SOCIAL ATTITUDES, UNSTABLE POLITICAL CONDITIONS IN REGION, SLOW LEGAL REFORM HAMPER WOMEN IN JORDAN, BUT SOME SUCCESSES RECORDED, WOMEN’S COMMITTEE TOLD

2 August 2007
WOM/1649

SOCIAL ATTITUDES, UNSTABLE POLITICAL CONDITIONS IN REGION, SLOW LEGAL REFORM HAMPER WOMEN IN JORDAN, BUT SOME SUCCESSES RECORDED, WOMEN’S COMMITTEE TOLD

2 August 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1649
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Chamber A, 805th & 806th Meetings (AM & PM)

SOCIAL ATTITUDES, UNSTABLE POLITICAL CONDITIONS IN REGION, SLOW LEGAL REFORM

HAMPER WOMEN IN JORDAN, BUT SOME SUCCESSES RECORDED, WOMEN’S COMMITTEE TOLD

Acknowledging that deeply rooted social attitudes, slow legal reform and unstable political conditions in the region had hampered women’s progress and impeded implementation of international norms, Jordan’s delegation today stressed to the Women’s Committee that the country had nevertheless registered success in challenging stereotypes and increasing women’s participation in public life.

Presenting Jordan’s combined third and fourth periodic reports (1997-2005) to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Muhyiddine Touq, Minister of State for Prime Ministry Affairs, discussed Jordan’s record on women’s issues against the backdrop of two recent landmark events:  the publication yesterday of the Convention in an official newspaper some 15 years after ratification, and the recent election of 240 women to municipal councils.

The newspaper appearance reflected the importance Jordan placed on the Convention and the need to anchor it in national legislation, while the elections marked women’s achievement of more than 20 per cent representation in municipal seats, he said. 

On women’s participation in public life, Jordan had adopted measures to speed equality, as seen by the presence of six women in the House of Representatives, he said.  Such representation had helped to remove psychological barriers surrounding women’s involvement in Parliament, and he hoped it would pave the way for more women to seek seats in the elections next fall, as the stereotype that women were unable to manage political affairs must be changed.

In that context, he noted that the new municipalities law, which allocated 20 per cent of the seats in municipal councils to women, had prompted 355 women to nominate themselves in the process, nine times more than in the past.  A high-level woman recently named president of a court represented a significant shift within the judiciary.

However, challenges remained, he said, acknowledging that unfavourable political conditions in the region, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, had led to a sharp increase in the demand for infrastructure services in such areas as health, education and housing.

During the constructive dialogue with the Committee, he underscored that his Government had issued the “Amman Message” on moderation -- promoting a moderate, humane and equality-based Islam -– and was spearheading educational reform in the region.  Another member of the delegation noted that Jordan’s laws were being changed in line with the principle of “enlightened Islamic jurisprudence”.

While welcoming Jordan’s progress in promoting women’s rights, experts peppered the delegation with questions on Jordan’s reservations to various Convention articles and plans -- currently in a temporary phase awaiting parliamentary adoption -- to make permanent the election law which contained the 20 per cent quota for women.

One expert pointed out that punishments for honour killings were often minimal and that virginity tests applied in situations of victimization revealed a discriminatory and abusive legal environment.  Other experts focused on demeaning stereotypes, stressing that Jordanian women were often limited by family obligations, as a direct result of perpetuating stereotypical roles.

The head of the delegation said that withdrawing reservations was a “tricky political game” that must be played very carefully.  If the Government decided to lift a reservation, it must bring that issue to Parliament, which would open a “Pandora’s Box” -- a discussion of the Convention in its entirety -- something the Government wanted to avoid.  While there were no plans to lift reservations, there had been legal developments that would make one of the reservations redundant.

The Government hoped to increase the number of seats in Parliament, he stressed, but change was a very intricate process that involved crossing “alleys” before “avenues”.

The Committee will reconvene tomorrow, Friday, 3 August, at 10 a.m. to discuss the initial report of the Cook Islands (document CEDAW/C/COK/1).

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, met this morning to consider the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Jordan (document CEDAW/C/JOR/3-4).

Presentation of Report

The members of the delegation included Muhyiddine Touq, Minister of State for Prime Ministry Affairs and head of delegation; Asma Khader, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women; and Amal Sabbagh, former Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Also present, from the Permanent Mission of Jordan to the United Nations, were the Permanent Representative, Mohammed F. Al-Allaf, Deputy Permanent Representative Basheer F. Zoubi, and Third Secretary Samar Al-Zibdeh.

