“Intrafamily Femicide In Defence of Honour:  The Case of Jordan”

by Fadia Faqir

1. The debate on harm

The concentration on harm to women has been criticised recently by many feminists, who argue that the debate focuses on violence, victimisation and oppression of women.[1] The Arab world, however, has not reached the stage where a similar debate is possible due to the fact that documentation and discussion about violence against women are still in the infancy stage. Such debates within the Anglo-Saxon context, therefore, do not seem relevant in their entirety to Arab women’s experiences, most of whom are still occupants of the domestic, private space. Other western theories, models and analysis, however, can be transferred and applied (with caution) to the Arab experience of gender violence, which is still largely undocumented. 

2. What is violence against women?

Violence is the use of physical force to inflict injury on others, but this definition could be widened to include improper treatment or verbal abuse. It takes place at macro-levels, among nation states and within communities, and at micro-levels within intimate relationships. The use of violence to maintain privilege turned gradually into “the systematic and global destruction of women”[11], femicide[111], with the institutionalisation of patriarchy over the centuries. Most women experience violence in one way or another in their lifetime. “Men’s sexual violence is part of the backdrop of all women’s lives and not something experienced by a minority who can be labelled as inadequate and helpless victims.”[1v]

Violence against women can take the shape of rape both within and outside, beating, childhood sexual assault and incest, harassment in the workplace and even the killing of women. It cuts across all cultures.[v] “Just as the construction of gender differs across cultures, gender violence takes many cultural forms: ten centuries of foot binding in China . . . and bride burning in contemporary India.”[vi]  There is evidence that most manifestations of violence can be found in Arab countries, with few exceptions. However, most Anglo-Saxon studies of violence against women ignore the experiences of Arab women. For example, the extensive table provided by Margaret Schuler[vii] does not include ‘honour crimes’ as a type of intrafamily femicide in the contemporary Arab world.

3. Violence against Women in Jordan: facts and figures?

Most violence against women in general, and in Jordan in particular, takes place in the home, and is carried out by perpetrators who are directly related to the victims, making the home “one of the most dangerous places for women.”[viii] According to a Labour and Unemployment Survey conducted in 1988, 22% of women in Jordan are students, 2% are other and no less than 76% are housewives. [ix]

Out of Jordan’s 4.7 million population women constitute fewer than half at 2.2 million.[x] Although a few years ago the average of school enrolment was 26.6 for males and females was 23.1, the percentage of women who finish their secondary education averaged 33% in 1994, which is considerably lower than the completion rate among men.[xi] Additionally, the percentage of illiteracy among rural women was 33.6% in 1994 compared with 17.5% for men, and among urban women 17.3% for women compared with 9.9% for men for the same year. [xii]

A recent study sponsored by Women in Development Technical Assistance Project (WIDtech) and USAID, interviewing 5,445 women, over the age of 14 concluded that approximately 12.5 % of Jordanian women aged 15 and older, currently work in short-term/seasonal activities, micro enterprise, agriculture, or salaried employment.[xiii] Further, employment is not necessarily related to their level of education; about 40% of women in agriculture, for example, have no schooling.[xiv]

The majority of adult Jordanian women live with either their husband’s or their parental families, about two thirds do not finish their secondary education, the majority get married at a young age, and, above all the vast majority of Jordanian women are economically dependent on male members of their families. This leaves them more vulnerable to potential violence within the home.

Available statistics show that violence against women in Jordan appears in different forms, ranging from wife abuse to incest, sexual harassment and rape. This article, however, will focus on the most extreme type of violence against women in Jordan, namely honour killings - the killing of women for suspected deviation from sexual norms imposed by society. A primary obstacle faced by any researcher of this subject, however, is the inadequate documentation of such practices within the conservative neopatriarchal Jordanian society, where gender, class, clan, ethnicity and power are key determinants of privilege and status.

4. The unreliability of data

Reliance on available data is difficult for a number of reasons. First is the problem of bias in public records. Recent feminist research “challenges traditional views of what counts as knowledge, raising complex discussions of epistemology including the questions of ‘how we know’ and ‘who decides what we know’.”[xv]  Most, if not all, statistics on violence and crime in Jordan are recorded by men who have never been trained to be gender-sensitive, and whose prejudices influence the way each case is perceived and recorded. The statistics of the Public Security Directorate, for example, are not specific or disaggregated by sex. The only category which shows the gender of the victim is ‘housewives’; for the rest of professions, the masculine is used such as ‘male teachers’.[xvi] It is difficult, therefore, to rely on these statistics. Equally an alternative source of information to quantify the problem of violence against women in Jordan is difficult to find.

