Violence continues to be a big part of everyday society, with many occurring incidents occurring in today’s society and the media. Violence and discrimination have turned into an everyday part of life and has cost billions of dollars in prevention action. According to a 2015 report from Peace Alliance, on average, the annual cost for violence related to paying police, justice, corrections and the productivity effect of violent crime, homicide and robbery is $3,257 for each U.S. taxpayer or $460 billion for the United States economy.
On a global scale, according to a report by the UN and World Bank Group, conflicts have increased sharply since 2010 and in 2015, the number of ongoing conflicts increased to 50 compared with 41 in 2014. This also includes battle-related deaths and terrorists casualties, where most battle-related deaths are concentrated in the Middle East.
Source: United Nations
Speaker: in the eyes of a policymaker
Reem Abu Hassan
Reem Abu Hassan is a former Minister of Social Development in Jordan and is currently a lawyer and human rights activist focusing on family protection and women’s protection. She had worked on the amendments and improvements of regarding the Jordan’s 308 Penal Code, which allowed rapists to avoid punishment by marrying their victim.
I am an attorney, I am a mother, I have two kids. In the early 90s, Jordan was labelled as being the hub for honour killing. And the reason for that was we had an esteemed journalist who I wish was with us today, but she’s travelling. Her name is Rana Husseini. Rana, through the Jordan Times, started doing investigative reporting on cases of honour killing. She followed up on stories with policymakers and multi-disciplinary teams, whether it was the government or medical entities, we started working together to eradicate honour killing.
In the 90s it was a tough period because Jordan was labelled as being the hub even though we knew that other countries, other surrounding Arab countries, have that problem too. Countries in the Mediterranean region has it, Latin America has it and there is an issue of crimes of passion all around the world.
Back in the 90s, I was part of the civil society and we decided no matter how we are labelled we should work on dealing with that issue instead of sweeping it under the carpet. It took many years from the 90s until 2016 when the parliament finally approved an amendment to the problematic article of 98, which stated any person who committed a crime in a fit of fury based on a legitimate act by the victim and gets an excuse — as in gets a reduction in the penalty — we were able to add an extra paragraph in that, stating that in the cases of female homicide, that will not be applicable unless factors mentioned in article 340 were mentioned, meaning those who claimed they killed a female based on the claim of honour will not benefit from the reduction of penalty unless the factors were there, meaning they had witnessed the act of adultery directly or they were present in the issue in circumstances that indicated the act was committed.
This is a very important progress, some people might belittle that progress but what that means to us is the mere claim of someone claiming he had killed a female relative because he suspected that honour or thought so, this will not be taken into the calculations of reduction.
We moved on, that was in the 90s, in the early 2000s we decided we needed to tackle heads on domestic violence. Through a multi-disciplinary approach, different agencies from the government, civil society, religious leaders, etc. we were able to produce the Family Protection Project. Through that project we were able to work on having certain legislation enacted, certain procedures and departments established with domestic violence and child abuse. What resulted in that project was the Family Protection Department, which is a specialized police department dealing with domestic violence and abuse. It was established in 99-2000 and then after that, the Family Protection Department had spread out in the Kingdom, so we had the department in every governorate. Within the Family Protection Department, you have the forensic doctors, mental health specialist and civil society acting together in what we call the working together approach. That resulted in the first official sector of battered women in Jordan and in the Arab world, that was in 2007.
We moved on after that to open another shelter in the northern part of the country because 40% of Syrian refugees reside in the North and we wanted the social protection aspect to be available in the Northern part of the country, as well as opening another shelter for human trafficking victims — whether children, women, men or domestic workers.
So Jordan is a pioneer in that aspect of social protection. In reaching out to the victims, we were actually planning on installing a notification system, which was based on a regular gradual approach whereby the medical personnel were obligated by law to notify any case of violence. However, the new law enacted in 2016 obligates educational centres, schools, as well as medical personnel to report abuse. That is another progress where the issue of domestic violence or child abuse is no longer a family or private matter, rather the obligation of the state of the government to intervene or act if there is any abuse.
Some people might think yes, this is what it should be but in order for any change in attitude, you need to do it gradually, then you can reach the ultimate goal. Many of the goals from many activists and organizations working in this sector are that this will be the responsibility of the state but not the state alone. Civil society also needs to be present, as well as the private sector. To do that, we need to go into the legislative process and change legislation, set up services because, through the provision of services, people feel encouraged to come forward. If there are legal provisions but there are no services, it will not convince the victim to come forward. For me, the service provision is more important than the legal provision to convince the victim to come forward. So we worked on a free tier system legislative process, provision of services and setting up relations and procedures so the process is victim friendly.
