What’s Really Killing Jordanian Women

Try as I might, there are things in Jordan that I cannot fully comprehend, and will often times shock me. The state of the country’s young population is one of those things. When I see two tribes suddenly going to war because one 19 year old male as caught staring at the sister of another 19 year old male on a bus – it baffles me. It baffles me when they riot, set fire to shops, rampage in the street, call for blood. I was equally baffled (and admittedly just a tad bit humored) when one university student shot another student for throwing a snowball at him during last March’s snow day. Honor crimes baffle me, especially the fact that they are carried by Jordanian males who are typically under the age of 25. We are talking about a generation of people who were mostly born in the 1990’s. Does anyone remember what growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s was like?

I figured that was an appropriate context to pave the way for what comes next.

First. A 19 year old Jordanian kidnaps a 14 year old girl (with the assistance of his family) – takes her to a location where a tent was set up for him to rape her repeatedly for three straight days before the police roll in. The court sentences him to death by hanging but he manages to produce a very recent marriage certificate signed by a judge. The court then stays the execution but claims that it will be reinstated should the boy divorce her without a “justifiable cause”. A professor of sociology from the University of Jordan was widely quoted by the original article produced by Arab Al Yawm – that “women are different in nature from men” and that the girl should now make her best of the situation and play the role of a good wife, mostly by putting this whole silly rape thing behind her.

Second. Another 19 year old Jordanian was condemned to death by hanging for raping and stabbing his teenage girlfriend to death before burning her body because her family refused to let him marry her. Evidently, this boy couldn’t find a judge to marry them first so that at the very least he could call this an honor crime.

And that’s just April.

Last October, a 46 year old man was charged for having killed his 19 year old daughter after having raped her for five years and impregnating her. He killed her by cutting her open to remove the fetus. He was sentenced to hanging. A few days before that, a 26 year old was also sentenced to hang for raping a 7 year old girl who was on her way to school.

What is going on with young male Jordanians these days? When did this level of brutality come about? Has it always been there and we’re just hearing about it now? Or is this all recent? How did we get here? Rape is a brutal crime on its own – but these crimes go beyond that. Kidnapping, extensive rape, burning bodies? The death penalty, which hangs plenty of men each and every year, doesn’t seem to have had an impact. Families, mostly out of shame, seem to back the males and are happy to condemn their female victims. We hardly ever hear the voices of activists or even female parliamentarians who supposedly represent women issues, or at least claim to.

Without a doubt, there is a chilling silence. And in my opinion, that’s really what’s killing Jordanian women.

Where is the moral majority that is always more than happy to speak out on a wide variety of issues (including night clubs, bars and defunct casino deals), but never on anything remotely close to the way women are treated in our own backyard? And that is the crux of the issue – these crimes are not random or rare, they emerge from a certain environment of which the justice system’s current framework has done little to counter. The crimes may not be widespread but the environment is, as are the people who prop up that environment. And no amount of civil society workshops, advocacy campaigns or academic research papers are going to make a dent in that environment.

I’m not a huge advocate of the death penalty, and if anything, the continued emergence of these crimes has proven that it’s obviously not working. I honestly believe that the risk of their honor being tarnished is more important to some Jordanians than death. If that’s the case, a Scarlet Letter policy (along with castration) would probably be a better way to go. Short of that, I don’t see the death penalty doing anything to stem the tide of this kind of brutality. Using shame as a tool might be an effective approach, and it might not. What I do know is that a radical approach is needed, and it starts with the killing of this appalling silence.



  • One simple thing to do is stop hiding the names of these criminals in the newspapers. Like you said, family reputation and “honor” is more valuable to them.

    Great article as usual, but what’s “extensive” rape?

  • The problem in Jordan is that the sins of the fathers have been inherited by the sons, and large birthrates lead to children being left to wonder in the yards, by parents bringing up many children.

    Strength is perceived by being stronger, and not necessarily wiser.

  • It is your responsibility as a person of power to protect the innocent. To defend the harmed, this could be your sister. Have some apathy and take responsibility, use your privileges to do good. God is watching you whether you choose the good or bad, you will be reward as you deserve. Don’t forget your responsibility and misuse position of power. If you don’t believe in God then Karma is a Bitch, watch out 
    And yes names SHOULD be published so someone with some sense can kick these pricks a**es

  • This issue can never be resolved as long as the victims
    (if not killed yet) remain to hang their heads in shame while the men are patted on the back by their families for “restoring” their honor, and simply slapped on the wrist by our ineffective judicial system.
    Sexual offenders and criminals should have their full names and picture published in newspapers for all to see (sexual offenders’ names and pictures are publised in UAE’s newspapers, btw).There is no greater shame in Jordan than that of a tarnished family reputation.

