Stop beating your sisters

I met a young woman two days ago in Amman. Just married last week, half my age, a pleasant smile and a discernible shyness when it came to speaking English with me. She seemed happy. Her brothers regularly beat her. They wanted her to marry someone of their choosing, and she didn’t. She had the opportunity to pursue her university studies, but they prevented her from doing so.

In the absence of a father, with the mother powerless and reluctantly siding with her sons, there seems to be no escaping the violence for this young woman. Her village north of Amman is steeped in tradition according to a mutual friend I spoke to afterwards. Part of this tradition means, regrettably, that the men in a family feel they must exercise their power over women by beating them.

Violence against women in its many forms – physical, sexual, psychological, and economic, is “a universal phenomenon.” Beating a woman is a tradition that has no place in any society. It’s senseless, vicious and leaves scars that run far deeper than any bruise. Unfortunately, in Jordan and elsewhere, such practices are prevalent but taboo. This is simply not acceptable. Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, visited Jordan late last year and highlighted the issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence. In a press release she noted that while many of the people she spoke to during her visit said that these were not problems in Jordan, “it is necessary to acknowledge that sexual violence and sexual harassment occur both within and outside the family in every society.”

She continued: “The fact that certain subjects might be considered taboo within a society that largely describes itself as traditional, conservative, patriarchal and tribal might explain women’s silence with regard to these manifestations of violence.”

The young woman I met is silent – such silence won’t help her, and it won’t help all the other women and girls who are victims of violence in Jordan. But her fear at speaking out is understandable. The reprisals from her brothers can be even more severe. Our mutual friend told me that there are organizations that help women who are victims of violence, but in his words, “that is not enough. The mindset of the men has to change as well. Even if the woman is empowered to become more assertive, she will still face men who will challenge her. Education has to take place for the men in order for these traditions to change.” I couldn’t agree more.