Grasping the full extent of violence against women is difficult everywhere. In the Middle East, it can be both difficult and dangerous for women to report abuse given social attitudes toward the roles of women and men within the family.
In Jordan, the violence against girls and women embodies the problem. The Jordanian government’s Population and Family Health Survey captures only a portion of the scale of violence against women. Social norms are at play; roughly 70% of Jordanian women think there are circumstances that justify a husband beating his wife. Over one-third (34%) of Jordanian women report that they have experienced some form of physical violence since the age of 15. One in three Jordanian women experienced some form of emotional, physical, and/or sexual violence from their spouse, and almost 1 in 10 experience sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.
One of the major concerns resulting from the survey is that almost half (47%) the women reporting violence did not seek any type of help, with less than 5% taking steps to address sexual violence. Very few women seek help from medical providers, police, lawyers or social service organizations.
Over the past four years the World Bank Group has been collaborating
with the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA) -- a Jordanian civil society organization -- to pilot legal aid services for poor Jordanians as well as Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. As is often the case, poverty status is a strong indicator of the likelihood of violence in Jordan. Poorer women were more likely to report all types of violence, and higher frequency of such violence. They are also more likely to believe such violence is justified.
The legal aid program provides awareness/information, counseling and legal representation by a lawyer to aid the poor in addressing legal problems. The majority of JCLA beneficiaries – just over 70% - are women. And one of the ‘justice gaps’ identified by JCLA is in providing effective legal services to female victims of violence.
Jordan adopted legislation to protect victims of domestic violence in 2008, giving victims, for the first time, access to protection orders – one of the most effective tools in addressing violence. Victims can also receive direct compensation. It also provided confidential proceedings and procedures to detain alleged abusers. A specialized institution – the Family Protection Department of the Ministry of Interior – was established to implement the reform, providing access to multiple services, including complaints/investigation, medical care and social counseling.
Yet the law left a number of gaps in place. It applies only to perpetrators living with the victims, so ex-husbands, boyfriends and brothers may not be covered, and the survey shows they are often the ones committing the abuse. It also leaves in place a heavy focus on reconciliation, to the possible detriment of protecting the victims. Lack of shelters for victims, along with the inability to link requests for child custody and child support with protection orders, may prevent many women from seeking help.
To date, JCLA’s assistance has been focused primarily around awareness and information
for victims. This focus is now about to grow. With the assistance of the World Bank Group, JCLA is launching an initiative to provide more comprehensive services to women victims of violence. The plans include establishing a referral system in the Family Protection Department and placing a legal aid lawyer at each of the Department’s in-take centers.
What do we hope to achieve? There are several opportunities. The overarching goal is to ensure poor women can access services and achieve some level of justice to address the violence they suffer. More specifically, the referral system should aid in providing victims the legal services they need to initiate and navigate criminal proceedings, including obtaining and enforcing protection orders. Victims will also have assistance addressing legal problems commonly linked to domestic violence, such as divorce, child custody, child support and alimony.
As a lawyer, I volunteer my time representing poor persons, including women seeking protection orders, at the Superior Court here in Washington, D.C. I understand the importance of providing legal assistance to female victims of domestic violence, and am encouraged to see such an initiative launched in Jordan.