Joining the delegation was Hala Khyami, a member of a non-governmental organization that participated in preparing the report.

Introducing Jordan’s combined third and fourth reports, which covered the 1997-2005 period, Mr. TOUQ affirmed that Jordan would continue to exert serious efforts in promoting rights for women and removing any form of discrimination against them. 

He was proud to discuss Jordan’s record on women’s issues, particularly in light of two important events, including the publication yesterday of the Convention in an official newspaper some 15 years after the country had ratified it.  Doing so was recognition of the Convention’s importance and the need to entrench it further in national legislation.  Secondly, he noted that 240 women recently had been elected to municipal councils, representing more than 20 per cent of the seats.  The preparation of the report itself represented a success in that the Government had collaborated with its non-governmental partners in a transparent manner that incorporated all available information.

He described achievements since 2005.  In the area of national legislation, Jordan had published six other international instruments in official papers, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In March, Jordan signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which included the rights of women with special needs.

The law of political parties, law of publications and law on the right to acquire information further entrenched women’s rights into the national legal framework, he continued, noting that a new municipalities law granted women a percentage of seats in municipal councils.  Two weeks ago, an interactive website for the Bureau of Legislation and Opinions was launched, which listed all laws in effect in Jordan and allowed women to be informed of their rights.

In addition, the National Commission for Women was working on several draft laws, including one that would amend the social security law to establish a maternity fund to pay wages of working women on maternity leave, and an alimony law that would pay alimony to low-income, divorced women, he said.  It was worth noting that a secular directive had been issued to government bodies affirming the need to ensure the participation of the National Women’s Committee in various activities.

Turning to women’s participation in public life, he said Jordan had adopted measures to speed equality, as seen by the presence of six women in the House of Representatives.  Such representation had a positive effect on removing the psychological barriers to women participating in parliamentary life, and he hoped that would pave the way for more women to seek seats in elections next fall.  The idea that women were unable to manage political affairs was a stereotype that must be changed.

Thanks to the new municipalities law that allocated 20 per cent of the seats in municipal councils to women, some 355 women had nominated themselves in the process, nine times more than in the past.

Also, the National Commission for Women had launched intensive campaigns to raise awareness of female candidates, he said, noting that a high-level female had recently been named president of a court, representing a shift within the judiciary.  Also, the Office for Women in Military Life aimed to increase participation of women to no less than 3 per cent in the military.

Regarding education, he said the Education Ministry’s 2006-2010 strategy focused on including more women in the economic and social sectors.  A World Bank report ranked Jordan first in indicators for achieving educational goals.  The Government also had cut illiteracy rates and encouraged girls to study in unconventional sectors.

Concerning health, he said efforts to combat HIV/AIDS included a gender perspective, and the International AIDS Fund had recently given Jordan $6.8 million to raise awareness of the epidemic.  Further, Jordan had implemented a national programme to raise awareness of reproductive health.

On employment, he said women constituted 14.9 per cent of the overall workforce of 1.2 million workers, and the Government was dedicated to creating more opportunities for them.  Initiatives included the creation of a National Council for Vocational Training and adoption of a special employment strategy to increase women’s participation in the labour market.  The Ministry of Labour had also begun a review of the labour law to ensure that it fulfilled international labour criteria and preserved the rights of migrant workers.  A complaint hotline worked in six languages, including the mother tongues of migrant workers.

Turning to domestic violence, he pointed out that the National Framework for the Protection from Family Violence would be a reference document for people working for the of protection of women.  There was also a centre that gave refuge to women and children victims of violence, and a change in the approach among police to women’s protective custody.

Jordan cooperated with civil society institutions, including the regional bureaux for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), he said.  Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had launched a partnership with human rights organizations in May, representing a positive spirit and desire to incorporate all views into planning.

However, challenges remained, he acknowledged.  Unfavourable political, economic and regional conditions, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and absence of a just solution to the Palestinian cause, had led to a sharp increase in the demand for infrastructure services in such areas as health, education and housing, he explained.  That impacted Jordan’s social development process and strained finances.  Moreover, the situation had created obstacles to implementing the Convention and limited women’s opportunities to create change.

