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Missed opportunity

Aug 25,2014 - Last updated at Aug 25,2014

Parliament overwhelmingly approved a motion to support constitutional amendments that establish a special commission for parliamentary and municipal elections, as well as rearrange the hierarchy of armed forces to separate military operations from services provided by the armed forces.

The decision to put forward these amendments was taken only a few weeks ago, and what we were witness to — in the short time since the surprise announcement ahead of Parliament’s extraordinary session — is the speed at which the authorities are able and prepared to work when there is a political will.

And therein lies a very important lesson, especially for the women of Jordan who missed an  important opportunity to lobby for and put through a constitutional amendment that guarantees their rights.

If there had been a political will to amend Article 6 of the Constitution to allow women equal legal stature and protection from gender discrimination, Article 6 would have been part of the package of constitutional amendments that went so smoothly through Parliament this past week.

There were a few faint voices here and there lamenting that the article was sidestepped again by government and legislature, but there was no genuine outrage or even advocacy on this issue.

We watched the whole process of pushing these constitutional amendments through speedily, leaving behind a trail of untouched items of legislation that have been languishing in Parliament’s and government’s drawers for years.

There is an ill that must be addressed and discussed.

Why is it that women activists look on in surprise — yet silently — while official after official speaks of “civil privileges” debated for months in order to gauge the political and economic ramifications of any small step towards embracing our children as Jordanians?

How can some of these women call themselves champions of women’s rights when they embrace the concept of exclusion?

Why is it that the Domestic Violence Law has been frozen in time without any by-laws or administrative instructions to activate it?

Why is it that the government — and civil society — have not seen fit to build sufficient shelters and provide legal and economic protection for women and children affected by unchecked and unpunished domestic violence?

Why have we allowed champions of exclusion, fanaticism and oppression to don the cloak of nationalism or religion and wander unchecked in schools, universities, mosques and workplaces?

Where is that conversation that political leadership in government and Parliament had with civil society and community leaders to work together and put an end to this slippery slide into a value system that is alien to our Jordanian/Palestinian/Iraqi/Syrian or, even more important, Arab culture?

Since when are our women so disrespected, and so insignificant that they are seen as second-class citizens in need of Herculean efforts just to be recognised by Constitution as equals? 

Part of me feels angry with women’s groups/women leaders for not building up enough leverage in society to force change through pure power dynamics, and another part wonders about the role of our men in this state of affairs.

Where is their touted “traditional respect” for mothers, sisters and daughters, colleagues, girl friends and fellow female citizens?

Where is our value system and who replaced it with this alien system of exclusion, rejection, demonisation of others and denial of equal rights to — among others — women? 

The government should have taken the lead in introducing the amendment to Article 6, as it should take the lead in addressing every legislative gap that denies women their legal and socio-economic stature as equal citizens.

That  should have been done, actually, many governments ago!

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