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Jordan’s laws, political institutions must guarantee female citizens’ rights

Apr 06,2019 - Last updated at Apr 06,2019

This week is a determining week for activists and champions of women’s equality and equity in Jordan. A joint session of Parliament’s Lower and Upper Houses, scheduled for Monday, will bring both Houses together for an important vote to determine the outcome of weeks of intense debate on the minimum age of marriage and the mandated will for grandchildren descendants of deceased daughters.

The Lower House is supporting an article of the Personal Status Law (PSL) that allows judges to sanction the marriage of 15-year-olds under “exceptional circumstances”, yet the Upper House of Parliament and women activists are in favour of increasing that age to 16 at least.

On the mandated will, the Upper House and women activists want to ensure that grandchildren born to daughters stand to inherit their mother’s share of her parents’ inheritance if she dies before her parents; on equal footing with descendants of sons. Currently, the proposed Lower House of Parliament denies the children of daughters their mother’s share and only allows the mandated will to grandchildren born to male children if they pass before their parents.

I have written about this before. Women activists have lobbied on this extensively for months. The Upper House has responded positively to the women activists and organisations who have put forward evidence and compelling justifications on both articles. The evidence and justification they put forward are based on the lived realities of families in Jordan, extracted from real-time court cases and legislation in Muslim majority countries in the world. Women activists and groups did their homework, studied the evidence and negotiated with respect and honour.

The arguments back from influential and conservative elements in the Lower House of Parliament were less responsive to the facts and seemed to be based more in archaic and utopian concepts of loving and supportive families that, sadly and in reality, in no way reflect the facts on the ground.

On the mandated will, in particular, Jordan stands to be the only Arab and Muslim country, I repeat, the only Arab and Muslim country, to deny the grandchildren born to deceased daughters their mother’s share of her parents’ inheritance while providing for the inheritance to children of sons. Their arguments are based in narrow interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, which are at best vague and not specific on the issue of mandated will to both children, let alone creating a bias in favour of the males.

There is no doubt that the real intention behind the denial is to continue to limit the control of family assets and money within the male line, effectively consolidating the women’s subordinate and dependent position and denying her and her family equitable economic and financial independence.

Arguments put forward by proponents of the denial claim that children of sons are required to financially take care of their grandparents, and, therefore, these funds go to them in recognition of that supposed service, to cover the costs and pay back any financial burden they may have incurred in fulfilling that familial duty.

What can I say politely to describe just how ludicrous and unreal that justification is? I do not know how to politely respond to male MPs who are not ashamed to bandy around such unsubstantiated and undocumented ideas just to consolidate a society where men maintain control over family assets, regardless of the justice of their action. More specifically, I do not know how to politely respond to female MPs, regardless of their political affiliation, who have accepted to be the mouthpieces of such nonsense without much regard to the reality of women in Jordan, who are falling deeper and deeper into poverty as they are increasingly marginalised, disempowered and disinherited.

I am embarrassed by the performance of the parliamentarians, whether Islamist, conservative, tribal or whatever, who lined up behind this weak and unrealistic justification to hide their patriarchal disdain for their female relatives in the first instance and their overall disrespect for female citizens in general.

The mandated will is the litmus test. It is the test of the government which routinely manages backdoor negotiations and uses pressure tactics to push its own agenda but is conveniently absent from this one. We want to see the government’s “diplomacies” used to guarantee the rights of Jordanian women and their children to equality, justice, respect and financial independence. Women activists and champions will certainly note that this government, with all its claims to understanding international standards and commitment to justice and increased economic participation, is the one that let this article pass without serious intervention.

This article in the PSL is also the litmus test for Parliament as an institution that is entrusted to legislate in the best interest of all citizens, and each of its Houses separately. The Upper House is seen as the King’s council, and in that capacity stands in support of Jordanian citizens and guarantee their rights equally. It has, so far, maintained its position in the face of intense pressure from what I can only describe as misogynist traditionalists and political Islamists who are using their status in Parliament to block the advancement of women in Jordan and win some political points. It is due to the Senate’s principled stand that the article is still under discussion with some hope of achieving a breakthrough. We hope that they continue to stand firm in their position this week and do not succumb to pressure at this 11th hour.

But it is also a test of the true fabric of the Lower House and how serious some of its members are in representing the integrity and steadfastness of Jordanian citizens, not as an abstract political statement, but as a reality of today. We need to see them understand and respond to the current economic realities and adapt to the documented facts of family relationships and responsibilities. They need to translate that understanding into legislation that treats Jordanian citizens as individual human beings who are scrambling to survive the harsh realities they live with and support their immediate and extended families, regardless of their gender.

Pushing theoretical and improbable scenarios on an otherwise reality, like claiming that grandchildren born to sons are financially or logistically supporting grandparents more than grandchildren born to daughters or even at all, can only widen the gap between parliamentarians and their wider constituents. Jordanians today live an alternate reality to the one that proponents of the denial of inheritance are claiming exists, and are suffering under the ripple effects of archaic interpretations that ostracise women, deny them financial independence and force them into increased poverty.

The government and Parliament have both claimed to be pushing agendas to improve the economic lot of Jordanian citizens. They cite strategies and plans to invigorate the economy and increase women’s economic participation, which currently stands as one of the lowest in the world. They attend conferences worldwide, where they claim to represent a country that believes in modern-day principles. But this week, they are voting to allow children of 15 to be married off by their parents, denying them the opportunity to grow into productive citizens. This week, they are also voting to deny inheritance to the female line under the claim of believing in and supporting family values.

Women’s rights champions and activists are in support of a national value system that encourages and respects the family but more importantly, these champions are aware that the facts on the ground tell a completely different story. Families are less connected and supportive of each other. Male family members are not able, or willing, to fully take on the support of female relatives, grandparents or even parents under the current socioeconomic realities. Women are increasingly expected to “pitch in” or as some would call it “volunteer” to support their families, both logistically and financially. Parliament continues to behave as if it does not understand the lived reality of families in Jordan today, and is effectively failing to reflect that understanding onto the laws that pass through its corridors and committees and, ultimately, govern our lives.

Staying in Utopia, where fluffy dreamy thoughts govern how we legislate, is a luxury that we, and especially we women, can no longer afford. We need the government and Parliament to wake up to the facts on the ground and rise up to support women once and for all, as a national strategy and commitment and not as piecemeal negotiated handouts.

The test of Jordan’s institutional and long-term commitment to economic prosperity and increased economic participation of its citizens, especially women, therefore, will have to manifest itself in how they perform and legislate in support of female citizens.

To start to show that commitment, we are all looking to see how they will collaborate this week to ensure that the vote falls, in support of women’s demands, on those two articles. I hope they make us proud.

 

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ALTHOUGH IT IS TOO LATE TO RE-WRITE THE WRONG YET IT IS BETTER TO BE LATE THAN THE LATE.

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