Nonetheless, he said, those obstacles provided an impetus to offer better alternatives for women and further entrench their rights in legislation.  He welcomed the Committee’s valuable remarks on the country’s progress.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, welcomed all the work that had been done to advance the status of women in Jordan, including political reform.  She asked, however, if legal reform could be speeded up and if there was legislation that ensured the practical implementation of the Convention, for which she suggested the passage of a specific law.  A task force on legal reform would be useful since there were many other laws needed.  However, she said, the law limiting the activities of the non-governmental organizations would be harmful.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said the report reflected the importance of Jordan’s National Commission on Women and the Government’s efforts to improve the conditions of women in the country.  The national machinery remained a concern, however, despite the establishment of the National Centre on Human Rights, which protected the rights of women and children.  The annual report of that Centre showed no complaints lodged by women, so it was not possible to tell how it was being used by women to advance their cases.  She asked how the National Commission would be affected by the new legal framework.

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, exert from Thailand, asked for more details about the proposed restructuring of the National Commission in regard to process, content and increased clout.  She also asked about its interactions with other bodies and gender units in ministries, along with more information about the national strategy and trafficking.

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked for explanations of Jordan’s reservations to various articles of the Convention.  Welcoming the establishment of the family violence shelter, she asked how women were able to access such facilities, noting objections to women being sequestered in that way.  Noting also that punishments in honour killings were often minimal, she asked if a review of those policies was imminent, as well as virginity tests applied in situations of victimization, both of which revealed a discriminatory and abusive legal environment.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked about the content and prospects of a draft law on domestic violence.  While the parity in school was commendable, non-governmental organizations had told her that there was no training in place that could change social values in regard to stereotypical views of women.  She asked for information on activities in that regard, or on obstacles if there were no such activities.

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Egypt, said that changing social ideas and stereotypes was crucial and asked about the development of strategy and texts for education, as well as the training of persons in the legal profession.  With the rise of religious extremism, she maintained that it was also important to engage with religious authorities to make sure moderate views prevailed, and she asked about strategies in that regard.

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, welcomed the progress in Jordan and agreed that demeaning stereotypes were a crucial factor holding women back.  She asked for more details about awareness campaigns to counter such stereotypes.  The fact that women were limited by family obligations was a direct result of the continuation of stereotypical roles.  Violence towards women also resulted.  Awareness campaigns on that topic should target children, as well as adults, and deal with the images of men, as well as women.

TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, also asked about the process for the draft law on violence against women and the time frame involved.  She wondered if women judges could help redress unfair judgements in domestic violence proceedings, and if judges were often too lenient because of their gender.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TOUQ stressed the independence of different branches of the Government, particularly the legislative branch.  The Parliament had sole power to decide on the time frame of legislation.  Most laws took about two years to pass unless there was a matter of extreme emergency.  A general law on women was a good idea, which he would take back to the National Commission on Women.

He expressed surprise to hear negative opinions on proposed laws as their content was not yet known.  In regard to the regulation of non-governmental organizations, a balance had to be struck because many had been accused of receiving foreign financing.  Much work had to be done to improve the situation in the country.  The National Commission would follow up on relevant legal reforms with government departments.

Regarding reservations, he said certain ones could not be withdrawn because they related to Islam, the official religion of the State.  However, at least one might have become outdated because of legal changes:  there was no need for a constitutional amendment because courts had interpreted existing language as meaning both men and women were guaranteed equal rights.  On other matters, civil society involvement was needed to pressure the legislature, as no one could force the legislature to enact certain laws.

Concerning fundamentalism, he said that his Government had issued the “Amman Message” on moderation -- promoting a moderate, humane and equality-based Islam.  Islam, however, which was now 1,400 years old, could not change values that were even more ancient.  Jordan was spearheading educational reform in the region and would not shy away from its responsibility in curricula, but the reform effort was becoming more and more difficult due to the continuing conflicts that were encouraging fundamentalism.

Another delegate said that the women’s rights Committee had been dealing with complaints from women and had had its budget increased.  The national strategy for women included specific objectives, as well as monitoring mechanisms which had been developed in a participatory manner.  She hoped the plan of action would be ratified by the end of the year.  Regarding violence against women, efforts were under way to raise minimum sentences, and her committee was working to get those changes ratified.

On the issue of administrative detention of women under threat, she said that the numbers of shelters should be increased, though there were already some that were being run by non-governmental organizations, and other solutions had been emerging.  Turning to virginity tests, she said that they were usually administered voluntarily to establish the innocence of a woman, though in family cases, it could be otherwise.  Women constituted 4 per cent of judges, and there was an effort to place more women judges in relevant areas and to train all judges on gender issues.

