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Bending the law in an already hostile society: Jordanian women keep paying the price

Bending the law in an already hostile society: Jordanian women keep paying the price

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English Women’s Rights

Friday 14 October 202211:45 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"نقل أملاكه باسم أخيه ليتهرب من النفقة"... انحياز القضاء الشرعي ضد المرأة في الأردن

This report was produced within the “Women’s Rights Defenders” project, with the support of Civil Rights Defenders.


Walking through the halls of Jordan’s Sharia courts is an exhausting psychological journey for the normal visitor. So how would it be for the women who have memorized the details of its courtrooms as a result of the numerous court sessions they have had to attend, some of which have went on for years? Most notably women filing for divorce, seeking alimony and maintenance, or filing for separation and/or custody of their children, along with other Jordanian and non-Jordanian women.

Neither international conventions nor amendments to domestic legislation, or even training courses for judges have been able to change the mentality that deals with women in sharia courts. The experts who have taken part in this report believe that the issue is in the sharia court judges standing against women rather than in the legislation itself; the mentality that insists on treating women as inferior beings, and therefore their rights are necessarily diminished.

The amendments to the law and Jordan’s international obligations in international agreements such as the CEDAW convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), would have changed the current reality for women if they had shifted from theory to practice, but women did not see or feel this change.

Give me a thousand unjust laws and one fair judge, and justice will be achieved

Women who have had to go through a divorce battle through the law rather than family or clan means, blame the mentality of sharia judges, which hasn’t changed like everything else around them. This makes many of them prefer to continue in marriages full of injustice and violence, and choose what they consider to be the lesser evil rather than entering into the realm of court battles where women are often overpowered and defeated.

Witnesses in this report speak to Raseef22 about the judges’ lack of sympathy for women and lack of understanding for their daily life requirements . They clearly point out that some of the judges make judgements on women based on their presence and appearance. Unveiled women may be met with a grim face and many have been asked by the judge to leave and not return to the courtroom without a headscarf on. Moreover, many sharia judges are not even convinced of a woman’s right to guardianship over herself, let alone over her children.

Unveiled women may be met with a grim face and many have been asked by the judge to leave and not return to the courtroom without a headscarf on.

Extortion, stalling , trickery, allegations of defamation, threats to withdraw custody, hacking phones, and a great deal of lies... These are some of the methods that men use based on the advice of lawyers who recognize the power that men have, and recognize the weakness of the sharia mindset towards women.

Remarkably, most of the extortion that a woman is subjected to comes from the premise of being a mother. In a single moment, a man can torment the woman because she had asked him for divorce by using the children against her. He would transfer his possessions under the name of a relative to claim insolvency and reduce alimony, or would refrain from paying the children’s education in private schools. We often hear about the denigration of women to make them appear unfit to raise their children in front of the judge.

What does Jordan’s Personal Status Law state?

Alimony figures are almost laughable

The Jordanian Personal Status Law has determined the maintenance (alimony) of the wife and children in the case of both an insolvent and a well-off husband, but many spouses have been able to secure an outlet for their money in order to avoid having to be subject to Article 64 of the Jordanian Personal Status Law No. 15 of 2019, which stipulates: “Maintenance shall be increased depending on the situation of the spouse, but not less than the minimum necessary food, clothing, housing, and health care, and maintenance shall be set either by the agreement of the spouses on a certain amount or by the judge’s ruling.”

Umm Jamal (pseudonym), 48, shares her story with us. According to her account to Raseef22, her ex-husband, working under the advice of his lawyer, reduced his monthly income by writing checks for himself in agreement with a close friend. During the court sessions of the alimony case filed by his ex-wife, these checks acted as a guarantee for him before the judge, demonstrating that he was unable to pay the alimony costs and expenses.

Remarkably, most of the extortion that a woman is subjected to comes from the premise of being a mother. In a single moment, a man can torment his ex wife by using his children against her.

Because the Sharia court handles documents without scrutiny in many cases, the amount of alimony that Umm Jamal received for herself and her three children is 85$ US dollars per month. She filed an objection with the court because her husband was a merchant with several properties, it was then found that he had transferred his possessions and registered them under his brother’s name, while claiming that he receives a pension that does not exceed 282$ US dollars which wasn’t sufficient to support her and her children.

Article 59 of the same law stipulates: “a- The maintenance (alimony) of every person shall be in his own money, except that of the wife, her alimony will be on her husband, even if she is well-off. b- The wife’s alimony includes food, clothing, accommodation, and health care to the extent known, and the service of the wife, for example those who have servants. c- A husband is obligated to pay maintenance/his wife’s living expenses if he has ceased to do so or is found to have been negligent, or it is proven that what he is paying is inadequate.”

