Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Jordanian Queen Rania on Monday helped launch an Amnesty International campaign to end violence against women in the Arab world, where the group says incidents of violence remain "rampant and severe."
One in three women around the world suffers from rape, attack or assault during her lifetime, according to Amnesty, which rolled out the new campaign as part of a global initiative begun earlier this month.
"We seek change, and we ask everyone to join in, and say: ’no to violence against women,’" organization head Irene Kahn told Jordan’s queen and about 200 activists at the launch. "The real test is in political resolve and commitment. We hope to see this starting in Jordan ... as a regional model."
Amnesty, which is based in London, is pressing for the abolition of laws that discriminate against women and perpetuate violence. As of last year, 54 countries had laws discriminating against women, 79 had no laws against domestic violence and 127 lacked laws prohibiting sexual harassment.
The launch in Jordan’s capital, Amman, comes weeks after the United States announced it would pursue reform in the region through the Greater Middle East Initiative. The Beirut Daily Star reports that at least one local organization, the Jordanian Women’s Union, boycotted the ceremony because it did not want to be viewed as endorsing foreign interference in local issues.
"We support AI’s [Amnesty International’s] efforts on violence and on human rights," said Amneh Zobi, head of the group, which runs Jordan’s only temporary women’s shelter and hotlines for victims of abuse. "But the start of the campaign from Jordan ... could complicate the efforts of all local women NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], many of whom have been working in this field for over 50 years."
"We do not want to be seen as if we are implementing the agenda of AI [Amnesty International] and of America," she continued.
Conference participants said that progress was being made toward improving the lives of women, particularly as women were more able to talk openly about the problem of violence, but that programs needed to be sensitive to Arab societies if they were to succeed.
"The episode of violence against women is continuing, but the wall of silence over it is also lifting by the day, and talk about it is no longer confirmed to the rooms of the house," said Momen Hadidi, who heads Jordan’s National Institute of Forensic Medicine.
Amnesty’s Khan made similar observations. "There has been some progress, thanks to change from within, as women are breaking taboos and speaking out. But the region still has a long way to go," she said.
Half of Arab women are illiterate and only 6 percent of parliamentary seats in the Arab world are held by women, far below the international average of 16 percent (Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, Beirut Daily Star, March 23).