Floor discussion: thoughts on honour killing and gender-based violence
Q1: I was wondering if you could elaborate on the system of mandatory reporting? Because I did some research last year which requires asking a lot of university professors in Jordan if there was any mandatory reporting and if they were to encounter anything how would they report it and I had a heroine experience with somebody who had a lot of experience with the American Assault Reporting system that nobody could tell me if anybody had any mandatory reporting and it was pretty upsetting so I would love to hear more about it.
A1: Actually, mandatory reporting for educational institutions is new and we started now, I am part of a team with the Minister of Education, setting up guidelines in reporting, which eventually will trickle to universities but the provision is there. It is in the Law of Family Protection, but the realisation did not sink in yet. As I said, we are working with the schools on the mandatory reporting still.
Q2: The topic of gender-based violence, I personally tend to connect it to race-based violence because that is what I can connect to especially being from the US. Here in Jordan, there is an institutional context, you have the gender mainstream, it’s coming from the US, Jordan, UK, etc. that allow certain institutional systems that work on fighting gender-based violence, how do you provoke this change in an institutional context to get people to see this is what we need and our numbers represent this? How does that come into play and actually show institutions and the government there is a problem? How do we get the government to be on our side?
A2: I will not elaborate on the US, I will elaborate on Jordan. The leader of Jordan is the government; you lead the discussion and the government embarks on having legal provisions, then half the battle is won because you have it in the legal system. And then you work on the other players, whether the private or other sectors. There has always been a good partnership between the government and civil society. The civil society needs the government to pass the legal provisions and the government needs civil society because they are the ones who usually start the services. That is where the role of media is important because the media will actually highlight cases where there are violations, where the legal provision does not handle it correctly and for every legal rule there are exceptions. There are cases of people who fall through the cracks. So the media is good at getting that so if you have a policymaker that understands this then you can achieve more success, which is to provide more protection to people.
Q3: Could you elaborate on any ideas that would occur to us regarding property in violence, like what idea is being brought to rehabilitation towards people of gender-based violence or people suspected towards them? Is there anything in place to help them as individuals?
A3: We need to differentiate between homicide cases where the victims are killed and domestic violence where in most cases it includes physical and sexual abuse. In dealing with homicide or honour killings, the most important thing is to get the message across, that this type of action will not be tolerated and that the perpetrator will get a harsh sentence or get the capital punishment. What we did was we did a research and looked at all the cases of honour killings from the 50s until the 90s, because I wanted to understand how the patterns work. In cases of honour killings, the perpetrator is the brother, not the brother or the husband and usually that brother would be somebody that is uneducated, does not have a job and preferably under 18 so they could receive a reduction in punishment because, for juveniles, they get a reduction.
So there was premeditation that it was organized and the crime was planned and somebody was selected to commit the crime based on these calculations. The court used to give lenient sentences, from six months to a year. The judges used to say they had a very weak case and they could not give them a sentence, they need a strong case for the maximum sentence. So we created a team of public persecutors who were tasked with every single investigation related to honour killings, whether in the South or not. These three public persecutors will be the one investigating those case and we started reaching a conclusion that most of these incidents are all staged. This is most of the cases, so the public persecutors started building strong cases where there were no elements of surprise, therefore if you’re sure there is no premeditation, there will be no reduction of penalties. We started seeing the penalties will go into 10 years of imprisonment to 12 until we reach the capital punishment, this is important because the capital punishment is the message we send out to people to not do this.
It is a message that says if you want to kill a female relative then you have to sacrifice a male relative of that family. So we started seeing the decrease in honour killings. In terms of domestic violence and child abuse, we have a conciliation phase before they go to court and the conciliation phase happens in the family protection phase where the accuser will sign a paper that states they will not commit the act again. This is physical abuse but when you are talking about sexual abuse, I do not believe and the Jordanian government does not believe there should be a reconciliation phase because we are talking about sexual molestation or abduction or rape, this is called a grand felony in our legal system and this is where the perpetrator goes to jail for a long time. The new law in family protection actually said the perpetrator instead of being imprisoned will be referred to a program of rehabilitation because you have cases as well where the mothers commit the crime, they go through that system, through the program and they will be monitored by a parole officer.
