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Biased article on ‘mandatory will’ must be stopped

Feb 02,2019 - Last updated at Feb 02,2019

The Personal Status Law (PSL) has been under discussion in Parliament for several weeks now and is caught in a tug of war between conservative patriarchs and supporters of equality for women.

Several of the PSL’s articles, many women activists believe, cement a lower status for women within the Jordanian family, constrain their independence as human beings and ensure that women remain hostage to male control on many levels, most specifically in access to marital funds, family resources and assets in effect ensuring that women in Jordan remain under the economic and financial authority of their male relatives.

Women and men in Jordan who believe that the PSL should be reviewed to become more sensitive to the lived reality of women and families in Jordan have been met with criticism from religious authorities and their supporters, who have accused them of going against religious dictates and trying to introduce “foreign”, “liberal”, “immoral” and “alien” practices into Jordanian society. I would not be exaggerating if I said that many critics of the law stay mum in fear of being targeted for blasphemy or disrespect of religion.

Many women, most often pious, recognise the shortcomings of the PSL, but are also resigned to the “unfairness” of its dictates because they have been instructed by religious authorities and conservatives to accept that the articles that discriminate against them are dictated by Sharia and cannot be further debated or amended. Many women are afraid to stand up for their rights and shaming their male family members in a culture that is obsessed with “respecting” the authority of men and not “hanging the family laundry” publicly.

Women’s rights activists have raised several issues with the current draft PSL, demanding that Jordan’s approach to family affairs be compared with that of Morocco and other Islamic countries which had adopted a more up-to-date interpretation of religious text to make it better situated within the reality of family lives in the 21st century. The experience of Morocco in particular is noteworthy because Islamic clerics and women’s rights activists negotiated and debated its articles at length in order to ensure the religiosity and authenticity of all interpretations before agreeing on a mudawana that ensured respect for Islamic dictates, yet elevated the status of women to a level that is acceptable in this time and age.

Yet, here in Jordan we seem to remain hostage to a singular interpretation, perpetuated by a singular school and, in my opinion, more influenced by patriarchal mindsets and conservative cultural interpretations than religious text. And the women of Jordan have been left to fend for themselves, as we have yet to see a clear political will to once and for all close this chapter of discrimination against women that is masked in threatening narratives of religion, morality or tradition.

I know that this is not the first time I raise this issue. I feel sometimes like I am banging my head against a very Jordanian stonewall. I know that women’s rights activists are also despairing and quickly losing hope that anyone of any serious political influence and clout has any interest in looking after the most basic human rights of Jordan’s female citizens. 

There are many elements to the PSL that need review, but the parliamentary process dictates that after much debate and coming and going only two articles remain open to possible change now. 

One of those is Article 279 of PSL Provisional Law Number 36/2010 (The mandatory will or mandated will), which says that if a person dies and has children of a son, and that son died before him or with him, his grandchildren shall be entitled to a mandatory will for one-third of the estate within certain limits and conditions. The will, under this article, applies only to the children of the son and for the sons of the son, or their descendants, stipulating that the male’s share shall be twice the share of a female. 

Women’s rights activists, supported by the Senate, have proposed an amendment to the same article to say that if a person dies and has children of a son or a daughter, and that son or daughter died before him or with him, his grandchildren shall be entitled to a mandatory will for one-third of the estate, and that the will is for the children of the son or the daughter and for the children of the children, or their descendants, without limitation and regardless of their number. In the proposed amendment, the male’s share remains twice the share of a female.

It is important to clarify that the concept of the mandatory will was developed to protect orphans and has been adopted in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria and Indonesia. But in all of these cases they did not discriminate between men and women.

I cannot understand how Jordan’s Lower House of Parliament is trying to argue for a version of this article that denies the grandchildren, descendants of daughters, their inheritance from their grandparents if their mother is deceased ahead of her parents. I do not understand how they can logically explain why the grandchildren born to sons have more of a right to that inheritance.

I have listened to the so-called noteworthy defendant of this proposal claim that male family members are responsible for spending on their family relatives and that if women are contributing to family costs, as we all are aware is happening in almost all families in Jordan as economic reality increasingly dictates a norm of two income families in order to survive, then that contribution is “voluntary” and should not be accepted as an argument to signify that women are equally responsible for the financial welfare of their families and should not be used as justification to give them equal access to family wealth and resources.

What? Women of Jordan…Please raise your hand if your brother covers all your expenses and gives you free access to his much “bulgier” inheritance so you do not suffer lowlier financial status. Please also raise your hand if you do not “help” the family with your income, including helping your father, husband, son or even said brother. Let me see, how many female-led families do we have in Jordan and can we please find out what “monthly income” does their brother, father, son, uncle, grandfather or any male members of the “asba” (league of male guardians), give them to ensure that they remain financially viable, respected and secure?

We all know that a large percentage of women in Jordan are struggling financially to support their families in Jordan. They take loans, look at the number of women facing legal charges for not being able to pay the debts they took to help their families, they sell precious — much smaller than their brothers’ — tracts of land they inherit from their parents, subscribe to “jameyyat” to collect pots of cash that they can use to support larger financial calls on the family, including paying for houses/cars that are conveniently registered in their husband, brother, father or son’s names. How can we deny the role of these women so flagrantly and claim that they are “volunteering” to help and should not be rewarded for their so-called volunteerism?

This is a feeble attempt at providing justification for what essentially is a misogynistic attitude that is disconnected from reality on the ground reeks of bias, disrespect and discrimination against women and dismisses their role and contributions to this country. There cannot be any justifiable scenario, under which a whole family branch can be completely denied family inheritance just because they are descendants of a female family member.

The Senate has rejected this article and sent it back to the Lower House of Parliament, which in turn has refused to take the amendment from the Senate. Everyone is watching in silence as the law is being used to entrench patriarchy within this law and, in fact, financially benefit male family members to the disadvantage of their female relatives. Most male parliamentarians, regardless of their religious piety, are lining up behind their Islamist colleagues to support this article, not because they believe that Islam requires it, but because it consolidates their control over their family assets and wealth.

If the Lower House of Parliament succeeds in pushing back on this article, then Jordan would be the only country in the Muslim world that adopts this discriminatory practice. They, we all know who they are, would have won because we are too afraid of them or we, and we know who we are, are hoping to extract political gains against this “concession”.

The government, political parties, men and women must stand up for the rights of our women and say that we are no longer going to allow mouthy and loud patriarchal men using “culture, tradition, respect for male relatives and religion” to consolidate their financial supremacy and privileged control of family resources and assets. If it happens, then shame on us! All of us! 


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