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
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.
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