  • it would be interesting to aggregate and make a “picture” of the men who kill their female relatives. demographics, age, location, any information and visualise it in some way. would help cast some light on these scumbags.

  • Thank you for writing about this. There have been people who have been very vocal about these issues. There are some great women’s rights activists in Jordan, and I know that the most recent story of the girl being kidnapped then forced to marry her rapist spread like wildfire because people were so outraged about it. But then what do we do? We voice our discontent among each other, on Twitter, on Facebook, create petitions…we can even stage a protest or two. But then what?Ultimately, we can’t do anything unless the law changes.The deafening silence has been from the government, who has been ignoring all the horrific crimes against women that have been happening recently. Why isn’t parliament syaing anything about this? Are they too pre-occupied with securing lifetime pensions and diplomatic passports for themselves?

    Let’s also consider the utter absurdity of this law. So, if you rape someone, you face a death sentence…unless you marry your victim. REALLY? Death or marriage? Or rather, death or you’re a free man? How can we even let these sick bastards roam the streets, much less marry and raise a family? What a joke. Why is there no middle ground, such as throwing them in prison far away from those who they could harm further?

  • The only thing I regret in your article is the fact that it is not written in, or at least translated into, Arabic !

  • what a great article it is but im with number 7 (Citizen) that such articles should be translated to Arabic..
    Another thing about your article you were talking about the moral majority which are talking about bars, clubs and casinos, which according to a religious point of view they have all the right to try banning such places in Jordan. But at the same time those moral majority u r talking about are mostly religious people which I am positively sure they are against the marraige or death law! If they where talking about Religion they will definatly be with the death penalty law against any rapist.. The probem is not with those moral majority, the problem is with the whole law system is jordan that is based on silly traditions.. If it was based on religions in jordan (Islam & christianity) we wont have such problems in our society

  • well… the only problem is that there is no law..and with that I mean there is a written one but once the law become that fixable then its not a law!!!
    such crimes happens every where on the planet, but its not taken as tribal as in Jordan, when the law we have is driven by tribal law, wasta, and who knows who, we already reached a limit where a complaint in the police station is twisted and changed based on a phone call from one big shot who knows one of the sides. its a disgusting but we know why its happening and the solution is only in the hands of the government, if the same mentioned up incident and violent happens but for different reasons like people protesting prices …what do you think the reaction form the government will be…it happened before and we know what it was

  • The lack of proper sexual education in schools and at home definitely leads to all of this. It’s the twenty first century and our children learn about sexuality through disgusing pornography sites, magazines, and their peers. This issue is destroying generations because they are not exposed to the right material, and parents think they should never discuss sexual issues with their children because it was never discussed with them when they were younger. This builds up more and more frustration; leading to rape and murder.
    Awareness is key. Our children have to know two things; proper sexual education, and a way to defend themselves if something like that happens to them.

  • This is an interesting article and does highlight obvious problems – but my one hitch is this: This is not just a Jordanian issue, nor a Middle Eastern issue, but is a world issue. I am not lessening the problem here, but it is wrong to condemn Jordan and its justice system when rape, shootings – horrific incidents committed against women – occur regularly in America and England (to point out a western example).
    That’s just my pittance….

  • “it is wrong to condemn Jordan and its justice system when rape, shootings – horrific incidents committed against women – occur regularly in America and England”

    The difference is that nobody in England (except perhaps for a few recent immigrants) would dream of suggesting that a rape victim should marry the man who raped her. Nor is the “honor” of criminals protected at all costs.

    There are violent criminals in all countries, but they do not get sympathy from the judges here. “Honor” is not a defense in a trial.

  • I neither agree with the death penalty nor with castration nor with scarlet letters (may lead to people taking the law into their own hands), but I do thank you for this article.
    The silence is deafening indeed.

  • “The difference is that nobody in England (except perhaps for a few recent immigrants) would dream of suggesting that a rape victim should marry the man who raped her. Nor is the “honor” of criminals protected at all costs.”