Second is the problem of under-reporting by victims of violence. Similar to women in countries like Britain and the USA, most domestic violence against women in Jordan remains unreported. “The bulk of violence to women, that which occurs in private, rarely comes to public attention and is scorned by the police, and the women who ask for police intervention are left neglected and often abused by the very system financed by the state to protect them.”[xvii] The fear of retaliation and neglect discourages women from reporting abuse and harm. Jordanian women’s rights activists argue that law-enforcement authorities compound legal bias with inadequate investigations and lenient sentences. Police officers, for example, do not normally conduct serious investigations or collect evidence from and pertaining to all parties involved in the crime or killing. [xviii]

5. Neopatriarchy and gender violence in Jordan

Despite the fact that the documentation of violence is not gender-specific, violence “used and acted out in relationships, encounters and institutions is specifically gendered and constructed by, as well as a reflection of, the power relations which constitute hetero-patriarchy.”[xix] Arab society in general, and Jordanian society in particular, can be classified as ‘neo-patriarchal’ where power relationships are not only influenced by gender, but also by class, clan, and proximity to the regime. Such relations are based on the subordination of the disadvantaged and the disfranchised.[xx] “Sexual violence is used by men as a way of securing and maintaining the relations of male dominance and female subordination, which are central to the patriarchal social order.”[xxi] Different types of abuse of the disadvantaged, including women, can be found in most Arab countries.

Preliminary data suggests that wife beatind, for example, is a wide spread phenomenon in Jordan and cuts across the boundaries of age, education, class and religion. The statistics of the Public Security Directorate’s Family Protection Unit (FPU), which was established in February 1998 in the western side of the capital Amman, used to have a separate heading for domestic violence. Although twenty-three cases were dealt with within the first 10 months of its establishment the FPU decided to stop dealing with domestic violence.[xxii] Apparently, the FPU has found difficulty in handling this issue for many reasons including the lack of clarity of Article 334 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which makes it difficult to penalise the perpetrator without evidence of grievous bodily harm, resulting in the withdrawal of charges before the case went to court. The FPU decided to stop dealing with domestic violence cases as they were draining the limited resources. The statistics on domestic violence cannot be found in any of the FPU’s 1999 reports. In addition, no figures on domestic violence could be found in the official statistical reports of the Public Security Directorate. The head of FPU said that the unit was dealing with around 60 cases each month involving abused children and women. He specified three types of violence: physical, sexual and emotional.[xxiii]

A report by the Public Security Directorate shows a rise in crimes against women, listed as family violence, from 313 in 1993 to 401 in 1996.  39% of those crimes are against women under eighteen years of age, 32% against women between at the ages of 18-27, and the rest against women of other age groups.[xxiv] 

Between March and October, 1998, The Jordanian Women’s Union received over 1500 complaints from victims of domestic violence. Most cases were neither taken to court nor followed through within the Jordanian legal justice system. Possible explanations are that houses are normally owned by the husband, and mortgages or rent contracts are in the husband’s name. In addition, women refrain from pursuing their cases because they are financially dependent on their husbands.[xxv] “Keeping the relationship together, despite the violence, is also important for practical reasons - financial support, shelter, even access to the ability to earn a living many times rest with the husband.”[xxvi] A man was accused of lashing his 29-year old wife over 100 times with an electrical cord because she disobeyed him. Defence lawyer Nur Imam said that her client is seeking financial compensation from her husband. Her husband was put in custody, but when he is released she will end up without a guardian or a place to live.