Whereas Article 64 stipulates that: “The wife’s alimony shall be imposed based on the status of the husband (whether well-off or poor), and may be increased or reduced depending on his situation, but would not be less than the minimum necessary food, clothing, housing, and health care. Maintenance shall be set either by the agreement of the spouses on a certain amount or by the judge’s ruling, and maintenance is forfeited for the period preceding the agreement or filing the request to the judge.”

The children’s education... A weapon commonly used for extortion

Education is a common weapon used for extorting the ex-wife before the Sharia courts and for evading alimony payments, especially when it comes to completing their university education under the “You are old enough to handle yourself now” approach. Prior to this stage, the most common threat would be to transfer children from private schools to public schools, which have a much lower quality in education, activities, heating, and infrastructure.

This conduct goes against Article 190 of the Personal Status Law, which stipulates that “The children’s alimony must be paid, and their father must be obligated to maintain their schooling at all levels of education.” Article 191 stipulates that if the guardian in charge of spending on the child chooses to educate him in private schools, he/she cannot backtrack unless he/she becomes unable to afford private education, or finds a legitimate justification.”

This is what Rouba (pseudonym), 39, described as the most heinous provocative tactics that her ex husband had practiced against her. She says, ”My children not only study in a private school, but they are also very attached to their school. They had grown up in it since the elementary stage and have built their own world there and made friendships. And so because my ex-husband realizes how much they are attached to the school, their education was the first thing my ex-husband blackmailed me with when I filed for divorce against him, saying he would transfer them to government schools, while also being aware of the fact that my son and daughter are at the sensitive age of adolescence.”

"My children's education was the first thing my ex-husband blackmailed me with when I filed for divorce against him, saying he would transfer them to government schools while being aware of the fact that my son and daughter are at the sensitive age of adolescence”

She adds, “I remember that my son Khalid, who is in the tenth grade, suggested that he could work in a fast-food restaurant and what prevented him from doing so was their refusal to employ him because he is under legal age. Even my job as a translator did not help me pay for my children’s schooling, and when I informed the judge that my husband was capable of completing the education costs, I was shocked when he claimed, in the words of his lawyer, that I was forcing him to teach the children in private schools despite his weak financial situation.”

She goes on to say, ”My ex-husband submitted a paper showing that he had two loans from the bank, one residential and one personal, but what he didn’t mention in the courtroom was that he worked freelance in real estate brokerage from which he got good financial returns and he was able to comfortably support us. The judge sided with him and approved his decision to transfer our children to government schools. I confronted this judgment and started a private business run from home to sell baked goods online, as well as taught translation courses so that I would not destroy my children’s education and psychological well-being.”

Smuggling money to claim hardship

According to the annual statistical report of the magistrate’s department which includes the work of the sharia courts for 2021, the total number of divorce cases registered in sharia courts in 2021 was 28,703 including legal separation, accounting for 23% of the total divorce cases, and the rest was through documentation courts by 6,602 cases.

For his part, the executive director of Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI), Mounir Daibis, while speaking with Raseef22, affirmed that the average alimony awarded by the sharia courts is not proportionate or even approaches the requirements of the current living and economic conditions in Jordan. Women and children in particular suffer greatly throughout the long journey. from the beginning of the proceedings to proving the husband’s income and finally to collecting alimony. They later on suffer from weak amounts that are not enough to meet the basic needs for food, clothing, education, and health care.

He points out that practical applications and judicial rulings demonstrate the poor value of the ruled expenses because the burden of proof falls to the wife to determine her husband’s income, and it may be impossible to determine the real income if the husband works in the self-employment sector, which makes it difficult to obtain an official document to prove it. In such cases, the sharia judge takes the man’s statement and allegations of the amount as his true income. This declaration is usually far from the spouse’s true income, who is striving to evade spending alimony on his children and ex-wife in the event of a dispute between them that had her seeking refuge in court.

He called on behalf of the institute for a re-examination of alimony. In 2020, the average alimony for women in Jordan was 114$ US dollars while the minimum wage is set at 266$. He called for amendments to be made to facilitate the process of proving the income of the husband without burdening the wife alone with this condition. Sentenced expenditures push women into poverty despite the financial solvency of many husbands.

He wanted to to take custody from her because she goes to therapy

Rima Taim is a coordinator of a social media group called “Arab Single Moms”, a group that seeks to support single mothers, both divorced and widowed in Jordan and the Arab region. We spoke with her because she is in constant direct contact with the stories detailing divorce cases and the suffering of Jordanian women in the Sharia courts. She says, “The problem is not in the law, but rather is in the moment the judge hits his table and makes the final judgement in the case.”

