Asma Khader, Sisterhood Is Global Institute (Jordan)


[October 25, 2010]

Asma Khader, Sisterhood Is Global Institute (Jordan)

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The following video of an interview with with Asma Khader (Jordan) of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute and member of the World Movement Steering Committee, has been edited for time and content. A full, unedited trancript of the interview conducted by Cate Urban, assistant project manager of the World Movement, is provided below.

Democracy Voices - Asma Khader from World Movement for Democracy on Vimeo.

Cate: We’re here with Asma Khader at the Women’s Learning Partnership in Bethesda, Maryland. We’re catching her passing through. We’re going to ask her a few questions about gender issues in Jordan. My first question is: The government of Jordan adopted the National Strategy for Jordanian Women 2006-2010. The Strategy calls on government agencies to include gender perspectives into policies. What has been the most important outcome of the Strategy to date?
Asma: I think, well thank you, first of all. I’m really happy to answer these questions.
The Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) proposed this strategy and developed this strategy in partnership with all of the governmental and nongovernmental agencies five years ago. The strategy covers five main areas. [The first is] political participation and participation in public life related to democracy and elections on the local level and parliamentary level. Also, the area of women’s economic participation is the second area. The third area is legislation, where we think that women need to contribute to legislation as legislators and as judges and lawyers and as workers. But also we need to see that legislation is gender sensitive and really responds to the needs of both men and women, and that there is no discrimination still exists in these laws. The fourth area is the area of social protection. That is related to women’s safety and security and protection from violence and from other social situations, such as poverty, for example, or a disability, being older, or violence. And there is the fifth area, which is the media. And we think that communication and media is playing a major role in changing the stereotyping of women’s roles in society and the image of women in the public opinion. And it is very effective after the revolution of new technology, communication, and media tools.
And I think, after the five years have passed already, we are now in the process of evaluation of this strategy and of preparation for the new strategy for the coming five years. What was achieved was a lot in many areas, but still the road is long ahead of us to go. I think there are many areas we need to work more on and those will be part of our new strategy. Mainly, we were able to have more than 27% be women in the local and municipal councils. For example, in the elections in 2007, the new law allocated 20% of seats for women, but women were able to get 27% of seats, which was really good. And the percentage, when comparing to many other countries, is a really good achievement. Before this strategy five years ago, this percentage was less than 1%, so it is a good jump.
Now, we also, in preparation for the next parliamentarian elections, we had 12 seats out of 120 – 10% were allocated for women – but this is just the minimum. Women, if they are active enough and we are successful enough, we may have more than 12 seats for women.
In the educational part, we don’t have a problem. Female education in Jordan is the best in the region. But the problem is how to find jobs and how to get the women into economic life and the labor market. We do have one of the lowest percentages of women’s contribution, officially, to the economy. Women in the labor market are not more than 14.7%. And the problem exists more with the educated women, the university-graduated women, which is a real problem, I think, and challenge for us. I add that it will be in the heart of our new strategy, also.
What was also achieved was a lot of legal amendments that happened through the five years for more equality, guarantees for rights of women and men, and better protection for women. Part of it is the penal code, which was amended to give better protection for victims of crime, women victims of crimes, especially crimes committed against women "in the name of honor." This was amended and the last few cases the sentences was not less than 10 years in prison, which in comparing with the previous time, is a very progressive step by the judiciary and by the law. There were amendments to the social security law. There were amendments to the labor law. There is a new family law passing, which is a progressive law if it passes the way we hope. And there are many, many achievements related to the legislation.
The other part is that we see in the last few years women in the judiciary and in very important positions, like chief of a court, women prosecutors, for the first time. We are still struggling to see women in the family courts, which is not the case until now. So there are achievements, but there are still things that we will include, I hope, in the new strategy that will be adopted in the coming six months.
Cate: Thank you! One of the facets you mentioned was media. On May 3, as Secretary General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, you announced an award to honor the best media coverage of women’s issues in Jordan.  How has media coverage helped women’s progress in Jordan?
Asma: Well, it is better. There are more and more journalists and female journalists, specifically, who are really specialized and have the belief in women’s rights. And they are doing their job in a good way. But the institutions, the media institutions, are not opening enough spaces for them to continue their work the way they want. The other area is that some media coverage is still presenting or covering women’s issues in a very traditional way, in a very patriarchal way, in a biased way. And sometimes they are trying to present traditional roles of men and women through the media. And the stereotyping of roles is one of the problems we are facing.
