Conditions of Women
The Jordanian monarchy is being pulled in opposite directions by two competing political forces on issues concerning the status of women in the country. Since the mid-1980s, the nation’s political liberalization has increased mobilization by both Islamic conservatives and women’s rights groups. In recent years, the Jordanian government has achieved some gradual reforms despite Islamic opposition.
Law of Personal Status
Personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and child custody are decided in courts based on Islamic law. Similar to many Arab nations, the testimony of a woman in Jordanian court counts half as much as a man’s. Men can freely divorce their wives, while women must present their grounds in a court proceeding. Women receive less inheritance than men and must obtain consent from their husbands before applying for a passport. For many political Islamic groups, these issues of the personal status of women have become a symbol of the conflict between religious and secular forces. Hence, reform of personal status laws has been difficult. Indeed, the 1991 Parliament enacted laws creating unequal distribution of wealth in divorces and segregated educational institutions.
Although the king retains much of the political power in Jordan, the return to democratic elections in the late 1980s politically galvanized women. Women consistently exhibit higher voter turnout than men. However, women remain largely excluded from the government itself, as there are only one female minister and three female senators.
While the Parliament was not in session between 2001 and 2003, the government took the opportunity to amend two bills related to women rights. The first allowed women the right to file for divorce and the second gave the courts more leeway in imposing harsh punishments on those who commit honor crimes. The 1999 parliament had decided to retain impunity for those convicted of honor killings. The new House of Representatives rejected these amendments to Civil Status Law and the Penal Code. According to the new law the age of marriage for men and women, which had been 16 and 15 respectively, was raised to the age of 18. In addition, Jordanian women not married to Jordanian men now have the right to pass on Jordanian citizenship to their children.
The latest legislative elections, which took place on June 17, 2003, were disappointing to women. Of the 54 women who ran for the parliamentary seats, none was elected, although over 40 had been active participants in training sessions organized by the National Democratic Institute. Previously only one woman had ever been elected in Jordan. However, six women became members of parliament in 2003 as a result of the "female quota" which King Abdullah instated. These women—a dentist, three teachers, a pharmacist, and a lawyer—were elected throughout the kingdom from the north, the south, the east and the west. Women candidates received more than twice the number of votes that women candidates had received four year ago.
To meet Jordan’s goals for women’s development, the government has established a National Committee for Women that oversees programs and projects. The female illiteracy rate has fallen from 46% in 1980 to just under 15% in 2001, and women currently comprise half of all university students. Population growth in Jordan is declining, with a total fertility rate (births per woman) diminishing from 4.4 in 1995 to 3.6 in 2001, but it is still above the regional average of 3.3. Studies have indicated that both religious leaders and the general public support family planning as a strategy to reduce family size. Contraceptive use has substantially increased in the last twenty years, but much of the populace still lacks sufficient knowledge of reproductive issues to effectively prevent unplanned pregnancies. A study conducted in October 2001 revealed that men are now less apprehensive about contraception. They are showing a greater willingness to involve their partners in family-planning decisions. According to the study, 85 per cent of the male population of Jordan is in favor of female contraception. Joint spousal decisions on family planning rose from 62% in 1996 to 76% in 2001.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Jordan ratified and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992, with reservations as to conflicts with Islamic law. In the nation’s last report in January 2000 on their progress in adopting the Convention, government officials stated that they were working to narrow the conflicts between the Convention and Islamic personal law, and that they hope to achieve full adoption of CEDAW. The nation’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, but reports indicate that discrimination persists in many areas of Jordanian women’s lives. Gender-based violence remains a major problem throughout the nation.
Major advocates for women in the Jordanian government have been Queen Noor, Queen Rania and Princess Basma. They have supported women’s development projects and spoken out on social reform for women. Since the coronation of King Abdullah II in 1999, the monarchy has been generally protective of women’s organizations and has shown interest in working to improve the status of women in Jordan.
In December 1999, the Arab Women’s Media Centre (AWMC) was founded in Amman to train journalists and study women’s issues. AWMC, whose infrastructure was created with donations from Princess Basma Bint Talal, now has 79 members. Jordanian female journalists occupied the chief editors’ seats in the Kingdom’s media for one day on 8 March 2000 as part of an initiative to celebrate Women’s day.