Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Jordan

23 February 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the fifth periodic report of Jordan on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Rajab M. Sukayari, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the 2011 amendment of the Jordanian Constitution had strengthened protection and recognition of women and family rights. The Temporary Personal Status Act of 2010 further strengthened women’s rights, including the right to conclude marriage on equal footing with men and to inherit.

Amendments to the Labour Law provided for the protection of women in the workplace, ten weeks paid maternity leave, and granted them leave without pay to care for their children or to accompany their husbands. Employers with more than 20 women employees had to establish childcare, while the law also included provisions for domestic workers and women employed in agricultural sector. Jordan saw increased participation of women in public life, including in the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Parliament, and in judiciary where 119 judges were women.

Among concerns raised by Experts during the interactive discussion was omission of sex grounds for equality and non-discrimination in the Constitution, reservations of Jordan to articles of the Convention, and resourcing of the complaint mechanism in the country. In the context of the visit to Jordan by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, an Expert asked how Jordan planned to implement her recommendations and amend the articles of the Penal Code providing mitigation to perpetrators of so-called honour killings and violence against women. Questions were asked about ways in which discrimination against women in Jordan was tackled, particularly in eradicating and combating traditional practices, and discriminatory attitudes of culture and society. On participation of women in political and public life, the delegation was asked what further affirmative action was envisaged to increase the number of women in representative bodies and in political parties. Experts commended the efforts of Jordan in the field of employment and asked how Jordan ensured real implementation of rights of the tens of thousands of foreign domestic workers and how it made employers comply with the new Labour Act.

In his concluding remarks, Rajab M. Sukayari said Jordan was looking forward to receiving the Committee’s recommendations and would make its utmost effort to implement them.

The delegation of Jordan consisted of the representatives of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sharia Court and the Permanent Mission of Jordan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be its public closing on Friday, 2 March at 4p.m. when it will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the country reports which it has reviewed the session and issue the provisional agenda for the fifty-second session.

Report

The fifth periodic report of Jordan can be read here: (CEDAW/C/JOR/5).

Presentation of the Report

RAJAB M. SUKAYRI, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the preparation of the fifth periodic report was carried out with the participation of governmental and non-governmental parties and civil society organizations. The Jordanian Constitution had been amended in 2011 to strengthen the protection and recognition of women and family rights. The Temporary Personal Status Act of 2010 had been adopted; it emphasized the rights of women, including the right to conclude a marriage on an equal footing with men and inheritance rights, as well as regulating maintenance and custody in case of divorce. Jordanian and Sharia laws granted women full property and inheritance rights; women could have their finances separated from her husbands and they could dispose freely of their property. Amendments to the Labour Law provided for the protection of women in the workplace, and granted them leave without pay to care for their children or to accompany their husbands. Employers with more than 20 women employees had to establish childcare. Women were entitled to ten weeks of maternity leave with full pay. The present law widened the scope of protection to include domestic workers and women employed in the agricultural sector. The temporary law on social security of 2010 also included domestic workers on a voluntary basis and it had set up maternity leave and unemployment funds, while widows were now entitled to receiving both theirs and their deceased husbands’ pensions.

Jordan abided by the international conventions on nationality and the national law aimed at decreasing the number of stateless persons and persons with double nationality. Achievements in improving the participation of women in public life included an increase in the number of seats for women in the House of Representatives from 6 to 12; there were 7 women members of Senate and women members of Parliament had been playing a very active role. The draft election law was expected to further increase the number of women in political life. The number of women in the judiciary was increased as well and there were today 119 women judges and a Jordanian female judge was elected as a member of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The first report of the National Women’s Commission of 2010 included all the indicators that showed an improvement in the participation of women in all faces of life. This report would be a periodic one to be published every other year. Jordan looked forward to working with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the promotion and protection of human rights of women and was fully aware of the challenges that remained in eliminating discrimination against women.

Questions by Experts

In the first round of questions, an Expert appreciated the principle of equality of all Jordanian citizens before the law. Was Jordan thinking of taking measures to withdraw the two reservations to the Convention and to join the Optional Protocol? The delegation was asked to clarify the system of complaint mechanisms, including their competencies, staffing and budgets.

How the Convention was incorporated and applied in Jordan and how did Jordan plan to go about prohibiting discrimination against women in line with article 1 and guaranteeing equality between women and men? Further, the Committee wished to hear more about budgetary allocations and whether appropriate funds were being made available for priorities outlined by the Government in their report. The training of judges of Sharia courts was very important and the Expert wished to hear more about training and awareness-raising activities.

