seven. Already amended legislation included the Labour Law, which provided for womens protection against termination of employment when they became pregnant. Amendments had also been proposed on a number of provisions of the Penal Code, which set penalties for acts of violence against women, and also on the penalty for adultery in an attempt to deter perpetrators, in particular, married men or women. The Government was also studying a proposal to draft a new Civil Status Code that underscored rights granted by Islam to women in areas of marriage and inheritance, among others.
She further stated that the Government had announced in December 1999 that it was updating its National Strategy for Women, which would build on developments under its predecessor and consider those that had taken place since the first Strategy, such as the ratification of the Convention and the Platform for Action of the Beijing Conference. Following preparation of the report, a gender perspective had been included in the States Economic and Social Development Plan for 1999 to 2003. That would give weight to both men and women in sustainable development and human rights, as well as eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Following ratification of the Convention, a tangible improvement of the status of women had been felt in Jordan. Most notably, they presently occupied key positions in the Senate, judiciary, Parliament and in the rural and municipal councils. However, more should be done to make the culture and social fabric receptive to the changes.
On the issue of education, she noted that a new masters degree programme in Womens Studies, aimed at producing specialized cadres capable of planning and undertaking relevant research and studies, had been introduced last year in one of the public universities. There were distinct gaps in the job market, she continued, and a monitoring and follow-up mechanism to ensure proper enforcement of legislation related to working women had been set up. In other areas related to womens economic status, governmental and non-governmental organizations had various programmes, including training and accessibility to loans to enable them to start micro or small businesses.
There had been a remarkable improvement in the health sector in recent years, she said. Also, the past decade had marked a positive change in acknowledging the existence of domestic violence. Even though there were no statistics on the phenomenon, the rising number of assaults on women and children, and the emergence of new patterns of criminal aggression had led to the establishment of a Family Protection Department in August 1997.
She said that the overall economic situation in Jordan, adversely impacted by international economic crises, was considered a major hindrance to womens involvement in Jordans job market and a contributing factor to the increase of those living under the poverty line. In addition, social and cultural factors influenced implementation of the Convention. Education and health had registered the highest levels of improvement, while employment, participation in public life and access to decision-making positions had not been similarly affected as women-related objectives in those domains ran counter to the predominant social conditions in the State.
Questions and Comments by Experts
An expert said that the countrys ratification of the Convention was a perfect example of political willingness to promote womens rights. Jordan was opening up to democracy and showing a desire to develop that it could not do without women, especially since human beings were its only resources. The appointment of female judges was an important landmark that had not been taken by other Arab and Muslim countries.
She said Jordan had invested a lot in the social sphere, especially in the fields of health, education and labour. Stereotypes, as well as traditional and customary practices, still survived and even the best laws could not eliminate them immediately. It was a long-term undertaking.
Another expert said it was well known that Jordan had long committed itself to the integration of women into everyday life by eradicating prejudice and discrimination against women. That tradition had been started by the late King Hussein and was being continued by his successor, King Abdullah II.
She said that the conditions of Jordanian women had seen significant improvements and presented quite a satisfactory picture. There was a discrepancy between the roles played by women in everyday life and the legal norms supposed to regulate those roles. It was a wonder that women had been able to do that with such restrictive laws. That achievement was largely attributable to the serious and committed political will at the highest level of Jordans leadership.
While that showed how effective political will could be, particularly in the developing and Muslim world, she said it was not enough. Jordan was at a very important juncture where many constitutional and legislative amendments were being proposed. It was necessary now to face the challenge of codifying and institutionalizing womens human rights, as enshrined in the Convention, into the countrys legal and administrative instruments by taking a more active stance.
Turning to article 2 of the Convention, on elimination of discrimination against women, an expert noted that, although Jordan had ratified the Convention in 1992, it had not acquired the force of domestic law, thus, provisions prohibiting sex-based discrimination were not explicitly mentioned. When would the Government publish the Convention in the official gazette? Did it have a schedule to propose constitutional amendments along the lines of defining sex- based discrimination and about the supremacy of international conventions over domestic law?
An expert endorsed her colleagues views on the critical need to review aspects of Jordanian law to comply with the Convention and prohibit gender discrimination. To ensure Jordans women enjoyment of those rights, it would be necessary to embark on educating citizens, as well as the police force and judiciary. The latter two tended to be very conservative and usually delivered rulings premised on precedent and position.