According to a study released in 15 May, 1999 entitled “Violence Against Women in Jordan: Demographic Characteristics of Victims and Perpetrators” conducted by the Human Forum for Women’s Rights, a discrepancy exists between the official estimates of crimes of physical and sexual violence against women in Jordan, and the actual number of these crimes. There is a dark figure, which can only be estimated through interviews with the professionals who deal with violence against women. “The professionals believed that - in their own personal point of view - only 7.5% of the cases are reported. While the percentage of non-reporting was believed to be 92.5%.”[xxvii] Embedded in those figures is one of the most severe types of domestic violence against women in Jordan, intrafamily femicide for family’s honour, which claim the lives of about 25 women a year.[xxviii] For a population of about 4.7 million the rate is one of the highest in the world.[xxix]

6. Concepts of Honour

Honour killings are the killings of women for deviation from sexual norms imposed by society. This phenomenon is comparable to the emphasis on the chastity of wives in Victorian morality. “The honour ethic as it applies to women’s sexuality is not specific to Islam, but exists in many other non-Muslim societies.”[xxx] A man’s honour is closely related to the behaviour of his female relatives not only in Muslim or Arab societies, but in western societies such as Spain and Portugal. 

Although relating women’s honour to their suspected sexual behaviour is a worldwide phenomenon, imposing a legal penalty for any deviation from the norm survived in Mediterranean societies and a number of Islamic countries such as Pakistan.[xxxi] Crimes motivated by honour are representative of, and deeply rooted, in the histories of Mediterranean societies. “One of the first entities linked with honour is the family. This is not unusual considering that the family has customarily been viewed as the most important and powerful institution in the organisation of Mediterranean societies.”[xxxii] “This ethic is still deeply entrenched in most Christian Mediterranean societies.”[xxxiii] While most countries, however, have abolished laws related to such crimes, a number of Arab and Muslim countries still maintain specific articles in their penal codes dealing with such crimes.[xxxiv]

Chastity can be achieved through purity of breed, which is seen as synonymous with the purity of females. “In Arab Muslim culture, the honour of the patrilineal group is bound up with the sex organs of its daughters and a specific term ‘i’rid’ combines the two.”[xxxv] Girls or women can sully their family’s honour and destroy their reputation until they get married and become the responsibility of their husbands. In Arab societies women should remain mastura (hidden, low-profiled) a term which implies physical and psychological confinement in the private and public space. [xxxvi]  

The social boundaries of the group are defined by its honour and any act of transgression by the female members threatens the status quo. Families associate their honour with the virginity of their unmarried daughters and with the chastity of the married ones. “Female violators of the honor code face a different fate; punishment in some form is inescapable. Once the violation is made public, the male members of the family must take immediate action.”[xxxvii] The family’s honour is normally purged in public to restore the social status of the family, tribe or clan.[xxxviii]

The sum total of honour killings can never be established, and the above table is only the tip of the iceberg. A number of studies estimate a dark figure, which could be partially accounted for by the number of female suicides provoked or engineered to cover up an honour killing or the number of disappearance. In 1992 alone 16 suicides were recorded with a further 268 attempted suicides.[xl] In 1997 the number of suicides has risen to 27.[xli] The head of the FPU stated that many reported suicides among women are in fact crimes of honour where “the victims were forced to commit suicide.”[xlii] Another possible explanation for the dark figure is that some killings never get reported or are registered or mislabled as other types of crimes.

7. The role of reputation and rumour

Reputation and rumour play an active role in instigating honour crimes and killings for to speak of a woman’s reputation is to invoke her sexual behaviour.[xliii] “Therefore language (or the discourse of female reputation in particular) acts as a material practice with its own determinate effects, acting as a form of control over their emotions and passions and steering girls into a subordinate relationship with men.”[xliv] The significance attached to sexual reputation is one method of policing women. Significantly women also police each other through the spreading of rumours.

The above arguments made about the reputation of young British women can easily be applied to Jordanian women whose reputation almost decides their fate. The penalty for not conforming to acceptable social norms in Jordan, however, is much higher than in Britain. Women who are suspected of “immoral” behaviour usually end up dead, even though most of those who get examined by forensic scientists are found to have been sexually inactive. A 28-year-old husband who claimed to have killed his wife for reasons of honour told investigators that family problems were the real reason behind the killing. He also said that he suspected that his wife was behaving immorally.[xlv] Another woman was stabbed, at least 50 times, by her brothers and husband in Salt for her alleged “involvement in immoral behaviours”.[xlvi]

A look at honour killings, which took place in 1994, shows the important role of reputation and rumour. By October 1994, 15 honour crimes were reported in The Jordan Times most of them a reaction to rumours about the victims’ reputation. For example, on 3 April a thirty-seven-year-old divorced woman and a mother of fourteen children was shot dead by her forty-two-year-old brother in Jarash, a town north of Jordan, because “someone told him that his sister was seeing a man.”[xlvii] An autopsy of a teenage girl slain two weeks before by her “outraged” brother in a “crime of honour” revealed that the victim had not been sexually active. Her 15-year old brother caught her with her boyfriend in Swayleh and committed his crime.[xlviii] Most of these killings go unpunished because the Jordanian Penal Code provides a reduced sentence for such crimes (see section 10).

8. Feminine and masculine divides

A killing in defence of honour is an emotional activity governed by certain social rules affecting the mental state of the perpetrator and motivating him to defend the honour of family. This phenomenon prevails in tightly knit social units where social and economic activities are co-ordinated in the group. Within this context the individual has less importance than the community of the extended families. The conduct of the individual reflects on the whole community and any unacceptable behaviour is strictly forbidden. Brothers or fathers; therefore, kill any female members of their family if she does anything to sully their honour, and by this they conform to the social culture of their environment. Statistics show that honour killings are committed mostly by brothers (61.9%), followed by fathers (14.3%), then nephews (10%).[xlix]

The notion of honour is divided along feminine and masculine lines, with different meanings for each gender. Masculinity, on the one hand, in neopatriarchal Arab societies is often praised and exonerated. Popular culture is full of sayings, signals and proverbs, which glorify men, their masculinity and image. “Through ideologies and social constructs, through the lack of civil and criminal remedies and their interpretation, which often fail to give women adequate protection, we find that male violence is frequently, if covertly, legitimated.”[l] Men in general, but specifically within Arab-Islamic culture, are considered to be guardians of their female relatives and are given the right to police and chastise them.[li]

Femininity, on the other hand, is socially constructed in such a way to favour “good sweet maids” who conform to appropriate gender models. They must be passive, selfless and “above all sexually pure or chaste.”[lii] “In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally to the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his right.”[liii] If women deviate from acceptable gender models and have sex out of wedlock the entire family’s honour is threatened. To ‘cleanse’ his reputation the male usually kills his female relative, for this is where his ‘honour’ lies.

These ideas and images endure and remain powerful in contemporary Jordanian society mainly among the young, uneducated and those who live in densely populated areas. 72.3% of the perpetrators of violence against women are in the age-group 19-30, 32.4% are either illiterate or received a basic primary education, 46.3% live in traditional heavily populated areas, where housing lacks basic hygienic services and where families generally have little respect for the rule of law. Most of the crimes, however, were in defence of honour. [liv]

9. Reasons behind honour killings

About 40 professionals working in the various fields of criminal justice in Jordan have argued that violence against women is either attributable to the discrimination between the sexes, or to customs, traditions, social values, the physical weakness of women and to alienation from Islam.[lv] The prevailing social values of Jordanian society help normalise violence against women in general, and honour killings in particular. Both men and women believe that an unchaste woman destroys not only her own reputation, but also the name and honour of all her family and tribe. Further, a number of honour killings “are in fact economic crimes, committed against female family members with whom there is a dispute about inheritance.”[lvi]

Honour killings are used to cover up incest. “Some of the women murdered in such honour killings had first been raped and impregnated by male family members.”[lvii] Kifaya, a 16-year-old veiled woman, one of ten children, was stabbed to death by Khalid, her 32-year-old brother, because she was raped by her younger brother Mahmoud. Khalid received a seven-and-a-half year sentence for the pre-meditated murder, which was reduced to one year. Mahmoud received a sentence of 13 years for the rape and attempted murder of his sister.[lviii]

In many cases, women members of the family are the ones who put pressure on male members to kill other female members who are seen to be unchaste. It took six years for the Ghoul family to hunt down their married daughter Basma, who ran away with a man. Her husband divorced her and she got married to the man she ran away with, but in the town of Rusayfeh the contempt for her family kept spreading. Her family was ostracised, her eight sisters were deemed unmarriageable, and her brothers were mocked in the streets, even by their close relatives who argued that they should kill their sister to cleanse their honour. Her mother went looking for Basma to kill her, but could not find her. Her 16-year-old brother’s manhood was questioned, so he finally tracked Basma down and killed her. Her 18-year-old sister said, “Now we can walk with our heads held high.”[lix]

“Nobody really wants to kill his wife or daughter or sister”, said Muhammad Ajarmeh, chief judge of the High Criminal Court in Jordan, “But sometimes circumstances force him to do this. Sometimes, it’s society that forces him to do this, because the people won’t forget. Sometimes, there are two victims - the murdered and the murderer.”[lx]

10. The Legal Dimension

Although the Jordanian Constitution of 1953, article 6, guarantees the rights of all Jordanian citizens regardless of their gender, it is contradicted by article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which states that “he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery with another, and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty.”[lxi] The second paragraph of the same article states that “he who discovers his wife, or one of his female ascendants or descendants or sisters with another in an unlawful bed, and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, benefits from a reduction of penalty.”

Article 98, which is usually used to reduce the sentence, states that “He who commits a crime in a fit of fury caused by an unrightful and dangerous act on the part of the victim benefits from a reduction of penalty.”[lxii] Furthermore “some families assign the task of honour killings to a male relative under 18 years of age, knowing that he would be dealt with as a minor by the criminal justice system and thus would receive the reduced penalties applicable to juvenile delinquents.”[lxiii]

Significantly in the reverse situation was reversed and a woman finding her husband with another woman has no recourse in law. If she kills her husband she would not benefit from any reduction of penalty and would receive a minimum of three years.

Women and girls who commit adultery, get pregnant out of wedlock or become homeless, are normally threatened by their families for alleged violation of their honour. Article 7 of the Prevention of Crimes Law of 1954 gives the Administrative Governor licence to place the women in the protective custody of prisons or rehabilitation centres for periods ranging from a few months to three years. Although they are referred to as ‘administrative detainees’, they are kept in women’s prisons or rehabilitation centres along with convicted criminals. In 1997 there were 25 female ‘administrative detainees’ in prisons and rehabilitation centres.[lxiv] In February 1999 the Ministry of Social Development announced that the first women’s shelter in Jordan would be opened within a few months with the aim of separating women who are in prison for protective custody from the rest of the inmates. [lxv]

The Jordanian legislative system is based on and borrows from different sources such as German and Ottoman laws. Although a common belief is maintained that article 340 is either related to Islamic Shari’a law or tribal law it can be traced back to the old article 324 of the French Penal Code of 1810. During both the Ottoman rule and the French mandate in Lebanon the laws used were those of the Ottoman Empire. In 1944 the laws were changed, but a number related to family and public conduct remained the same such as article 188 of the Ottoman Penal Code which deal with honour killings. Ironically article 188 was based on article 324 of the French Penal Code of 1810, which states that the husband must be given a reduced sentence in the case of a crime of passion. In 1975 this article and other laws related to adultery were abolished in France.[lxvi]

Laws related to “honour” killings can be found in the Penal Codes of majority Arab countries, which are originally based on the Lebanese Penal Code: Article 562 in Lebanon, article 340 Jordan, article 548 in Syria, article 153 in Kuwait, 237 in Egypt, article 309 in Iraq, article 334 in the United Arab Emirates, article 70 in Bahrain, articles 418-424 in Morocco, article 252 in Oman. As for Saudi Arabia and Qatar they apply the rules of Shari’a (Islamic Law), especially the Hanbali Madhhab (school) which stipulates that the killer of an adulterer cannot be penalised.[lxvii] A number of Arab Codes, such as the Egyptian and Algerian, emphasise passion, while the Jordanian and Syrian codes emphasise honour.[lxviii]

All the above mentioned laws are in direct contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 15 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which entered into force on 3 September, 1981.[lxix] Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Kuwait all entered reservations to article 16 before signing the Convention.[lxx] The gist of the arguments used by different countries for their expressed reservation is that Islamic Law, which most civil status laws in Arab countries are based on, ensures complementarity not superficial equality between spouses.[lxxi]

1. The position of Islam and Islamists

More than 92% of the 4.7 population of Jordan are Sunni Muslims and about 6% are Christians, who mainly belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.[lxxii] The Islamic religion is strict on what is halal (permitted) and what is haram (prohibited). A system of penalty has been devised for those who commit sins in this life and in the hereafter. Among the crimes forbidden by Islamic Shari’a Law is  zina (adultery or sex out of wedlock). Both the Qur’an and the Hadith (the Prophet’s sayings and deeds) made clear the penalty for such a crime is 100 ‘medium’ lashes in public for unmarried women (and men) and stoning for married women (and men). What is clearly emphasised in the Qur’an, the Hadith and jurisprudence is the importance of establishing that zina has taken place. The evidence can be gained through repeated confessions, the testimony of four rational adult eye-witnesses, or pregnancy.[lxxiii]

Islamic Law is strict in this matter and zina has to be unequivocally proven for the penalty to be applied. Islam favoured discretion in the case of zina to making it public and carrying out the punishment. Clearly it is almost impossible for four witnesses to witness the intercourse. Therefore, the guardian (whether the father, brother or uncle) was not given the right to kill his female relatives, who are merely suspected of committing zina. The Islamic State has maintained that privilege, never having delegated the right to carry out sentences to particular individuals.[lxxiv] 

Islamic law, however, is not followed faithfully whether it is applicable as a family, civil status, or civil law. Although Saudi Arabia and Qatar follow the rules of the Shari’a (Islamic Law), it is not applied consistently. In 1977, a young Saudi Princess was put to death in a public square in Jidah for falling in love with, and wanting to marry a young Lebanese man. Princess Mish’al, who was unmarried, was sentenced to death and beheaded.[lxxv] If Islamic law had been applied Princess Mish’al would have been alive today, after receiving 100 medium lashes in a public square.

A parallel value system seems to exist which is in action not Islamic. Islam abolished the femicide or the burying of young girls in the jahiliyya (pre-Islamic) period. However, the protection of honour now takes priority over Islamic teachings. Societal and political structures conspire to form a parallel value system, which is stronger than the Islamic religion.

The on-going debate concerning article 340 in Jordan in the past few months in the press, the Lower House and Upper House of Parliament, revealed a serious rift between the Islamists, who can be divided into two groups: the first argued for abolishing article 340, which is in direct conflict with the Shari’a, and the second argued for keeping 340 to stop promiscuity. “The Islamic movement basically rejects the changes [ to 340] . . . arguing that it will lead to moral disintegration  in society and [abolishing it] will get rid of major social deterrents to relationships between young men and women.”[lxxvi]

The Jordanian government came under fire from the Lower House when the majority of deputies rejected a draft bill aimed at overturning article 340. The majority Members of Parliament perceived the bill as an attempt to legalise obscenity and encourage women to act immorally. The Minister of ‘Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, ‘Abdul Salam al-‘Abbadi, agreed with the draft which described killing unmarried women as unIslamic. “The Shari’a is clear that they should be given 80 lashes,” he said. Another Islamist argued in the press for abolishing article 340 and handing over the matter to the state.[lxxvii]

On the other hand, other Islamists also voiced their objection to abolishing article 340. Sheikh ‘Abdul Baqi Jammu, an Islamist senator, spoke against giving women the right to kill their husbands if they found them with another woman. “Whether we like it or not women are not equal to men in several aspects in Islam . . . female adulterers are worse than male adulterers because they determine the family ancestry and if they bear children [out of wedlock] then the right to inheritance would be lost.”[lxxviii] Further, on 17 February, 1999, the scholars committee of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan issued a fatwa against the cancellation of article 340. It stated that “omitting item 340 of the punishment law is a violation of the Islamic Sharia and this might help encourage adultery.”[lxxix]

12. Honour and tribal law

A number of tribal sheikhs echoed the arguments of the Islamists, considering the amendments “harmful” to Jordanian society and in contradiction to social values and norms.[lxxx] Within urban centres the honour of the individual is related to that of the family, but in rural areas the honour of the individual has wider connotations and is related to that of the family, clan, community and tribe. Tribal law or ‘urf, however, considers honour as something that does not belong to one individual, but to the whole community. This honour of the females (and males) of the tribe has to be safe-guarded through the following measures: the protection and defence of the honour of all members, both male and female, and the imposition of serious penalty on those who threaten the honour of the tribe and all its members.[lxxxi]

Tribal law stipulates the killing of the male rapist or one of his relatives and the pillaging of his tribe’s dwellings and property. The tribe might seek the advice of an established tribal judge, who usually imposes a high financial fine on the rapist’s tribe. If the woman consents to sexual intercourse, then her tribe must kill her, but the perpetrator must also be killed by his tribe. Thus the penalty imposed on consensual sex is equal for males and females according to tribal ‘urf .[lxxxii]

 Honour and National Identity

The protection of ‘ird or women’s honour was perceived as the last resort against Western influence and modernisation during the British Mandate in Palestine and Jordan. “The involvement of an ulama to enforce the shari’a in defence of girls in distress or to rule against their self-appointed judges is rare.”[lxxxiii] The ulama’s silence was perceived to be an act of defiance against British colonialism. The ulama’s prioritised resistance of colonialism over applying Islamic Law. These sentiments, which have survived the test of time, often come to the surface.

Some within the Jordanian society argued that the National Jordanian Campaign to Eliminate so Called ‘Crimes of Honour’ is instigated by western countries, like Holland, for example, who tied economic aid to Jordan with steps taken by the government to activate women’s rights.[lxxxiv] “The most important question is why the West and the western media are launching holy campaigns to defend the oppressed outside their own countries?”[lxxxv]

In a discussion of rape and obscenity laws in the Lower House members argued that the number of such crimes in Jordanian society has risen. Adding that the legislative system is influenced by imported foreign laws and principles based on promiscuity and individual freedom. This influence will lead to chaos in sexual relationships and to the spread of sin and immorality.[lxxxvi]

When the Senate returned article 340, which gives leniency to perpetrators of honour crimes, in a draft amendment to its Legal Affairs Committee to reconsider the phrasing, the majority of senators were in favour of cancelling the article altogether. In 26 January, 2000, however, the Lower House rejected for the second time in two months the government’s proposal suggesting the cancellation of article 340. “There is a unanimous acceptance by the deputies to reject this draft bill.” The draft bill, which was discussed by the Lower House in November, 1999, faced stiff opposition by the deputies, who accused the government of “succumbing to the West, legalising obscenity and harming society and women’s morals.”[lxxxvii]

Conclusions

A violence or rape-prone society is one in which “sexual assault by men of women is either culturally allowable or, largely, overlooked.”[lxxxviii] There are many types of violence against women in Jordan that go unchecked such as domestic violence. Most women withdraw their charges against their male relatives just before the case goes to court, afraid to be deprived of housing, custody and/or financial support. This failure works as an incitement to the killing of women for alleged sexual transgressions. Thus violence against women is normalised leading to the normalisation of femicide for the family’s honour.

The notion of honour is divided along feminine and masculine lines, with different meanings for each gender. “There is growing evidence and recognition that gender-based violence as a social problem exists in Jordan. According to sociologists, this is a product of a broader trend of male resistance to changing patterns of social behaviour.”[lxxxix] The changing role of women destablises societal structures within the private and public spaces. This unleashes periodic private violence as a response to the “emergent sexual types and practices.”[xc] Honour killings are clear evidence that the role of men and women in Jordanian society are changing rapidly, and that traditional patriarchy, whether Islamic, nationalist or tribal, is resisting this change. 

Traditional patriarchy does not only include those with Islamic or tribal affiliations it also includes the so called ‘secular’ nationalist elite. The post-colonial Arab elite, seeking to produce a new woman, who is not supposed to resemble her mother, but also must not be anything like a Western woman.[xci] Women’s honour became a symbol of national ‘purity’ and identity. Therefore, resisting globalisation or the New World Order has become synonymous with preserving women’s honour. Dr Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, the head of the Islamic Action Front, argued that the debate about honour killings in Jordan is instigated by western countries who are trying to superimpose their values and norms on Jordanian society.[xcii] Many Islamists, as well as ‘progressive’ socialists, pan-Arabists and tribal sheikhs are united on this issue perceiving it to be a symptom of ‘westoxication’ or western hegemony. Lama Abu-Odeh ends her contribution to Feminism and Islam with the following question, “What is the meaning of gender when the traditional, nationalist and fundamentalist texts intersect?”[xciii] The debate around article 340 proves that this intersection as Islamism and tribalism have adapted Arab nationalism to its discourse, contributing to the subordination of women.[xciv]  

The issue of violence against Jordanian women, which occurs within the domestic sphere, is perceived to be both private and unimportant. Although journalists, women’s groups and private lobbies, such as the National Jordanian Campaign Committee,[xcv] headed by pharmacist Basil Burqan, are pressing for the abolition of article 340 along with other related articles, many sections of society believe that the matter should be kept private. Domestic violence, grievous bodily harm and intrafamily femicide, however, are interconnected. Honour killings are an extreme form of domestic violence and if the latter is ‘crimed down’ the former is provoked.[xcvi] 

Although many international laws and covenant were signed by the Jordanian government, most, especially those related to women’s status, have not been ratified by parliament or published in the Official Gazette. “These agreements do not have any legal binding power and are not part of the current legal justice system. These international laws cannot be used directly in courts.”[xcvii] As a result of lack of dissemination of information the majority of Jordanian citizens, including women, are ignorant of laws related to their personal status and of international agreements signed by their government.

Neither the Shari’a Law, family laws based on the Shari’a or civil status laws are systematically or consistently applied by most Arab countries. The legal process, which is influenced by social norms and values, is selective in its treatment of women. Women seem to be the victims of the selectivity of the socio-legal process. The male-dominated state structure, magistracy and judiciary apply a two-tier system and their decisions are strongly influenced by those in power, public opinion, social norms, and religious values. “There is also the issue of the legal justice system and the calibre of the judges. It is clear that this system is influenced by political power structures in society.”[xcviii] An on going debate continues in the Arab world on the ‘independence’ and ‘integrity’ of the legal justice system. An independent judiciary is considered as one of the measures for creating a truly democratic state in which the rights of each citizen are respected by public and private institutions.[xcix]

The endorsement of article 340 as it stands by Islamists or those with tribal affiliations is not in harmony with either Islamic or tribal law. Tribal sheikhs, Islamic leaders and Members of Parliament, who rejected the draft law overturning article 340, do not want to offend the traditionalist element among their electorate. This ‘ambiguity’ aims to capture the consensus of wider social and political groups. This vagueness which aims to ensure re-election, might itself lead to loss of seats in future elections. In a country characterised by political apathy in only few months the National Jordanian Campaign collected over 15,000 signatures calling for the abolition of article 340, and on 6 February, 2000 five thousand Jordanians, including members of the royal family, marched against honour killings.[c] It is evident, therefore, that honour killings have become a yardstick against which to measure how traditional or modernist future candidates are.  

The application of double standards due to a variety of historical, sociological, and political reasons is widespread in Arab societies in general, and Jordanian society in particular. In Arab societies punishment is normally feared and applying internal moral checks is less common. The Arab male applies in his behaviour and judgement “a moral system, which is directed towards the outside, where concepts of punishment and conventional rules are stronger than morals and internal values.”[ci] The important factor is the ‘respect’ the individual is accorded by the group, rather than how true he/she is to his/her own values and beliefs. Therefore, the debate on article 340, which exposes the double standards of many Members of Parliament, journalists and public figures, who are not being true to their own beliefs will remain inconclusive. 

Honour killings should be considered within a context of a neopatriarchal, tribal, and traditional society, based on the subordination of the poor, the working class and the weak. Honour killings are a symptom of a larger malady within Jordanian society namely the absence of participatory democracy and the unequivocal respect for human rights. “A significant part of women’s problems will be solved by true democratisation.”[cii] Within Jordanian society “the illusion of well-being and advancement that clouds the understanding of the status of women prevails as to the standing of democracy and human rights.”[ciii] Under what Laurie Brand describes as ‘managed liberalisation’ there is serious confusion over not only the position of women in society, but also issues related to civil rights and civil society. The civil rights of Jordanian citizens (both men and women) depend on their status, class, tribal affiliations and proximity to the regime. This discriminatory culture effects all citizens especially women, children and ethnic and religious minorities. This debate cannot even begin if it were limited or confined to issues related to women’s position in society, but has to examine wider issues related to social justice for all, democracy and respect for human rights of all citizens. If equality before the law, civil rights, human rights of all citizens regardless of their gender, class or race are safeguarded women, children, minorities and the disadvantaged will benefit by extension. 

There is a need to carry out a comparative study of pre-Islamic and contemporary Muslim societies. During the pre-Islamic period Arab society was patrilineal, feudal and Bedouin, where the highest authority was the father or male members of the family. At the time, when slavery was rife, women were perceived to be the property of their family or tribe with the potential of bringing disgrace to her kinsmen.[civ] Significantly, therefore, “the Bedouins before Islam practised female infanticide as a safeguard against a girl’s future misbehaviour or kidnap.”[cv] Later, the Islamic religion attempted to regulate sexual relationships and transgressions: prostitution, zina and female infanticide were prohibited, and sex out of wedlock and adultery were penalised. Despite the attempted changes the pre-Islamic code of honour survived, creating a powerful value system parallel to Islam and the newer political ideologies. That value system is what decides the fate of women in the Arab world today if they are perceived to have violated the code of conduct of the family, community or tribe.

August, 2000