Following up on the first round of questions, Experts asked the delegation about the National Commission for Women, its composition, resourcing and presence at the local level; the provisions regulating custody of children up to the age of 15 which were not equally applied to Muslim and non-Muslim women; and information about complaint mechanisms, inclusion of gender in the Constitution, training of judges on the enforcement of the Convention and the content of article 33 of the Constitution.

Response by Delegation

Gender was not included in the new Constitution because the Royal Court, which was in charge of constitutional amendments, had not included the word gender in the amended text of the article on discrimination and that was why it was not adopted by Parliament. The Constitution reaffirmed international commitments and legal obligations of Jordan. The reservation on article 2 of the Convention was fully compatible with the spirit of the Convention. The reservation on article 16 of the Convention was because this article was in contradiction with the Sharia law. Jordan’s policy with regard to reservations was not static and there were examples of Jordan withdrawing its reservations to provisions of other international treaties.

On incorporation of the Convention in national law, a significant portion of Jordanian legislation had been amended to bring it in line with the Convention and to ensure non-discrimination against women. In December 2009, the National Commission for Women had issued a brochure on the Convention and its incorporation in domestic laws, which was being used in training and awareness-raising activities. On temporary interim measures, the Constitution provided that when Parliament was not in session, promulgation of legislation could be on a temporary basis through publication in the official gazette; the piece of legislation would then be transmitted to Parliament in the following session.

The National Human Rights Council was empowered to receive complaints on women’s issues. The temporary Personal Act of 2010 presented a major step in protecting the rights of women in case of custody of children, with the best interest of the child as the guiding principle; mothers were now given priority rights in custody, were allowed to travel with minor children, which had not been case before; and could preserve assets of those children. Training sessions were being organized for judges and other court officials, often in cooperation with civil society organizations. Training alone was not sufficient to ensure implementation of the new legislation; evaluation mechanisms needed to be in place as well to ensure the appropriate implementation of new laws.

There was a new bill repealing the temporary law on passports and the clause requiring the prior consent of a husband before a passport was issued for his wife. The Commission on National Dialogue which included women was currently working on the new election law which would hopefully increase the number of seats for women.

The National Commission on Women included representatives of ministries, civil society organizations and human rights experts and operated a permanent Secretariat. It cooperated with a number of specialized institutions active on women’s issues and had six offices in six governorates and a Subcommittee on Legal Issues in Amman and other working groups to discuss amendments to the law. It got support from the national budget which was not sufficient but annual increases in budgetary resources were being observed. The Commission and the Parliament had been involved in a dialogue on women’s issues for several years now which had resulted in a tradition in the Parliament to invite women’s organizations to participate in sessions where any laws concerning women were being debated.

On complaint mechanisms, the national centre was not in charge of compensation but could recommend one and provide legal assistance to a woman to address the court and request compensation. On discrimination between Muslim and non-Muslim women on issues of custody of children, the custody was according to the law and the religion of mothers played no role. The law had based itself on the best interest of the child and not on the rights of parents to custody. On the other hand, Christian courts had not awarded custody to women for children older than a few years of age; the amendment had increased that age to seven, thus ensuring the very close relationship between a mother and her child in early childhood.

Questions by Experts

In a second round of questions and comments, an Expert asked how Jordan planned to implement the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women after her visit to Jordan, and how it would go about amending articles 98 and 99 of the Penal Code. What measures were in place to prevent the killing of women and to provide services to women victims of violence? Violence against women was linked to the accumulation of societal and historic issues and changes at the societal levels were possible with a political will and commitment, said an Expert, and expressed the hope that the next strategic plan would include action on changing views and gender stereotypes on community levels.

Jordan was both a country of origin and a country of destination for human trafficking, said another Expert, but no specific data was available in the report on the phenomenon; what was the composition of the national body, how was it staffed and how were provisions of the Palermo Protocol incorporated in its strategy?

What was the number of refugees in the country and how were refugee women supported? On enforcement of the Anti-trafficking Act, an Expert said that the procedure was difficult and it was hard to prove that a person was indeed a victim of trafficking.