Q4: Before five days ago a four-year-old child passed away and they discovered that she died from physical abuse and her mother was only 15-year-old when she had her and she was raped and she had to marry the person who raped her because a law in 308 stated that you have to mary your rapist, he left her after four months and she was in very bad shape and after four years, her daughter was killed maybe by her or her father. Are there any mental health treatments for those abused, what do you think the psychiatric treatments needed for these types of cases and is it in the legal system or do they focus more on physical treatment more?
A4: I cannot elaborate so much on that case because it is still under investigation, but yes, I agree with you. The new law talks about mental health and treatment in that aspect but it is still a new law. If she was a victim of rape and she did not seek help or she did not receive help, then I’m sure she fell through the cracks. The new law does talk about mental health issues and it has not been yet applied, this is why there needs to be campaigns and highlights of mental issues, this is why maybe this is where citizen journalists can come in because it is extremely important; because it shows that psychological support is needed.
Q5: The house of Parliament has decided to abolish the controversial 308 article, which allows the persecutor to skip the punishment if they marry the victim and you were totally against the vote, can you tell us why and don’t you think our society put the victims in danger because they may be killed?
A5: Yes, I was opposed to abolishing 308 because I was working on amending the article. Article 308 says in all cases where there is sexual activity, not just assault, in different crimes, if the perpetrator marries the victim then he will be exempted from the punishment. That is what the article stipulated, my argument was that Article 308 applies to 17 different sexual acts, out of those 17, three should be allowed the marriage option. These three acts are acts where there is consent. One of the acts was if there was consent from a minor over 15 and she had a sexual relationship then they should be allowed to marry. The second one is molestation by consent because the girl is under 18 but over 15, again that is consent. And the third act was she had lost her virginity by consent. So what I and a group were arguing was since the element of consent were present, these three acts should benefit from the marriage option. Cases of felonies, such as rape, should not benefit, of course; cases where there is molestation without consent should not benefit, but these three acts should because the cases we see usually are under the first one. She is a girl under 15, but legally she can get married, and if she enters a relationship with someone and she gets pregnant then I don’t see why not they should not get married.
When I look at most of the cases almost 89% percent is with consent. So when I say by law the marriage option will not lead to an exemption or penalty, then I am telling that man, whether you marry that girl or not, you will not benefit from a reduction of the penalty. Most of the cases we have are girls over 15 and they are pregnant and they are not married. So when the child is born they will be considered illegitimate and will go to prison and she will have a very tough future. That was our argument, our argument was never to allow criminals or felons to benefit. The article should have actually cut the way for those but allow those three acts that the marriage option should be available to them. And I still believe that and we are gathering articles now that the article provides a legal protection to the girl.
Q6: In cases of abortion, does the government provide the option? How often do girls in your experience say it was consensual because, in this society, it is often a crime?
A6: Abortion is prohibited by the criminal law unless there is a factor that inflicts danger for the mother’s life, doctor’s cannot perform abortions. Now there is a Fatwa that in certain cases women can get abortions if there is a danger towards the child or the child cannot live a normal life. So the mother taking chemo and there is a high percentage the child is deformed then you can get an abortion according to the Fatwa. The criminal law is different though, it is very clear, if the mother’s life or the child’s life is not in danger, you are not allowed.
If a girl is pregnant and it is not a legitimate child then you are still not allowed to have an abortion because that is where the right to life comes in. The right of that child to have a life supersedes any other factors.
The girls that come to our juvenile centres, they admit to having a relationship. In the States it is called the Romeo and Juliette cases, where they are in love, they actually engage in sexual activity. In the States, the penalty would be stated if there is marriage and it is in all of the US.
Q7: The tribal law has a big impact, so how can you send a message that honour killing is wrong? How can you deliver the message towards that mentality?
A7: Actually most of the honour killings do not happen outside of Amman. They mostly happen in big cities. The tribal system has another way of dealing with these issues. What we have done, is that we have taken from the tribal system some principles and incorporated them into our law. There is a ritual where a woman goes to the chief of the tribe and seeks his protection. She goes into his home and stays with the female. She is not to be asked why she asked for protection and after three days he would ask and she would tell her story and then he will automatically become her advocate. He has to defend her to what she had asked. Tribes in the southern part of Jordan where if a wife is beaten and goes to the tribal chief, they will calculate the steps she took and the compensation would be calculated on the steps where she left her home. So we always have this idea where tribal systems are backwards, no, in the informal justice system there are many things we need to review and adapt to our present needs.
Q8: When you were talking about honour killing, you said it was mostly a decision of the family. How is the process of deciding honour killings are wrong different from regular crimes made by individuals?
A8: You defuse because what happens is that problems occur when the girl runs away from her family, where the tension happens. I know some activists where they would go and talk with the family and discuss the matter the whole night with the brother so that she defuses the matter. That is where I feel civil society plays the greatest role. It’s people like you and me who goes into the house and acknowledges the feeling of shame the family feels and they work on that. Another thing which the state can do is they will send the message that they will be sacrificing their own for capital punishment or for a long-term imprisonment, but we cannot hide the fact that some families will feel ashamed. Even though you do not agree with them or it may seem backwards, what we need to do is to defuse that and create a discussion to have their fears and shame talked about where they can reach a conclusion where they are able to live with that.
Q9: I got the chance to represent Jordan in this exact topic at a conference in Turkey. After listening to everybody about it, I would like to point a finger about it, is that it is not only about the law because the mindset of the family needs to evolve to get the point. The culture and law need to work together to tackle this problem.
In some of the cases, some females might be pushed to say that they did the act on their own will, cause what happens in the family stays in the family. So sometimes females are forced to say it was consensual, so how do you prevent these kinds of things?
A9: I just want to point something out, when we started talking about honour killings, it has nothing to do about Islam. The system in Islam is if a husband suspects a wife of cheating, he only has the right to divorce her. So honour killing is not part of Islam. This is very important because many people believe it is part of Islam but it was based on a provision adopted based on the French penal code.
Of course, we cannot depend on the girl saying she gave consent. The girl will need to sit with a social worker and clinical psychologist to determine it and this is what we still do. Some of the girls might even say she consent to it and in the end, we found it that they didn’t. Sometimes after two sessions though, they would give intimate details about the relationship so you know there is consent. Unfortunately, she is a young girl and she fell in love and she doesn’t see things pass a soap opera but for me, as a legal person, there was consent, but if there wasn’t, we would ensure of it because if she ended up marrying the person, they will become traumatized again.
Mental health services are needed in Jordan and within the last 10 years, there have been improvements.
Awareness about women’s rights. I’ve seen people go through this, where women end up inflicting self-injuries because of their trauma which may lead to suicide attempts and it starts with gender-based violence and things we can’t see.
The next thing is a culture in South Africa where we work for the benefit of all of us. This is where we start with ourselves and learn to love more.
The need for more campaigns and how to tackle these things.
Bringing new approaches, like the taboo of sex, say talking about sex differently and make it not a big deal. Changing the way it is perceived might make a difference.
The development of information awareness towards kids. So we try to inform the kids through the education system and try to correct them from a tender age because they are the future.
Talking to each other in the same condition. This is interesting because it works like the AA where people can talk if they have a problem, the system takes you to a gathering of people who have similar experiences and been through the same condition. They can see examples of their perceived future. This will give them comfort and make them more optimistic about their future.
Having shelters and communities for victims of violence. There needs to be more protection and creating a future for them.
We talked about catcalling, violence against women and the lack of men in putting themselves in women’s shoes, so we thought bout public awareness campaigns like breast cancer campaigns and the use of celebrities.
Also, media, where they can show different sides of perspectives like also interactive media and theatre.
Recommending critical thinking in education especially amongst males and how classrooms can encourage people to listen to females more and even in an everyday setting, that we should be more aware of the women we talk to.
We talked about linking statistics where many crimes and harassments occur and adreasing these issues perhaps by making questionnaires and how men see their behavior and how they perceive women.
Dealing with the person regarding an assault, like a brother who assaulted his sister, we can approach them through questionnaires and they can think about it so he would start thnking more about his actions and put them in women’s shoes.
Pay equity is also an important issue where it exists everywhere. Now if you want to talk about changing people’s perception of women, the economic sphere is very important. We are looking to introduce the matrimonial property, which is where a man and a woman get married and they buy an apartment and they have assets and then they get a divorce and or if one of them dies, this property will then be divided equally or whtever percentage they agreed on. This concept is important because it shows that the mother is not a follower but a partner. This law has been achieved already in Morocco and this concept actually has a basis in Islam.
Sometimes a social issue takes time to change, but it is in our hands to change the economic dynamics.