A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

Feminism unleashed

(Disclaimer: This post is not attacking anything/ anyone. I am not generalizing that this goes to all society. It is not undermining official Jordanian efforts to improve the status of women is society. I’ve written about those efforts with praise here, and here. To recap, “We Jordanian women enjoy excellent political and social status compared with that of our peers in the region. We are an essential part of the Jordanian government, the armed forces, the police force, and the judiciary system. We are offered the same opportunities for education as men; in fact, the number of female students in higher education precedes that of males by 29 percent[link: Jordan University]! Comparatively, we are allowed to vote unlike our sisters in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Heck, we can at least drive our own cars, go shopping unattended, and not only work, but also excel in any profession we choose! We have complete freedom to choose what kind of life we want to lead!”)

Today is International Women’s Day.

As a feminist, the first thing that comes to my mind on such an occassion is issues that concern me regarding women’s rights in Jordan and the Arab world, where women and men are not treated as equals.

In Jordan, there is severe legal discrimination against women in matters of pension, social security benefits, and inheritance. Female heirs receive half the amount that male heirs receive and the non-Muslim widows of Muslim spouses have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half of her parents’ estate; the rest goes to male relatives, but a sole male heir inherits both of his parents’ property. What I know is that my friend Lara works triple as hard as her brothers and will probably reach better and higher places, so why should she be given half the amount that her irresponsible brothers recieve? How can people still consider women’s issues a religious issue? As women, our concerns should not be dealt with through outdated chauvinist interpretations.

In matters of marriage, divorce, child custody, and citizenship, things aren’t so good for Jordanian women either. Men are able to divorce their spouses more easily than women. Marital rape is not illegal. There is also a heart breaking leniency for a person found guilty of committing an “honor crime”.

Similarly, when it comes to citizenship, married women need to have their husband’s “permission” to obtain a passport, and they do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which in turn means that these children lack the rights of citizen children, such as the right to attend school or seek other government services. (More: Natasha Tynes on this)

In religion, and not just in Islam, certain roles are reserved for men, including prophecy, divine mission, the caliphate, the adan, and the delivering of sermons. Even if a woman has a PhD in religious affairs, an illiterate man is more worthy of delivering the prayer simply because he is a man. Women’s participation in these sacred roles is, naturally, a forbidden innovation.

But personally, I find that the legal pressures are nothing when compared to the social pressures prescribed by our machismo society. From a very young age, Arab girls are engraved with their gender roles- to be helpful daughters and obedient mothers. Women are discouraged from pursuing professional careers because it is “better” for a woman to stay at home, cook, and take care of the kids. Many women are still treated as mindless sex toys, and some are still treated as though they contaminate purity, and arouse temptation and immorality.

As a woman, I ask my fellow Jordanian women to stand up to women’s rights. For afterall, women are partially to blame for our positions today- we have a heartbreaking lack of awareness of our rights and/or an unwillingness to assert those rights. Society, industry and politics and power are all tilted in favour of men, and we’ve got a very long way to go before the scales are equal. Why am I a feminist? Why would any woman who wants to be able to vote, work, go to school, choose whether to have children, or in any way be in control of their own lives not be a feminist?

As an Arab, I ask my fellow Arabs to stand up to women’s rights. The 2003 U.N. Arab Human Development Report attributed the failure of development in our region to three main shortcomings: lack of knowledge, lack of freedoms, and lack of gender equality. These reports were based on numerous indicators, such as the 60% illiteracy among women, and women’s pitifully low representation in decision-making positions. Imagine that women’s representation in Arab parliaments does not exceed 6%!

Equality. Dignity. Rights.

All incomplete this Women’s Day.


Alone. And not.


Women in the eyes of Arab artists


  1. Your mention of inheritance laws sparked a question:
    Could a Jordanian couple have a will written which would give their daughters an inheritance equal to their sons (or more) or would the will be overturned by the courts?

  2. onzlo

    “married women need to have their husband’s “permission” to obtain a passport”

    Not anymore I think, I remember that being requirement being cancelled a few years ago (but I may be mistaken).

  3. Anonymous

    You always seem to dump everything on Islam, and fail to see the fine line between man made laws and God laws. If your serroundings gave you the impression that you will grow up to be a sex toy, dont blame Islam for it, try to look into those who were around you growing up.
    I do like to see the maltreatment of women taken care of. But to do that I wont go around challanging God. What God stated in his book is off limits, but what the man stated in his laws, that I can fight endlessly.

    A much more conservative Feminist !

  4. I spoke briefly to Karim Kawar, the Jordanian ambassador to the States, about some of these issues when he was visiting my university.

    His response was a whole lot of diplomatic nonsense, but I couldn’t blame him, it’s his job.

    A regular Jordainian woman’s perspective on this stuff is much more helpful. Especially considering the fact that it’s pretty hard to chat up strangers in Amman. Thank you for your post.

  5. i know its not my right to ask, but im gonna ask anyways: why was my comment deleted?

  6. Rebecca, truth be said, I have no idea. Does anyone know?

    Onzlo, the reports I was reading to put together this post were from 2004 and 2005. I certainly hope that that rule was changed.