    Only problem is it wasn’t suggested; somehow the man had. through some way or another, managed to produce a recent marriage certificate. Then comes the problem a lot of woman face in many countries; ‘my husband raped me’. This has never stood well in any court and again, is a world issue.

    I agree with you there is a large problem concerning the protection of honour, a problem found in many countries with strong and ‘recent’ tribal history and communities.

  • We lack the implemintation of law. Any one who commits such proven crime should executed, and the such crimes and consequences must be communicated clearly to the public
    “ولكم في القصاص حياة يا اولي الألباب”

  • I’m sure with the recent ban on porno websites in Jordan these crimes will disappear from our honorable society within the decade. Shame you didn’t mention la sharaf bil jareema who have done some great work in this area

  • These crimes are horrific, and the lack of outrage is outrageous, as are the laws that let these criminals off the hook or reduce their punishment. What I believe though, is that this is not just a reflection of how society views women and their worth, but also about the general worth, or lack thereof, that we place on human life. Frankly, I don’t see much outrage when anyone is killed, not even children. Children disappear from their homes, and after the initial few days are barely mentioned again. Newborn babies are found dumped in trashcans, and while there is a little outrage here and there, a damning of society’s disintegration, they too are forgotten. A man kills his brother over money, and the victim is almost immediately forgotten. A boy gets his eye taken out by an ‘angry” teacher, and we think it’s awful, but then put it behing us. A woman runs over two children for fighting with her son, and the story barely makes it past the initial moment of shock. A young man is run over by a reckless driver, and no one seems to care except his immediate family. Security forces shoot a man at a protest, and it too passes. The list goes on. Violence is a part of our everyday existence. Children, boys and girls, but more so boys, are beaten and tormented at home and at school, and the state turns a blind eye, as do the neighbors. I truly believe that we, as a society, place very little value on human life, be it male or female. This is where we need to begin our work. Otherwise, this becomes a “women’s issue”, left to the government to deal with, and they, in turn, hand it over to the donors, and more funds get poured down the drain working to “free” girls and women from oppression. What this needs is for us, as the people of this country, to take a long hard look at who we are, what are value systems are, and where we want to be.

  • As long as tribes exist in Jordan, these issues will not simply fade away. These days people can easily avoid the law, murders occur each and every day, but tribes should not be allowed to take matters into their own hands.
    Arabs should come to treat both genders equally, its the rapist that gets disgraced not the victim, and it’s the female’s family’s responsibility to make sure that she sees that.

  • Thank you for this. Did you read the article by Mona al Tahawi in FP about ‘Why they hate us’ which is about the sorry state of women’s rights in the Middle East after the Arab Spring (which I have started to reluctantly call the Islamist Spring)?

    It is good that people are speaking out against this, but is there a real possibility that the parl. will change the law?

  • @Lawrence Perry (#2): good point. overpopulation and a weak economy mean lots of bored, unemployed young men. What else do you expect them to do? Even if they get a college degree, without wasta they do not have much of a chance.

  • @abu daoud, intelligent young men can succeed and embark on great careers without the help of wasta, without even college degrees. If someone can’t get a job it’s their fault and theirs alone.

  • dear nas
    reading all these stories at once made my tears fall ,fall and fall
    thank you for being the mans voice of these women ,believe me its a step a small one but a good one

  • Abu dauod “Islamist spring” really?
    Do we need more labels? Stereo types?
    Even if men are bored, frustrated, communities uneducated/ignorant or follow the new phenomenon “Islamist Spring” etc..
    The law should reign those who do wrong
    Please translate to Arabic and maybe tweet to our dear Queen Rania? Or that’s not a good idea?

  • well , in my opinion i blame girls in our society , the way of wearing clothes the way of wearing make up … trust me friends if girls weren’t showing the Feminine side they would never ever get raped , i’m totally against the whole rape and killing thing , there always a good solutions for a situation like this exm. : marriage for people who can … or other staff … but at least before we judge the Jordanian raper we must blame Causative .

  • @sam.ros:
    No matter how a woman or a girl dresses, what kind of make-up she wears (if any), it can never be an excuse for raping her. Rape is not about temptation, it is about power, about showing the woman/girl who is “in charge” or about making oneself feel “in charge”. And it happens even in areas where women and girls are what some people call “modestly dressed”. The point you make is merely an excuse, albeit a cherished one, to put the blame on anyone but the perpetrators of these unacceptable acts. Cheap.

  • sam.ros
    Thanks for displaying very clear example of what is wrong here. Consider yourself part of the problem, not the solution.