I think the media can play a huge role this time, equally important to the educational system. I think, because of that, we are focusing on the media, because we think they can play a role in presenting, lobbying, and advocating for women’s issues. We do have some initiatives – very successful ones. One is the community radio… This radio station is trying to present a different point of view, when it comes to women’s issues, and trying to involve young people, specifically, women and men, on this issue. We do have also Web sites – using Internet and the Web sites. We have a strong and close coordination with a media working group. Many journalists, men and women, are a part of this working group.
This award was formulated in a partnership with the Journalists’ Association in Jordan, and I think, what we want to do is to develop the skills of the journalists in how to cover issues related to women in a way that is not a direct message, that is not professionally well-developed so that the effectiveness of the articles is not strong enough in the impact we are looking for. Many audio-video and written materials were prepared by men and women, in fact, and individually and sometimes on the institutional level. And I hope next month when we…
When the results will be mentioned, I think many journalists will be awarded, and many journalists will be encouraged to follow, because this is going to be an annual award.
Cate: You mentioned in our first question that you are working on developing the new national strategy. So, what are some of the remaining challenges to ensure that gender perspectives are considered and included in government’s policies?
Asma: There is a need to strengthen the institutional mainstreaming of gender issues. This is important, because we started with many ministries and government to establish opportunities to develop divisions and departments. We want to develop this more and to give it more power and more authority to be able to include the gender perspective in all ministries and official departments. This is very important. Also, Jordan was maybe one of the pioneers in including women in the peacekeeping forces, for example. The army and the police are trying to mainstream their work in a very positive way. But we want to institutionalize these initiatives and build the capacity for these units or departments to play their role the way it should be.
The second thing is focusing on women’s economic participation. We do suffer as women in Jordan from the pay gap. There is about a 33% pay gap for the same work between males and females in the private sector. This is a new study that we implemented with the ILO, and we found that this gap is really huge, and this is one of the reasons that women are not joining the labor market. Also, we need to develop supporting services that are provided to women, especially when it comes to child care and kindergartens and nurseries. This is very important. It has to be a good quality service, but also it is a cost to women.
We also think that violence against women is still a problem, as it is all around the world. The better services and better response to this practice are there both on the domestic and public levels, because the protection is needed on the domestic and in the workplaces, the streets, everywhere. We do have some initiatives started already. We developed a network called the Shama’a – the National Network to Combat Violence against Women. Still, we think this network needs to be more effective and more developed. So violence against women and social protection will be part of our work.
We think also we need to focus on specific groups, such as disabled women, for example, and older women. We start to witness that there is a need to pay attention to these groups within women as a sector.
And also, we think that there is a problem related to the family roles and the relations within the family, because we think that equal rights, equal opportunities are constitutional rights in Jordan, but they are not reflected enough, especially when it comes to the family or private relations. So this area also needs to be covered more carefully.
We need to pay attention to the young generation, both men and women, because we think that there was some kind of neglecting of the role of this majority. The society as it is in our country is that 70% of us are under 30, so there is a need to focus on the young generation. As part of it, we are trying to develop some kind of initiative, such as the youth tech festival that we are implementing every year in Jordan. This year the youth tech festival - the second one - was focusing on women’s participation in the upcoming elections. And the youth are very close to the new media, such as the Internet, and the possibilities for connection and communication through the Internet and the computer tools that are available. So, we want to focus on using these tools for lobbying and advocating for women’s rights.
We think that democracy and development cannot be achieved without women’s participation. And because of that, we think that in Jordan, we have the political will by his majesty, her majesty, and her highness Princess Basma who is chairing the Jordanian National Commission for Women as President of it. All of them provide Jordanian women with the political will needed to open doors for them, but we are still facing some obstacles coming from the social powers, if I may use this word from the traditions that are based on patriarchal rules, and from lack of democracy, which is the problem we face for creating inclusive political life and public life, where every citizen can reflect on the public policies and contribute to the decision making in the country. I think it’s better now. The situation is now better than before, but not better enough. Not good enough.
Cate: Thank you very much for making time for us today!
Asma: Thank you!