    Much More Conservative Feminist, I assure you that I did not mean it to be an attack on Islam. I edited all the parts that might make it sound so, because it really wasn’t that.

    Natalia, my pleasure.

    Devil’s Mind, like I told you 10 minutes ago, I apologize for having done that. I looked for your email unsuccessfully, can you please send me an email?

  7. Western Brother

    I liked this post… OK, I’m a Western male but I still like it. It’s really wonderful and encouraging to read arguments by people like Roba who understand what feminism should be all about -demanding equal rights, legal status and the dismantling of old traditions (whether they are based on religion or culture) which discriminate against half the population.

    What I liked here is that Roba pointed out real, existing problems. In comparison, here in the Western world I sadly have to be very cynical and pessimistic of people who call themselves feminists. Unlike Roba here, many of them mix their personal negative feelings for the opposite sex with their demands, as well as personal greed for power with proposals that indeed intentionally discriminate against men – all this in the name of perceived equality. I’m sad the long fight for equality has led to all this I’m seeing around myself nowadays here.

    Roba & co., keep your demands up, you’re doing a good job!!!

    By the way, how would you rank women’s rights – both theory and practice – in Jordan compared with the entire Arab and/or Islamic world? I know the most horrible cases might be most Gulf countries, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Iran (correct me if I’m wrong!) but where do you think things are better than the average? Jordan? Libya??? Lebanon? Turkey? (The latter seems very questionable from a European perspective, though…)

    And what do you think is really the reason behind the current problems in Jordan and the rest? If it’s not religion as such, is it culture? And where do we draw the line between the two when we’re talking about discriminative traditions?

    To me this is interesting because the majority religion in a given country and the status of women’s rights there do have a correlation. The most equal countries – which not accidentally are also those with the most vocal feminists calling for discrimination aganist men disguised in equality and quotas -are almost without exception Protestant Christian (secular) Northern European countries. Note: Protestant churches usually (but not all of them) accept priesthood for women and don’t limit women’s roles in the questions Roba put forward above – the exception being prophecy but then Protestants don’t accept new male prophets either. In fact, there is a division here between Protestant and Catholic countries, not just between countries with dominant major religions.

    What I don’t know is whether this is because of religion – those countries are mostly very secular -or culture based on religious traditions or a religious thinking becoming dominant in a culture whose old attitudes match well with the religious teachings.

    Western Brother

  8. just to give an update roba on your examples….

    Kuwaiti women do have the right to vote, and I think the saudi women get to vote some where soon…

    so these examples wouldn’t be appropriate, not to mention the next part where you mention the driving, working, and other activities that kuwaiti women been doing a long time ago and no one consider it as a privilage as you might give the readers the hint of, it’s their right to do these things, and no one is trying to prevent them…..!!!

    I thought I had to share with you this update, and thanks again…

    happy feminist day, and till there be a chauvinist day….!!!

    yours exzombie,

  9. Western Bother, thank you for your supportive comment. It is of course very hard to distinguish between religion and culture, and unfortunately, women’s rights are in top notch shape when compared to religious rights.

    Ex Zombie, yes, I crossed out the Kuwaiti women part because I actually wrote that before they were given the right to vote. It is a little outdated now :)

  10. happy international women’s day roba :) great post…

    couldn’t help but comment on your disclaimer, i’d be scared of mokhabarat el ordonia too ;)…

  11. She

    Roba, Thank you for writing such a brilliant post.

    I think that traditions carried on from generation to generation certainly do play a role in the subjugation of women. In Orthodox Judaism, women are far from equal with regard to issues of marriage, divorce, even prayer, though I believe that many who subscribe to Orthodoxy would probably say that women hold equally important roles. From where I stand, I don’t see it that way. While women in Israel are probably further ahead in the gender equality race than most of their regional counterparts, the combination of the religious stranglehold over many day-to-day milestones (weddings/births/deaths/etc) and the military “old boy” mentality that seems to run the country’s secular life, has had a major impact on numerous aspects of life here. Women’s salaries are on average 25% lower than those of their male counterparts, women, for the most part, do not hold key government positions, women have greater difficulty in obtaining divorces, etc, not to mention the laughably low sentences that rapists are given by the courts. Unfortunately, I think women have a long way to go almost everywhere.

  12. Ziad D.

    I liked Hussein Bikar’s style the most. Very elegant, and dignified. I also enjoyed woman from Salt due to it’s portrayal sincerity in the smile, well captured, plus you have to support the home team!

  13. Walid Abu Rish

    Exzombie, in other words:

    Jordan has a king and one queen. Our queen represents the women of jordan. This is only one of the reasons why jordan is ahead in terms of a woman’s rights. Another thing, just because a country allows women to drive doesn’t mean they advocate the attitued needed to encourage them; this goes for work and votes as well. All roba is saying is that jordanian women practice these freedoms and do so with the full encouragement of the government and royal familly. But when you have a king and 4 wives, all of which play no role in the social conflicts related to women rights, or if they do so they do not stand out as a public figure…then my dear friend, the women of that population is a confussed one. So! the women of jordan are lucky. And, just because Kuwaiti women are allowed to vote, drive and work doesn’t mean they are properly encouraged to reach new levels of employment and become strong political figures.

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