The burden of proof falls to the wife to determine her husband’s income, and it may be impossible to determine the real income if the husband works in the self-employment sector 

“Injustice”, according to her, is the most prominent title in divorce cases, resulting in many negative effects on the psychological well-being of the wife and on the final ruling on the case, not to mention the length of the proceedings that “wither the soul” and because of it, many compromises take place. She says, ”I advise that the Sharia courts should be the very last option for those who want a divorce, in order to save time, effort, and money, as well as spare the psychological well-being of women. The best thing is to attempt to have a divorce through a lawyer in the family court. At a time when the marriage is supposed to end once she hears him make an ‘utterance of divorce’, the fate of the wife is left suspended within the corridors of the Sharia courts and their bureaucracy for years.

Speaking on cases of violence, she says, “Many prefer to stay with the abusive spouse because of their ignorance of the law and because of the reputation of the sharia courts that their rulings detract from women’s rights, not to mention the fear of retaliation from the husband or bringing a bad reputation to the family.”

A story recently obtained by Raseef22 of a woman in her thirties with two children in her custody as ruled by the sharia court two years ago, recounts how because she was going to a psychiatrist because of the depressive state she is in, her divorcee saw this as a chance to claim during a case he had filed against her that she was “crazy and not fit to care for their children.”

The case is now pending before the court, and, according to what her friend told Raseef22 (after obtaining her permission), she had to stop her therapy for fear of losing her children.

Injustice is the most prominent title in divorce cases, resulting in negative effects on the psychological well-being of the wife and the final ruling, not to mention the length of the proceedings that “wither the soul” and where many compromises take place

“The courts only serve women” and “She just wants to collect money”

“All courts only serve women” is a discriminatory and derogatory expression against women that is being frequently circulated among the public in Jordan according to legal lawyer Akef al-Muayata who is accused of being a “CEDAW” supporter (based on the CEDAW Convention) because he defends women in sharia courts. He says, “When I post videos that raise awareness on the suffering of women in sharia courts, I am always shocked by the comments degrading women who demand justice and fair treatment against violence or during divorce.”

He adds, “From the widely circulating comments about women asking for their alimony saying (‘She only wants to collect money’), I do not understand the logic of court-ordered alimony amounts that range from 100$ to 110$ and must include all living expenses such as food, clothing, housing, health care, and education. Where can one find a house with a rent of 100$ a month?”.

“All courts only serve women” is a discriminatory and derogatory expression against women that is being frequently circulated among the public in Jordan according to legal lawyer Akef al-Muayata w

He goes on to say, “The sentencing should be consistent with the reality of the situation. There are women who have reached the point of becoming indebted because of these insufficient amounts of money. Many are divorced women who live with their children in houses as small as cans of sardine, yet we hear claims that the courts do justice to women. This cannot be further from reality”. From his experience, he asserts that many men follow a policy revolving around “ruining her life” to the extent that a woman would be forced to pardon the man from giving her her rights, or even separate from him and return her dowry, and basically do anything to get rid of him.

The problem in Jordan is more complex than others, because it lies not only on the legislative front, but also following amendments to the law, divorce cases not only need to be proven but also investigated. On the other hand, some rights have evolved in the amendments, since custody rights go to the mother up to the age of 15, which has brought psychological stability to the children”, says Hadeel Abdel Aziz, the Executive Director of the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA).

She adds, “The system continues to discriminate against and restrict women in unhealthy environments such as an abusive and violent environment. It is true that the law guarantees a divorced woman’s right to housing, but does not give her enough alimony. The father still keeps the family register, the health insurance cards, the conditions of the children traveling with their mother along with most of the rights.”

Abdel Aziz asserts that the root of the problem is in the prevailing mentality regarding the rulings of the sharia courts, and of course in the absence of a legal aid system that incorporates the legal provisions of the principle of equality between the litigants. As to why the man turns into a vengeful person when the wife asks to divorce, psychologist Dr. Ismat Husu sees that this reaction is an extension of the male patriarchal authority that permeates the mindset of the Arab man, who always views a woman as someone who cannot live without a man.

Because a woman in her thirties with two children in her custody was going to a psychiatrist because of the depressive state she is in, her divorcee saw took this as a chance to claim that she was “crazy and unfit to care for their children”

The wife filing for divorce against her husband is equivalent to taking off his (metaphorical) cloak and stripping him of his authority. In his view, he sees this as an affront to his dignity and his image in front of himself and in front of society, especially a society that views the divorced woman as having fallen into disgrace t or as they say in Jordanian slang: “It’s as if the wife has insulted her husband”.

All of this sows hatred and vindictiveness in the man, making him resort to the marathon-like sessions of Sharia courts so that he can go back to viewing his wife as a weak being and make her reach a state of nearly begging for her rights. Seeing his wife running in the courts until her rights are taken away from her fuels his ego.



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