Women Challenge 'Honor' Killings ; A Widespread Campaign Aims to Help Jordan's Forgotten Victims

Article excerpt

Six months ago, Mona fled her home. Her husband had married a second wife, as Islamic law allows, and Mona - defying his demands to return to her mother's house, where he could call upon her at any time - sought refuge in a cheap and run-down hotel. Alone and frightened, she waited, fearing her husband would find and kill her.

By fleeing, Mona had tarnished the family's honor, which tribal custom dictated could be cleansed only by her death.

So-called "honor" killings - the murder of a woman who is accused of tainting family honor - account for one-third of all violent deaths in Jordan, a country which otherwise has low crime rates. Until recently, honor killings received little or no attention. Most Jordanians preferred not to speak of the brutal killings - which are illegal though often prosecuted leniently. Often, the slayings gain no attention, and the women who are killed simply become Jordan's forgotten victims.

Now in the care of the Jordanian Women's Union, however, Mona (not her real name) is neither forgotten nor a victim, thanks to a widespread campaign, organized and orchestrated by various activists, to rid the country of these notorious murders.

"Before I came here, I used to cry all the time," says Mona, a slight woman in her mid-twenties who, after hiding from her husband for two days in a city outside her native Amman, found sanctuary in the Union, where she now works as a cook.

"But now, I laugh and I smile. I feel safe here, and I feel stronger than ever. All I want to do now is work and get custody of my children after the court grants me a divorce from my husband. I have great hope for the future."

The Jordanian Women's Union is run by Nadia Shamroukh, an outspoken and determined activist who believes that empowering women through education and legal awareness are the best ways to fight discrimination and social oppression.

"You can't separate social, political, and economic issues for women, because we believe women's rights are part of human rights," says Ms. Shamroukh, speaking from her main office in Amman.

There are 10 branches of the Union throughout Jordan, in both rural areas and in the Palestinian refugee camps. The group works to teach women to read and write, and to help them understand their legal rights. In addition, it campaigns to change the laws that discriminate against women, particularly those that permit leniency toward honor crimes.

Shamroukh is particularly proud of the fact that her organization plays an active role in the lives of potential victims.

"If a woman calls our hot line and asks for protection, to come and stay in our shelter, and can't come in by herself, then we will go to her house and take the woman from there," she says. "This is what we do. None of the other organizations does this kind of thing. Only us."

The Union, a nongovernmental organization initially established in 1945 to educate and liberate Jordanian women, has worked in recent years to draw more attention to honor killings. However, one particular Jordanian woman is most often credited with bringing the subject to light.

Rana Husseini was barely four months into her new job as a crime reporter for the country's only English-language daily, The Jordan Times, when she came across a shocking incident involving the death of a 16-year-old girl at the hands of her 31-year-old brother.

"It was May 1994, and I was at the beginning of my career," says Ms. …