  • El mafrood fe 3adel, fe right o fe wrong. I do not care where you’re from, or what tribe you descend from, if you’ve done something wrong you should and must be punished for it!

    Both of these disgusting human beings -o kteer 3aleihom yetsammo heik – must face either life in prison or the death sentence.

    o law fe kanoon zay el khaleg b hal balad, o ta6beeq la 7okom rabbna b anu deen kan b anu sharee3a kanat, kan ma falato men eeid el kanoon.

    O all I have to say, ya weilo men rabbo yalli fallat-hom men el 7okom, o I wonder how well they sleep at night.

    Seriously disgusted!

  • I think we seriously must revise the way we raise up our males, maybe a sex education course in schools might help, and another course to teach males how to respect females !!!

  • What is really killing Jordanian as well as Arab women is a cultural mindset that sees women through a prism shaped by a clouded understanding (or lack there of) of the raison d’etre of women as defined by religion, ‘tradition’ and ‘custom.’ The laws MUST be amended to guarantee women their basic rights, human rights. But, more importantly, mindsets MUST change—in the right direction. And that change cannot be forced on our society or families. It is a collective effort that combines individuals (role models whether in sports, literature, the media, politics, both female AND male), civil society, educational institutions and the authorities (who must put in place and implement laws that guarantee women their basic rights). And Im saying this now, a few days after you published your piece, because with all due respect to the person appointed for the new gig, I do not believe that a ministry for women affairs will bring about that change we are all craving to see.
    Speaking of which, check out what Time Shomali is doing with her youtube channel; exactly what we all need to do; change mindsets through the medium we are most comfortable in. In her case, its social comedy.

  • This is one of the most difficult problem a society has to deal with, and Jordan is not the exception. Rape and violence against women is not something new in the so called “advanced”,”developed” or the so called “third world” countries, there are thousands of books research and academic reports and scholarly work have been Wriiten on this subject, just for the people who are “impressed ” or enthusiastic about western society , I urge all of you out there to look closely at crime rate in western society, somewhere in the US , a women is raped every two minute according to the department of justice and please don’t take my word for it look it up yourself, the crime against women is world wide problem and yes Jordan and it’s society are part and parcel of the of this problem and Yes Jordan is not the exception when it comes to crime against women . I just needed to point out tha seines against women is widespread not only in our society but it is world wide.

  • Spot on again, Black Iris. I agree. It is the silence that is killing women. Retribution and deterrence are not enough. I’m not suggesting for a moment that rapists and murderers should not be punished. They should, and their punishments publicised and explained. But the real problem is the silence around women’s rights. I’m aware of it every day in Jordan. Amongst many (most) Jordanian men, the rights and even role of women are simply not part of the discourse. I feel this issue needs a serious and heartfelt public debate to change attitudes. Abuse of women needs to be condemned by all members of society, especially public figures and those in authority, because until attitudes are changed, the perverted notion of so-called “honor”(I really cringe to use the word in this context) in the abuse of women will not be banished to the halls of shame where it belongs. It is for every one of us to act here I believe, in whatever capacity we can.

  • when did this level of brutality come about?? it was always there but it wasn’t called brutal or immoral it was acceptable, this culture continues to encourage abuse and harm to women, it’s in the religion and the tradition.
    common proverbs
    the death of your sister permanently protects your honor
    ان مات أخوك أنكسر ظهرك وان ماتت أختك أنستر عرضك وان مات ابنك انحرق كبد

    the death of your daughter is a sign that you have a pure heart
    ماتت بنته من صفاة نيته

    a girl’s smile is permission for you to pursue her in however horrible way you find appropriate
    ان ضحكت وبين نابها الحقها واوعى تهابها

    This abuse to women is not unique to Jordan or the middle east, you will find it in all patriarchal societies in all its forms; female infanticide, circumcision, molestation, rape, and prostitution . If a culture worships a God it abuses women..it has to! it’s like a religious requirement. Virginity, hair, menstruation and sex are thoroughly discussed in divinely inspired holy books..that’s where this divine obsession comes from, societies obsessed with sex and blood just like god instructed them to.
    if you want to please a god….sacrifice a virgin
    if you want to serve a god..be a virgin and vow chastity
    if you please god you will get a virgin or many
    if you want to pray to a god …make sure you’re not menstruating
    (strict hair rules are to be observed during all above activities)

    couldn’t the Almighty have created bald women with no vaginas?
    Now religious people will come attack me saying God is merciful and fair..but if you read the turah, bible and quran you will know that Abraham’s god is anything but that.

