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Women’s shelter turns one year as activists reflect on challenges

Amneh House established to protect women fleeing violence

By Rana Husseini - Jul 18,2019 - Last updated at Jul 18,2019

AMMAN — One year after the first guesthouse to take in women whose lives are threatened in the name of “family honour” opened its doors, experts and activists met in Amman to evaluate the experience and challenges.

The state-of-the-art, “Amneh House”, ("safe" in Arabic), also called the “Guest and Rehabilitation House for Women”, was opened by former minister of social development Hala Lattouf in July 2018 to replace the old procedure of imprisoning women for indefinite  periods to protect them from their families.

The one-day Jordanian Coalition to Help Women in Protective Custody meeting, which was held in Amman under the patronage of Social Development Minister Basma Ishaqat, was organised by MIZAN Law Group and supported by the EU.

“We are hopeful that the government will continue to adopt best practices and measures to ensure the continuity of this important project and to help women by giving them new hope and a new start,” said MLG Executive Director Eva Abu Halaweh.

The meeting, Abu Halaweh added, is meant to “collect recommendations from the coalition members and to build on what has been already accomplished”.

Before the house was opened, all women whose lives were in danger were sent by the administrative governor of the Juwaida Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre (JCRC). 

Hundreds of women have been imprisoned at the JCRC for indefinite periods, and without being charged in what is termed “protective custody”. Some of these periods exceeded 10 years, during which women could not leave the facility without the administrative governor’s permission or a male guardian’s signature guaranteeing he would not harm her if she was released.

Abu Halaweh also said that “the guesthouse recently received the first newborn", adding that "this in itself is a major accomplishment”.

“There is a nursery for children, but it was very difficult to receive children [older than] six. But recently a baby was reunited with his mother,” Abu Halaweh said.

Newborns are sometimes taken from their mothers through a judicial order, mostly in cases involving adultery where the woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock, Abu Halaweh explained.

Deputising for Minister Ishaqat, Mohammad Sawalqah reiterated the ministry’s commitment to ensuring the continuation and support of the guesthouse.

Family Protection Department (FPD) Director Col. Fakhri Al Qatarneh said that when the department opened its doors in 1997 “we were a bit sceptical about receiving women who are victims of domestic violence”.

“But we soon realised that there is nothing to worry about and we proceeded after a while to help abused women and children,” Qatarneh told the gathering.

The police official said the FPD dealt with 17,087 cases involving violence against women from 2013 to 2018, which were referred to the courts. Qatarneh added that 3,348 of these cases were against minors.

There were 5,598 cases of sexual assault and 11,742 cases of physical abuse in these six years, according to Qatarneh.

Raghda Azzeh, director of the new guesthouse, said all the women who are received are provided with services to help them find a new temporary home.

“Our main aim is to protect these women and to help them decide their own future,” Azzeh stressed.

Azzeh added that the guesthouse received 26 women from the JCRC, while 34 women were “referred to us by the FPD”.

 Around 40 female employees affiliated with the ministry underwent special capacity-building training in May to prepare for newcomers and manage the facility.

The guesthouse provides meals and other necessary items for women and their children, and is also equipped with several private rooms for women with children. The house includes a play area for children, rooms equipped with sewing machines, computers and hair salon equipment for residents to learn new skills.

The facility also encompasses several kitchens, balconies, a health clinic, sports equipment and a garden. It is protected by both male and female police officers.

Meanwhile, Barbara Engelstoft, who is the programme manager for Human Rights, Gender and Migration at the EU also addressed the meeting saying that she was hopeful that the guesthouse would continue to provide a wide range of social protection measures to women in need.

Most of the women in protective custody were involved in cases of rape, adultery and incest, and fearing for their lives, left their family’s home voluntarily.

On some occasions, women were reportedly killed after being bailed out by family members, even after guarantees had been signed that no harm would be inflicted upon them. 

Around 15 women are murdered annually for reasons related to “cleansing family honour” in Jordan.

The guesthouse’s policy stipulates that women whose lives are in danger are entitled to be admitted to the guesthouse willingly at any time and during holidays, after being referred by the administrative governor.

The guesthouse, according to the policy, will be obliged to document their cases and provide them with the necessary legal, psychological, social, medical and recreational services.

The house can also receive children six years old or younger accompanying their mothers.

The services will be terminated in the event that women do not wish to stay, threaten other women residing in the guesthouse or if guest’s case is resolved and there is sufficient evidence that her life is no longer in danger.

Director of the Legislation and Opinion Bureau Judge Fidaa Hmoud concluded the meeting by stressing the importance of “ensuring that women who are referred to the governor are eventually sent to the guesthouse and not the JCRC”.

“There are a handful of incidents whereby some administrative governors still refer women whose lives are in danger from their families to the JCRC, and we are hopeful that strict instructions will be issued by the government to ensure that no woman will go to prison."

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