Response by Delegation

The recent amendment to the Penal Code excluded the application of articles 98 and 99, which were mitigating articles to the so-called honour killings and crimes against women. The report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women was still in the process of finalization and Jordan was eager to address the recommendations very seriously. The Human Rights Council would hear this report in its June session, and Jordan would inform this Committee on the status of the implementation of her recommendations.

With regard to practical measures to protect women victims of violence, there was a law for the protection of women against domestic violence, the law on shelter for women of 2004 and the law on the protection of the rights of arrested women. There was a project to open two shelters in the north and in south of the country and there were other shelters run by civil society organizations and the Government.

The first committee dealing with matters of foreign working women had been set up in 1994 to ensure the protection of their rights and access to justice. The majority of those women were domestic workers and they were supported in opening bank accounts, provided with interpretation services, and helped to obtain access to healthcare among other issues. In 2009 there were 5 trials on human trafficking and in 2010 there were 15; the increase was due to better knowledge of the phenomenon and legislation and was not due to the increase in trafficking itself. Where provisions of trafficking law were concerned, there was cooperation between a number of stakeholders and the National Committee of Women Affairs would like to participate as well. A range of provisions were in place to protect women, including refugee women.

In the last 10 years school curricula had been reviewed to remove stereotypes and to introduce human rights, various human rights instruments and some programmes concerning legal aid and justice. There were efforts to include the concept of gender into curricula and in schools. Cultural inheritance might be putting women in an inferior position to men and the role of religious leaders was extremely important to ensure that women had the rights and the status accorded to them by religious law. Cultural inheritance was deeply rooted in collective conscience and required time to be changed.

Refugees particularly from Syria were welcome in Jordan; their numbers were not clear, mostly because there was a significant Syrian community already residing in Jordan. People from Syria or Iraq were considered as guests, and the term refugee was not used. Guests were being treated in a dignified manner in conformity with feelings of solidarity. If their numbers were to increase significantly and drain national resources, Jordan would call upon the international community to assist.

Jordan was the first country in the region to sign the convention on human trafficking, promulgate the law and set up shelters for victims of trafficking. Training and seminars were being organized to sensitize the public about trafficking in persons and trainees were not only Jordanians but also came from other Arab countries. There was also judicial cooperation in cases involving human trafficking.

Questions from Experts

Concerning the participation of women in political and public life, an Expert asked how the new electoral law would facilitate increase in the number of women in representative bodies. Did Jordan envisage further affirmative action to increase the number of women in political parties, and how was Parliament involved in naming the Cabinet, as that could be used to improve women’s political participation.

Gender stereotypes existed and there were cultural and social patterns that linked women to the home and family. That could jeopardize quality and continuity of education for women; what measures had been taken to increase the number of women in non-traditional areas of higher education, such as medicine or engineering, which were seen as predominantly male professions? How did marriage affect school drop-out rates, and had Jordan considered allowing young married people to take exams and obtain qualifications?

An Expert commended the efforts of Jordan on employment. She asked how Jordan ensured real implementation of the rights of the tens of thousands of foreign domestic workers and how Jordan made employers comply with the new Labour Act. Did Jordan intend to ratify the two International Labour Organization Conventions on fair pay for domestic work and on migrant workers? When would the provision of equal pay for equal work be included in the Labour Code? On sexual harassment in the workplace, the Committee expected to see a clear definition in the legislation. How did the Government ensure that women had access to loans and credit, and could a women have a bank account in their name without the agreement of her husband?

Maternal mortality rates in Jordan had been significantly reduced, but an Expert asked about measures to further reduce it. What data collection methods on HIV/AIDS were there, and what education on HIV/AIDS, including behavioural change, was provided in schools? Abortion was illegal even for victims of incest and rape and the Expert asked if the Government would consider allowing abortion in those cases. Could the delegation comment on forced sterilisation of women with disabilities?

The delegation was asked to provide information on suicide among rural women, including causes. What was Government doing to ensure that rural women had some form of safety net and social security, particularly if their husband died?

Response by Delegation

On participation of women in public and political life, the delegation said that there was a clear political will to open up the space for women in political life but consensus was needed for that to happen. There had been a general increase in the number of women working in the Government and there was an effort to reach the 30 per cent figure, as foreseen by the national strategy. The success was also related to cultural and social context; there was an effort to cast the participation of women in political and public life as a human rights issue and an issue of general good. Equality before the law had not yet been attained, but there were women participating in social and public life. There were discussions on withdrawal of the reservation to Article 9, which was clearly connected to resolution of certain regional problems.