There had been a significant decrease in honour crimes to less than 20 per year in the past few years, and there was a registry to track domestic violence, she said.  There were also family protection units with specialized strategies for dealing with such violence, especially against girls.  In reducing discrimination and encouraging women’s representation, there was a coordination committee with non-governmental organizations and the various national institutions, as well as plans for further integration.

As for other treaty reservations, she said that Jordan had deleted regulations that required a husband’s approval for women to travel and so the relevant reservation, as well as others, could now be examined with a view to their withdrawal.

She said that the draft law on the alimony fund was targeted at low-income divorced women who had trouble gaining alimony from their husbands.  The national committee for women had a communications network that included gender liaison officers in all departments.  A model gender unit had been established in the Ministry, which would be reviewed in a year.  Surveys had been conducted in various ministries to determine how well they had incorporated gender mainstreaming.

The results of a recent survey of the pharmaceutical industry pointed to several problems in the private sector in overcoming obstacles to gender mainstreaming, particularly in the promotion of women to higher levels of decision-making, she added.

Another delegate took up the issue of amending stereotypes in schools and universities by saying that the Ministry of Education was continuously amending its curricula to gradually change stereotypes, and training was available for teachers.  The Higher Education Ministry, in 2005, had introduced a compulsory curriculum, which included human and women’s rights education.  The Jordanian University women’s centre awarded a master’s degree in women’s affairs, while the Ministry of Education had partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to change anti-discriminatory stereotypes.  Also, a large number of women had joined sharia faculties at Jordanian universities.

She emphasized the importance of using mass media to change stereotypes and alert the public that women were equal partners, both inside and outside the home.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. GABR, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Egypt, asked for clarification on Jordan’s reservations.

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked which agency was responsible for anti-trafficking work, whether Jordan had ratified the Palermo Protocol and whether trafficking cases had been prosecuted in courts.

Delegation’s Response

A delegate responded that Jordan had no plans to lift any reservations; there had been developments that would make one of the reservations redundant.  If the Government decided to lift the reservation, it must bring that issue to Parliament, which would open a “Pandora’s Box” -- a discussion of the Convention in its entirety -- which was something the Government wanted to avoid.  That was why the issue must be raised in a sensitive manner.

On trafficking, he said Jordan had not ratified the Palermo Protocol, but was a signatory to the agreement, and that issue was under active consideration.  The Ministry of Justice and the police department were in charge of trafficking, and prostitution was indeed a crime.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. MAIOLO, expert from Italy, said she was pleased with the quotas law in municipal councils; however, overall progress was not sufficient, as the problem of stereotyping persisted.  The public-awareness campaign was a good step, however, to convince women to run for office.

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, commended the Government for its measures to increase women’s participation in public life, particularly in elected assemblies.  However, the participation of women in Parliament remained low.  Was the Government’s intention to reserve 20 per cent of municipal seats for women supported by the highest political powers?  Would the quota system be based on proportional representation of women from all parts of the country?

She said the report acknowledged that the number of women in Parliament was low, she said.  The right to hold public office and represent the Government at international levels were rights the Government had agreed to promote by its ratification to the Convention.  Thus, more aggressive interventions were needed to increase women’s participation in public life.  Could the Government introduce positive measures and act as a role model for changing the public’s perception of the role of women in decision-making?

Ms. GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, recalled that it was at a 1975 Mexico City conference on women in development that the question was first posed about the impact of underrepresentation of women in government posts.  In Jordan, women were very underrepresented in political and public decision-making bodies.  She wondered whether the 20 per cent quota at the local level might grow to 30 per cent or more.  Representation in Parliament should evolve as well, she said.

She said she had heard about the importance of training for women to be candidates.  Men should be similarly trained.

Ms. GABR, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Egypt, raised the issue of citizenship for the children of women married to non-Jordanians, saying she understood political differences among regional countries.  Were there measures to help children join schools and enjoy freedom of movement, or measures to allow the husband to enjoy freedom of movement?

Delegation’s Response

Regarding the election law, one delegate said it was a temporary law that had not been approved by Parliament.  He was struck by Ms. Maiolo’s comment that Jordanian women were being beaten and the question about how they could attend polling stations.  Those cases were “insignificant” in number.  Such comments represented a stereotyped concept of beating in the Islamic culture.  Rural women had waited in lines for hours without their husbands to cast votes for female municipal council representatives. 

