Jordan urged to stop imprisoning women for defying the wishes of men

Amnesty calls for end to detentions under male guardianship system

Amnesty International has called on Jordan to end what it has described as an abusive system that jails women if they disobey their male guardians or have relationships deemed inappropriate.

Despite recent efforts to give women better protections, Amnesty said in a new report published on Wednesday that Jordan still allows the arbitrary detention of women, including when male family members usually fathers or brothers complain to the authorities that they have been absent without permission.

Under the male guardianship system, which Amnesty said is at the centre of a web of discriminatory provisions, men are empowered to control womens lives and limit their personal freedoms, while women could be subjected to degrading practices such as virginity tests, aimed at determining whether theyve had sex outside marriage.

The report accuses the Jordanian state of applying coercive and penal power to reinforce male guardianship, effectively colluding with male guardians to ensure male control over women.

Women can also be forcibly separated from their children if their babies are seen as illegal, when they are the result of an unsanctioned relationship. In Jordan, women require permission from a male guardian to get married if they are under 30 and sex outside marriage is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Similar practices are prevalent across the Middle East, but Amnestys 64-page report which interviewed 121 people, including women held in Juwaideh prison, the countrys main womens jail shows they are also taking place in Jordan, billed as a relatively safe and friendly country in an otherwise volatile region.

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In 2017, Jordan joined an increasing number of Arab countries in scrapping laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment provided they marry their victims.

Amnesty said the country has in recent years carried out a number of reforms, including opening the Dar Amneh safety house for women at risk in July 2018, but the authorities continue to misuse the 1954 crime prevention law.

Imprisoning women for defying male authority amounts to a violation of their human rights, said the report.

Subjecting women to humiliating virginity tests was akin to torture.

The biggest punishment of all is saved for women who become pregnant outside of marriage the state sanctioned theft of their child, said the report.

Testimonies provided by Amnesty showed those jailed were, in many cases, fleeing abusive environments.

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Sawsan (not her real name) was jailed for more than a year simply for fleeing her abusive father, according to Amnesty. I was stopped on the street in Amman and the police asked me for my ID. I didnt have it, so they said I had to come to their station, but when I got there they found a warrant for my arrest because I was absent, she said. The two police officers there beat me I was taken to the governors deputy He said I would go to Juwaideh prison until my father bails me out.

Ola (not her real name) encountered problems after hospital staff called the police to report her for being pregnant outside marriage.

I got pregnant and tried to marry the man. But the marriage wasnt approved because I have no guardian, she said. My parents are dead, and I just have younger sisters, no brothers I went to hospital and gave birth. The hospital asked if I was married and I said: No, so then they called the police. Thats how I ended up here.

Heba Morayef, Amnestys regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: Time has now come to end the detention and ill-treatment of women simply for disobeying their male guardian or transgressing gender norms.

The use of virginity tests by the police in Jordan reinforces a discriminatory idea that male family members have a right to monitor and control womens sexuality. Such unlawful practices must end in all circumstances.

Sadly, we have documented several cases of unmarried women who became pregnant as a result of rape, who were then imprisoned, forcibly separated from their child, or denied birth registration.

The office of the Jordanian prime minister told Amnesty that as many as 149 women are in prison for different reasons, but insisted there is no case where women have been apprehended for being absent from home without their guardians permission, unless this is combined with a complaint about committing a crime or an offence.

Hanan (not her real name), a woman aged almost 20, was also jailed for fleeing an abusive home alongside her sister. Every time we ran away, when we were arrested the police would take us to the hospital and my father would insist that they do the virginity tests on [us], she said. Family Protection [police] made it very clear anyway, if our father asks us to do the test, we have to do it. It is his right.

At least 85 women have been held in administrative detention so far this year for sex outside marriage to ensure their protection, the prime ministers office said, claiming that the majority had been released.

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