Challenging poverty and ignorance to save women from honour killings in Jordan
By Iqbal Tamimi
Three Jordanian brothers murdered their sister this month when they discovered she had a mobile phone.
Possessing a mobile phone might not be a crime in law but according to some males in Jordan if a woman dared to keep one, she deserves to be killed because she might use it to contact men. On the 15th May 2011, three brothers battered their sister to death because they anticipated that she might have used it to call a man and this would besmirch their honour. The Court of Cassation in Jordan ratified the Criminal Court sentence of temporary hard labour of seven years and six months detention for the three brothers.
The court decided to reduce their punishment from fifteen years hard labour to seven and a half years temporary hard labour, because their parents waived their personal right. [Hard labour means a compulsory physical labour, such as working on State-run projects such as road works and construction, etc].
A study by the National Council for Family Affairs in Jordan revealed that the Criminal Court recorded 50 cases of murder of females in the so-called defence of honour during the period 2000 to 2010. The study showed that 69% of the crimes of «honour» were committed by the brother of the victim.
This has always been the case. Parents who are supposed to love their children equally, prefer to side with the males even when they are murderers. The parents of female victims usually ‘give up’ on their right to punish the killer to save the male murderer from punishment. This is what males count on. They kill their sisters, nieces, daughters, wives because they know perfectly well that society will sympathize with them under the pretence of honour, even though in most cases there is not a shred of evidence that the women breached such confidence or behaved in any way to bring disgrace to their families.
During the court hearing it was revealed that one of the three defendants discovered that his sister had a mobile phone and that she was speaking to someone. So he snatched the phone from her hand and beat her badly. Following the attack she decided to leave her family home in Ghuwayriyah, a very deprived area in the city of Zarqa. After six days the brothers discovered that their sister sought refuge at her sister’s house. They went to fetch her. When one of them asked her why she has fled home, she said nothing. Then all three of them started kicking her with their feet and beating her with their hands until she fell down. One of them reached out for a bicycle wheel and hit her on the head which smashed against the wall. Even though she was injured, they never offered her any medical help; she was beaten continuously for 20 minutes until she lost consciousness. Then they dragged her in to a room and locked her up. The next day they discovered she had died.
This same scenario is repeated over and over in Jordan and many other Middle Eastern countries. And because of the tribal nature of such societies, the state makes little progress in eliminating such horrible acts of aggression against women.
Jordan’s toll of honour crimes is 20-25 females murdered every year, with the victims aged between 15-40 years old and who, after forensic tests, often proved to be virgins.
The head of the National Centre of Forensic Medicine, Dr. Momen Hadeedi said, “The Jordanian government has failed twice in its attempts to cancel Article 98 of the Penal Code, which gives a mitigating excuse for those who kill in defence of their honour, when the House of Representatives refused to support this initiative because of the influences of tribalism and religious personalities over the decision makers”.
Dr Hadeedi also revealed that the National Centre of Forensic Medicine receives an average of 1200 virginity examination requests per year, often from men seeking to marry the woman to be examined. “The virginity examination is a new phenomenon that has led to an increase in the number of women committing suicides, now reaching 70 per year, and has caused a rise in the murder rate of up to almost 250 cases per year,” he added. He concluded that the Jordanian community does not seem to trust women, and it considers the hymen a symbol of virginity and purity.
Social studies have clearly linked honour crimes with living standards. An official study published in 2009, indicated that 73% of the victims of honour killings in Jordan were from deprived communities, and 66% of the perpetrators of such crimes were also living in poor conditions.
Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code, grants a mitigating excuse to a man who kills one of his female ascendants or descendants if he has caught her committing adultery. The procedures ignored the Islamic texts that insist on providing irrefutable evidence that the adultery has actually happened and without any shadow of doubt. In most cases the man who kills a female member of his family is sentenced to prison for a few months or a few years. But the same rules do not apply if a woman killed her husband because she caught him committing adultery, it seems that the honour of men is worthy of defending while women do not have the same right.
Lawyer Taghreed Dughmi rejects Article 340 and its amendments completely. Her rejection is based on the fact that this Article offers mitigating circumstances for the perpetrators without meeting the extenuating circumstances that ‘supposedly’ give men the right to murder their female family members, which is that they must be punished according to law, regardless of classifying the crime as an honour crime or otherwise. From Dughmi’s point of view murder is murder. Dughmi explained that the mitigating circumstances are usually fabricated scenarios based on doubts that in the end lead to murdering many ‘virgins’.
What is more alarming are incidents where some men commit incest or rape their own sisters, daughters or nieces and then murder the victim under the pretence of an honour killing to hide their crimes.
When women in such communities are murdered like this, it is as though they have been killed twice, first with the blessing of the ignorant elders of those tribal communities, and again by being let down by inadequate legal system.