Turning to the temporary election law, he reiterated that there was a national debate on that issue.  The fact that 240 women now sat in municipal seats would affect the national debate.  However, he could not promise an increase in women sitting in Parliament during the time remaining before the next parliamentary elections in November.

Regarding the lifting of reservations, he said that opening that topic simultaneously during debate of the temporary election law would reflect negatively on the quality of life for women.  Critics of the quota system called it unconstitutional and contrary to women’s rights.  He hoped the quota system could be lifted when women no longer needed it to accede to decision-making levels.

He provided stories of his own family -- that his mother was an illiterate woman who hardly travelled out of Amman, while his daughter today worked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague -- to illustrate the point that times were changing, and Jordan was changing with them.  Women today attained high positions in the Government by interviewing with a committee of Ministers, chaired by the Ministry of Justice.  One woman had prevailed nine men to be named the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health.

Turning to the issue of women married to non-Jordanians, he said that, unless regional turmoil calmed, the matter likely would not change.  He did not have figures on the number of children receiving temporary passports, but they were indeed allowed to attend school.  Husbands could stay permanently, as long as they were married.

Another delegate added that a new political party had named a woman as its head, and there were four women out of 20 people in the Cabinet.  While the public was demanding a quota of no less than 20 per cent, efforts to mainstream a gender perspective were needed at all administrative levels.

On citizenship, she said the Government hoped there would be more rights for refugees from the Gaza Strip in Jordan.

As for training, she described an institute to train women leaders, noting that such an initiative did not negate the need for training men.  Female candidates for the current municipal elections had come from rural areas, from the desert and from conventional, traditional communities, reflecting a change in the stereotyped roles for men and women.

A delegate added that Jordan had decided that Palestinians in the country were entitled to the same free medical treatment as Jordanians.  They were also entitled to free education.  In addition, Iraqis in Jordan were allowed to go to school there, without discrimination between boys and girls.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. MAIOLO, expert from Italy, in a clarification, said she had not meant to say that all Jordanian women were beaten; she merely maintained that women had to be convinced to enter public life.

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, noting that enrolment in pre-school and day-care centres was very low, asked for more information on those facilities and their attendance, as well as on early childhood strategies.  She also asked for an explanation for the fact that the percentage of female professors also appeared to be very low.  In addition, analysis of educational factors should not only cover the curriculum, but also the treatment of children in the classroom.  She asked how conflicts of ideas and opinions, as well as sex education, were handled.

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, expressed further concern over the low participation of women in the formal labour markets, along with the factors that caused it.  She asked for clarification of strategies meant to combat discrimination and harassment against women in the workplace.  She also asked about how the new labour laws would eliminate discriminatory practices, how they could increase the pay of women in the workplace, and how information was being collected on women in less visible kinds of work.  In addition, she asked what measures were helping women and men diversify their employment choices.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Jamaica, said that many foreign women domestic workers were in bad situations and more attention should be paid to them.  Those women often replaced educated Jordanian women.  Either way, domestic tasks were kept in the women’s realm.

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for more information on reproductive health programmes.  The linkage between demography, development and reproductive health was troubling, and she recommended that information on reproductive health be consistent with the rights of women, which included privacy and choice.  She also asked about the availability of reproductive services for the Iraqi refugees in the country.

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, commenting that the health-care system seemed well developed in Jordan, also said it seemed to be getting more expensive with more than half the qualified health professionals working in the private sector.  She asked how the public services were maintaining their quality and what plans there were for making the system more people-oriented than profit-oriented, as well as what strategies existed for awareness of reproductive health, family planning, contraception, and HIV/AIDS prevention, including access to programmes in those areas.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TOUQ agreed with the important place of education in shaping the future.  Pre-school, he said, was probably not covered by the education act now in the works, but more than 400 pre-school centres had opened in rural areas this year.  He hoped that trend would continue, especially for the most needy, without discrimination between boys and girls.

There was no discrimination in relation to jobs in the public sector, he maintained.  When it came to university professors, the number of women was tied to the number of women who possessed doctorate degrees, which could require more than 10 years of study.  Still, the numbers were rising yearly.

He said that Iraqis coming into Jordan were not referred to as refugees, but, in any case, there was no discrimination against them in terms of education and other services, which added a billion dollars to the costs of such services, thus raising an economic strain, as well as a security burden.  Luckily, in general, the security situation was under control, due in part to the fact that 14,000 personnel had been added to security services.