Another expert noted that the concept of passionate crimes was common in many parts of the world. She was concerned about references to amending the related law to include a new plea of extenuating circumstances in cases of adultery, which seemed to eventually lead to justifying murder in certain instances. Also, the age of consent in Jordan had been raised to 15, and that affected the penal provisions on statutory rape.
There was an apparent discrepancy between the political will at the highest level of the Kingdom, women themselves and Parliament, an expert noted. Therefore, the Committee should be given the opportunity to participate in the debate on the issue in Parliament. She expressed satisfaction at the delegations willingness to follow up the recommendations of the Committee; however, the Convention also was not legally binding, as it had not yet been published in the State. Furthermore, specific anti-discrimination legislation covering the discretion of that obligation under article 2 was necessary. Finally, she requested some clarification on the legal status of women refugee groups in Jordan.
Turning to article 3, on human rights and fundamental freedoms, an expert questioned methods of publicizing laws regarding womens rights in the State. She also wondered what was the structure and status of the Jordanian National Committee for Women. Were there intermediate levels related to the Council of Ministers? she asked.
Another expert sought more information about the national machinery. Did the National Committee for Women have a budget large enough to carry out its work? The tasks outlined in Jordans presentation seemed massive. What powers did the Committee have?
She asked what influence the Council had with lawmakers, since there were not enough women in Parliament to voice the concerns of women. What relationship did the Council have with other bodies dealing with human rights? Was the Committee staffed by full-time employees, or did they work part time?
Another expert, noting the description of the National Committees powers and broad mandate, said it did not have the powers to receive and handle gender- discrimination complaints. Women needed a place to present their complaints as it was not easy for them to go to court.
She suggested that women law students set up offices after completing university to practise what they had learned, to increase their own knowledge and to give free legal aid to women. As students, they were accessible to women and it would be good practice for them. That system seemed to work well in the Scandinavian countries and was being adopted in the Baltic States.
Another expert requested further information on the attempts of the media to change perceptions of stereotypes and to publicize incidents of discrimination. Although the Convention did not include a special article on the media, it was embodied in article 5, on stereotyping gender roles. Also, the Beijing Platform for Action included aspects of the issue.
An expert said Jordan had been courageous in undertaking an excellent programme to change the laws that governed womens rights. That process usually took a long time. She recommended that the National Committee for Women be declared a ministry, as that would give it political empowerment. The institution had been originally established by decree in 1992 and that had hampered its chances for successful implementation of its projects and programmes.
Turning to article 4, on equality between the sexes, an expert said she failed to understand the Governments decision not to establish a 20 per cent quota for womens representation in Parliament. Without such a quota, it would take too long for women to become parliamentarians and gain the capability to influence national policy on that level. It was necessary to establish a ministry of equal opportunity.
On article 5, another expert asked whether the National Committee for Women had adopted an education policy to counter deeply rooted practices that were used to keep women in subordinate roles. Was there a programme to get people working in the mass media to influence and change attitudes and teach new concepts?
She cited the report as saying there had been a considerable increase in violence against women since 1997. That was a result of deep-rooted customs which must be halted if crimes of honour and other violence were to be eliminated. The greatest number of such incidents affected girls under the age of 18 years and those from the poor sections of society. How did the Government and the Committee plan to approach that problem? Another expert said that the social and cultural context was not conducive to promoting an end to gender discrimination against women. According to the report, 40 per cent of Jordanian women felt they were not equal to men. That was an obvious result of the type of education prevailing in many countries where the predominance of men in the social and educational spheres had not changed.
She said it was women themselves who had become resigned to attitudes, which promoted the image of the ideal woman as submissive - a perfect wife and mother. An effective plan of action in the fields of education, information and communication should be undertaken and directed at women to counter the effects of those attitudes. What steps did the National Committee plan to take?
An expert commented that the law governing discrimination could only be modified through broad-based education. She recommended training to change the view of gender stereotypes in schools. Referring to article 6, on the exploitation of women, she noted that there was currently a proposal to expand the scope of the Penal Code, which related mainly to crimes committed by women in terms of marriage, particularly adultery. What was being done to protect women who were sentenced to die? she asked. She understood that the Government usually put them in prison for their protection. How many were presently incarcerated? Did they stay there indefinitely? Did they have access to education and other facilities?
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