Jordan had achieved the highest rate of female education in the region. The post of Minister of Higher Education was held by a woman who used to be a University Dean. More and more women were entering non-traditional study areas, such as medicine. Equal pay was a norm in the public sectors but inequalities existed in the private sector, where men were paid 30 per cent more than women. The Government was addressing that issue through research, data statistics and legislation. Sexual harassment in the workplace was criminalized and women had the right to compensation if they left the job. If several cases occurred in the same institution, the labour inspector could close it down. Silence by victims was a huge obstacle and many women choose not to pursue justice in fear of losing their reputation.

Abortion was allowed if a women’s health was at risk. However abortion later than two months into the pregnancy was greatly opposed on religious and health grounds. There were efforts to recognize that rape was a form of injury to women and that abortion should be allowed in those cases. The Government was working on providing psychological support to victims of violence, which at the moment was expensive and unaffordable for most women. Victims of violence had access to free health care. On women’s access to credits and loans, there were a number of micro-credit programmes, credit funds for women, and the number of women accessing loans was increasing, especially in rural areas. That number would further increase with the approval and the implementation of the economic development of women strategy for 2012 to 2016. International Labour Organization Convention 189 was a new one and Jordan was currently considering signing it. Suicide rates among rural women were not higher then among men; young men had highest suicide rates in the country.

There was a need to recognize that the new Government instruction and Sharia teaching prohibited marriage if it was not in the interest of women. That was reflected by the new law which prohibited marriage under the age of 18. There was a need to publicize that law among the population, including women, to ensure their best interests were protected. A study revealed that many women under the age of 18 could marry with the consent of the guardian, although their numbers were in decline.

There were no legal provisions that meant a woman needed her husband’s consent to open a bank account, but there were negative traditional practices in place. Women had the right to dispose of property as they wished without supervision, according to the new Personal Status Act. A widow would not be compelled to leave the family home upon her husband’s death, provided he had owned the house. Widows had priority over the father of the deceased spouse, his children or brother.

Sterilization of mentally disabled women used to be practice to which families or guardians of the women resorted to avoid pregnancy in case of rape. The practice caused a huge outcry in the country and recently a Commission recommended its abolition. However, such sterilization was not clearly prohibited by the law in those situations, and that needed to be addressed.

Questions from Experts

The next speaker asked about ways in which discrimination against women in Jordan was tackled, particularly in eradicating and combating traditional norms and practices and discriminatory attitudes of culture and society. Could the delegation explain reasons behind early marriages and why the wali was appointed only to woman and not to man?

Divorce was said to be equal between man and women, but woman could ask for it under certain circumstances, while man had a blank cheque, so to speak. What percentage of real estate property was owned by women? On custody and legal guardianship, what happened if woman remarried, and what rights did they have to inherit intangible property in case of divorce?

Response from the Delegation

Twenty-five per cent of real estate property was owned by women, a figure which had increased by five per cent over the past three years. Sometimes, women relinquished her rights to inheritance under the family pressure.

On tackling social and cultural practices which were discriminatory to women, the delegation said that sometimes people were not aware of policies and laws, or it could also be a question of lack of resources for implementation of policies and legislation. When it had removed reservations to Article 4 of the Convention, the Government experienced huge outcry in the country by groups and sections of society who had seen it as contrary to Sharia law.

There was still a lot of work to be done to achieve the optimal status which would guarantee rights of all in Jordan. On early marriage, the judges had the right to authorize marriage for girls younger than 18, but they had to be older than 15 and they had to give their free consent. Early marriage was authorized if it was in the interest of the women; the marriage contract would be voided if woman was coerced or proceedings were incorrect. Sometimes women were not fully aware of their rights during the contracting of marriage and the possibility she had to attach any condition she wanted, including on inheritance and property. More people needed to know that legislation and their rights, which would ensure the respect of those rights.

The Personal Status Act regulated women’s right to custody and legal guardianship and followed the best interest of the child. The law on inheritance of property for widows and in cases of divorce needed to be improved and revised.

Concluding remarks

RAJAB M. SUKAYARI, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, expressed appreciation for the way the session was conducted and thanked the Committee Experts, Secretariat, civil society organizations and journalists. Jordan was looking forward to receiving the recommendations and would make its utmost effort to implement them.

__________

For use of the information media; not an official record