Responding to the question on academic degrees attained by women, another delegate said all staff working in academia must publish research in order to move up.  After sufficient research, academics achieved the rank of associate professor, where they remained for several years and, thereafter, attained the status of professor.  Although such a high rank added to a woman’s family responsibilities, a growing number of women were ascending to professorships faster than their male counterparts.

Low numbers of female instructors was a problem, she said, particularly in the sciences.  Grants, sabbaticals and opportunities to study abroad were given to both men and women.

For early childhood education, she said Jordanian laws and regulations bound public and private institutions to provide childcare for children of female employees.  Moreover, mothers were allowed to leave work for at least one hour per day to breastfeed their children.  Women pre-school teachers outnumbered male teachers, she added.

Addressing reproductive health queries, she described a programme with UNICEF to expand health awareness, and said the mass media -- especially shows that introduced the topics of birth control and disease -- were important educational tools.  Also, reproductive health workshops offered by female preachers lowered the level of embarrassment among family members, allowing preachers to discuss important issues.

Turning to childrearing, another delegate said a parenting curriculum had been drafted.  In addition to government-sponsored day-care centres, other centres were located in private institutions, and all were required to meet new standards or risk losing their licenses.

She said that the Ministry of Education had ratified a “concept matrix” to help administrators teach concepts such as human rights, conflict resolution and governance to teachers.  Two institutions outside of the Ministry of Education played an important role in the sector:  the Teachers Club and the Educational Forum.

Sex education was offered through biology courses and reproductive health programmes, she continued, noting that the media must also communicate messages about safe sex to the public.  Several plays had also mentioned women and reproductive health.

On women in the economy, she said the informal sector was quite large, and women must be helped to overcome obstacles to entering the formal labour market.  There was a problem with early retirement, in that the law stated that women must retire by age 55, whereas a man was entitled to wait until he was 60 years old.  Those five years could make a difference in terms of a woman’s rank.  However, a growing number of women were now in middle management.

Concerning exemptions not protected by the labour law, she said a draft law which eliminated all exemptions had been submitted to Parliament by the Ministry of Labour.

Moreover, the Committee on Female Migrant Workers in Jordan was established in 1994 to give advice and judicial assistance to women, she continued.  That assistance was offered through a hotline.  There had been complaints that women’s passports were being withheld from them, which was illegal, and the hotline could help in that regard.

On support services, she drew attention to the National Conference for Working Women and another recent conference, which focused on “working women in the Arab world”.  The outcome document from that conference contained recommendations for increasing opportunities for women in small and micro-enterprises.

The minimum wage was the same for Jordanian men and women, and was adjusted each year in light of increases in the cost of living, she added.

Turning to sexual harassment, she said there was a lack of awareness about the issue, and a stigma remained against a woman who complained of harassment.  Thus, a psychological barrier to complaining against the practice persisted.

As for reproductive health, she agreed that human rights should be the basis for policy formulation, and noted that family planning policies might focus more intensely on the issue to ensure that a sudden swath of the youth population not be left “uncovered”.  It was not true that a husband’s consent was a precondition for women to receive birth control.  A draft law on medical responsibility, which guaranteed patients’ rights and doctor-patient confidentiality, had also been initiated.

Article 24 of the Convention, among others, had been taken into consideration in creating reproductive health policies, she added.  Objections to media commercials that harmed the image of women had prompted their immediate cessation.

A member of the delegation recalled a question about how the Government was dealing with the administration of health care, while the cost of services rose steeply.  He said 70 per cent of Jordanians were insured and had access to adequate health care provided by a number of private clinics and hospitals.  Whether insured or not, all children, and those persons over 65, received free health care.  The health-care services directed towards meeting the needs of those in Government and the armed services were “niche” hospitals.  Their specialty services, such as heart care, were the best in the region.

On the question of violence against women, a delegate explained that the rules to be followed had been published for use by both law enforcement and teachers.  In past years, measures had been designed for the protection of Iraqis coming into Jordan.

Expert’ Comments and Questions

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, pointed out that the report admitted there was equality under the law for women, but that women did not know about the law.  Jordan’s reservation should be removed from article 14 so that women could be more robustly informed about their rights.  Further, it was commendable that the Government had raised the age of marriage from 15 to 18, but it was “irritating” that at the same time, the law stipulated that a judge could perform a marriage ceremony for a girl under 18 “if it was in her best interest”.  What was the point of ensuring a human right, while at the same time taking it away?  It was well known that young girls were still forced into marriages by their families.  The stipulation should be removed from the legislation.

Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, agreed with the view that allowing of marriage under 18 undermined the rights being won for women in a progressive country like Jordan.

Delegation’s Response

The delegation said the question of winning legislative support was one of the most difficult, particularly with regard to family law.  The Government was making concerted efforts to increase the electorate by targeting two groups:  women and youth, who were not as tied as others to clan values and traditions.  Successful municipal elections had been held, and nearly 300 women were now sitting in municipal seats.  Parliamentary elections would be held in November and they, too, could be successful.  In that case, there would be enough support to make the change.  In any event, withdrawing reservations was politically challenging. Without the right parliament or political environment, a move to make the change would fail and the result would be long-lasting.

Another delegate pointed out that the stipulation on early marriage was a measure of last resort, which was seldom used, and marriage under the age of 15 had now been totally outlawed.  Much progress was being made in family law.  For example, women now had the right to divorce, and there was a movement towards joint custody of children.  The laws were also being amended to set up the conditions for marriage and divorce to protect women’s rights.  Campaigns were also being implemented to educate women about their rights under the law.  Decisions were being taken in line with the “enlightened Islamic jurisprudence” practised by other progressive countries in the region.  However, much more would have to be done, with both the grass-roots public and Parliament, to get amendments passed.

Follow-up Questions

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked why the Government had not issued a new temporary amendment to increase the number of seats in Parliament, so as to increase the number of women representatives.

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said she supported the view that parliamentary membership should be increased to allow for more women members.  More should also be done to promote women in higher education, she added.

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked for clarification about recent restrictions placed on civil society and non-governmental organizations in Jordan.  She stressed that, while changing laws took time, some issues were urgent.  For example, the law that allows a rapist to go unpunished if the victim married him.

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked for clarification about inequalities, such as the lack of guidelines concerning detention of women, or the supposedly voluntary virginity test that probably was not voluntary in practice.  Sexual harassment in the workplace also seemed to be inadequately addressed.

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, suggested that measures be taken to  actively promote the advancement of women in higher civil society positions, such as hotel management.

Delegation’s Response

The head of the delegation said he wholeheartedly understood the experts’ pleas and reiterated that Jordan was undergoing a national debate on the future of the election law.  Political developments unfolded on a daily basis, and the post-election atmosphere would be read carefully.

The present Government and Prime Minister had promised the public that they would not introduce any temporary laws -- meaning that they would not amend laws to make them temporary -- which had been a common practice of the previous administration.  Gentle pressure was needed, and he hoped that, within two weeks, the political situation would be more amenable to looking into that issue.

Indeed, the Government hoped to increase the number of seats in the national Parliament, and he said he would bring the Committee’s feedback to the Prime Minister with the hope he would be open to what had been discussed.  Change was a very intricate process, which involved crossing “alleys” before “avenues”.

He said every law in Jordan went through four readings:  in the Cabinet; the Bureau of Opinion and Legislation, where the National Commission for Women would be present; the Lower House of Parliament; and finally the Upper House.  All by-laws, or acts to be discussed, were placed on the Bureau’s website for 10 days, during which time the public could pose questions and receive answers.

On private sector conduct, he said the Government was a regulatory, rather than implementing, agency in private sector affairs.  An intermediary bureau looked into proper application of laws.

Following those comments, another delegate noted the widespread investment by the National Commission for Women in the area of corporate social responsibility, and hoped that the labour law would better incorporate gender equality in the private sector.  If a perpetrator committed acts of indecency, he was immediately fired, she added.

Concerning the virginity test, she said that it was not obligatory in certain conditions, and for those women forced to submit to a test, free legal aid was provided.  So, progress had been made, with many women refusing to give consent.  Measures to deal with women in protective custody had also been formulated, including the creation of guidelines for sending women to shelters.

Sexual harassment in the schools was virtually non-existent, the head of delegation added.

In closing, the head of delegation thanked the Committee for its keen interest in Jordan’s report and assured experts that his delegation would analyse the experts’ recommendations.  By working with all partners, Jordan could achieve the objectives of the Convention.  He would return to Jordan hopeful that the Committee’s work would improve women’s status and application of the Convention.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.