  • @Maha,
    Religion teaches us that woman is created from the rib of man when it is the exact other way around actually. The prototypical human being is a female; it is the template within the mother’s womb. Unless an X chromosome comes from the semen and ruins the fun, the fetus is born a woman.

    Otherwise, biochemical stimulants transform the female body into a male one. Through hormones, things change such as the clitoris elongating thus creating the penis, forming the first half of what will next follow during puberty.

    Religion is patriarchal. Anyone who disagrees is only fooling themselves.

  • Sociologically speaking (and in the simplest terms) the purpose of the death penalty is:
    1. Incapacitation – i.e. to get the criminal off the streets
    2. Deterrence – i.e. to deter others in society from committing the same crime

    Accordingly, to evaluate the effectiveness of the dealth penalty, one must look at how effective it is in its purpose to incapacitate the criminal, and deter others from following the same path.

    Although I do not have data from Jordan, this issue has been studied extensively in the US and it was found that the death penalty is actually not effective in deterring others in society from committing crimes. Essentially, the death penalty is no more effective in deterring homicide than imprisonment. In fact, evidence shows that it actually may incite even more violence in society.

    Research has shown that in the period (weeks) following death penalty cases, the level of crime in society (in specific, homicides) did actually decrease; however, it then increased to a level higher than what it was initially (prior to sentencing a criminal to death). This is because (and there are actual sociological terms to describe this effect), by condemning an individual to death, you give people in society the impression that 1) it is okay to take it upon yourself to judge people as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and 2) in the case that you actually ‘find’ someone to be ‘bad’, it is okay to punish them through death. People become less inhibited in their preponderance to utilize violent measures to settle their disputes.

    Even though this data is from the US, someone should take a look at data in Jordan to understand whether our society responds in such a manner and take action accordingly.

  • Do you think male’s treatment of women, blaming them for their actions, has anything to do with the stereotype of women being “stuck” in the past? As society advances, women seem to be held back–mistreated. Do you think it has to do with the governments interpretation of the Islamic law in their treatment of women, which is why silence is happening rather than action?

  • I’m a student from the United States and I’m currently taking a class on women in the Middle East. This topic, honor killings, is something we have touched upon but haven’t gone into much detail on. I want to thank you for writing this article because you’ve given me a clear cut example to understand exactly what is happening when it comes to honor killings and the kind of treatments that both the victims of these honor killings and the ones committing these attacks are receiving. It’s articles like these that need to be given more exposure in the media. Your idea of silence being the killer here is, also, spot on. This sort of silence though isn’t new and we’ve seen it in countless times when it comes to major atrocities (or extreme violence). The Holocaust and genocide in Rwanda being two such examples that come to mind immediately. The only way to change this current situation and to avoid any further violence is to break the silence and stand up against this injustice.

  • Very informative post. I have to disagree on the basis that rape, molestion, and sexual violation is not excllusively a woman’s issue. In my own family I know of 3 women includinng myself who have been sexually violated, and 2 men who have also been, and we have 3 known molesters in our family, all men, but everyone refuses to talk about these ungodly crimes simply because of of honor, and the threat these atrocious expperiences hold on to one’s femininity, or masculinity. What needs to change is the popular discourse on rape, and molestion, and sexual harrassment, and the idea that this is only a women’s issue. Victims should be able to voice their experiences without fear of being, shamed, ostracized, killed. The honor law needs to stripped from the constitution, the death sentence, gives no retribution too the victim, I’d want to see the fucker rot in jail. ANd the marriage law is a death sentence for the victim, people must come together and break this silence and demand justice.

  • Hi, my name is Gina and I’m a journalist currently based in the United States. I am working on an article about Jordan, particularly about Jordanian (and Syrian) women in Jordan. I am looking for more information about everyday life there and was hoping you would be willing to talk with me. You have my email, please contact me if you’re willing to share any information!


  • This is what happens when you leave the word of Allah and return to the rule of jahiliyya and qabaliyya. How can you be blind to the fact that Islam solves all your problems. The kind of Islam where you actually DO what the quran says, not the kind where you don’t do what the quran says… amazing.. The solution has been sent down to them from above 7 skies and they run around like headless chickens wondering what is wrong

Your Two Piasters: