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Activists applaud Royal committee’s recommendations on women rights

By Rana Husseini - Feb 27,2017 - Last updated at Feb 27,2017

AMMAN — Women’s rights activists on Monday hailed as “historic and a dream that has come true” the recommendations made by a Royal committee to protect women’s rights.

The Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law suggested scrapping a law that allows sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment if they married their victims, as well as other laws reducing punishment for men who commit crimes against women. 

The panel, made up of 10 judicial experts and chaired by former prime minister Zeid Rifai, handed His Majesty King Abdullah the report on Sunday after four months of discussions. 

Long-awaited by women activists, a first amendment to the Penal Code suggests preventing any reduction in punishment if a woman is killed for reasons related to “family honour”.

A second amendment recommends that judges and the courts be given the discretionary authority to accept or reject to reduce the punishment if the family of the victim decides to drop charges.

In many cases, including crimes against women and children, the family of the victim drops charges against the perpetrator who is often a family member, resulting in eased punishment.

Reduced punishments are also applied by the courts in cases where women are murdered “to cleanse family honour”.

The committee recommended the complete removal of controversial Article 308 from the Penal Code. Heavily criticised by women and rights activists, it allows sexual assault perpetrators to avoid punishment if they marry their victim, provided that they remain married for three to five years, depending on the nature of the sexual assault.

The article had already been amended in 2016, scrapping pardon in cases of rape, while keeping a clause that pardoned perpetrators if they married the victim if she is aged between 15 and 18, and if the assault was regarded as “consensual”.

“This is a Jordanian dream that has come true,” said activist Laila Naffa.

She told The Jordan Times the recommendations were the result of tireless work by the women’s movement and human rights activists “who insisted on working to achieve more gains for women in Jordan”.

Naffa, who is the programme director of the Arab Women Organisation, added: “This is a huge step for the women’s movement, especially on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, which is marked on March 8.”

Officials had justified the option of a pardon in cases where the victim is between 15 and 18 “to protect her [the victim], because in some instances, she could be harmed or killed by her family if she did not marry her rapist”.

But the amendment was met with fierce opposition by women’s advocates, who argued that individuals under the age of 18 are considered children and cannot weigh the consequences of their actions.

Jordanian Women’s Union Director General Nadia Shamroukh welcomed the recommendations, saying they came in direct response to women’s movements’ demands.

“The recommendations are the least that could be done to protect women and their right to life. It shows that women are now treated like other victims who have their rights violated,” Shamroukh told The Jordan Times.

She added that the suggested changes, if effected, would also ensure the equality we have been calling for, especially in cases where a woman is murdered for reasons related to “honour” and  held responsible for her family’s reputation, while the man is not punished in any way.

Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI) issued a statement also welcoming the recommendations, saying the Royal committee had “succeeded in determining how to end the practice of escaping punishment for perpetrators who violate women and end their lives”. 

“SIGI has been calling for amendments to all the laws that discriminate against women and for the scraping of Article 308,” the organisation said, adding that the Royal committee’s step was a major attempt to safeguard the rights of women in Jordan and to end discrimination against them.

Jerash Deputy Wafaa Bani Mustafa, head of the Jordanian Women Parliamentarian Forum, said the suggestions were of extreme importance, noting that the old legislation entailed a “grave violation for the society”.

“I see the recommendations as a victory for the society even before being a victory for women,” Bani Mustafa told The Jordan Times. 

The MP added that this is “a historic moment for the women’s movement.  We need to build on these recommendations and start lobbying the government”.

“The first step is for the government to approve the recommendations. Once they reach the Parliament, I will work hard to ensure they pass,” she stressed.

Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) Secretary General Salma Nims said the agency welcomes the recommendations proposed by the Royal committee.

“The JNCW, in collaboration with civil society, presented a list of demands to the Royal committee when it was first formed, and there are some demands that were not taken into consideration, such as Article 62 of the Penal Code which is related to the punishment of children. The article also does not allow women to perform abortion in cases of rape or incest,” Nims said.

 

She told The Jordan Times the JNCW “is hoping that the recommendations will be quickly adopted by the government”.

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In the making! Of watching the ablation of Jordanian national borders and the expansion of Saudi Arabia's.

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