Jordanian law continues to be lenient on those who kill their female relatives in the name of protecting family honour. Last year, between 15 and 20 women were stabbed, beaten or strangled to death by family members, sometimes women themselves.
Rights activists point out a number of cultural and political obstacles in their uphill battle to stamp out the socially acceptable practice.
And at a time when policy-makers are trying to make way for women to gain political posts, they remain unable - and sometimes unwilling - to fight this practice.
“There is no political will to fight so-called honour crimes. The tribal mentality is the main driving force that makes this phenomenon spin out of control,” said Reem Abu Hassan, a leading women’s rights activist in the kingdom.
Since the beginning of this year, four women have been killed by brothers, fathers or cousins who felt the women had done something that brought disgrace on their family name.
“We have to change the whole mentality of the nation. To spill someone’s blood that easily has become a socially acceptable practice,” said Reem.
She said that sometimes those who commit such murders are treated with sympathy by local communities who see them as victims of the shameful actions of their female relatives. Such actions range from illicit relationships with men to innocent teenage flirting.
“This is a male-dominated culture. Women are not considered as important as men, who have made it easier for family members, even women, to accept the killings,” she adds.
In some cases, mothers and sisters helped set up a murder, or killed with their own hands.
Last year, a girl was killed by her mother and sister after they discovered she was in love with one of their neighbours.
Mohammad Rai - from Salt, 30km west of the capital, Amman - killed his cousin a few years ago to uphold his family’s honour. He was 17 years old at the time and said he did it under pressure from family elders. But a few years later, he has no regrets.
“I would do it again if I had to. People here would have stigmatised my entire family if I had not killed her and shame would have followed us wherever we went,” said Rai, who is now a bus driver. He served just six months in prison because the victim’s father dropped the charges. The only crime Rai’s cousin committed was that she told her conservative father that she was in love with a man from another family and that he wanted to ask for her hand in marriage.
“We are prisoners of our own social habits, there is nothing we can do about it,” said a defiant Rai.
Officials from Jordan’s National Institute for Forensic Medicine said they had encountered several incidents where young girls had been killed ostensibly for having sexual relations with a man but autopsies had revealed they were virgins.
But whether a murdered girl was a virgin or not holds little weight in the eyes of her family or indeed the court.
“It is often found out that victims were virgins but when the court looks at the case, the sentences they give are very mild compared to the crime,” said Rana Husseini, a journalist who has been campaigning to raise awareness of the custom.
The most recent honour crime took place on 1 March when a 23-year-old man beat his aunt with a wooden stick before strangling her to death. The killer said he had seen an unknown man leaving the house of the 43-year-old woman.
|I would do it again if I had to. People here would have stigmatised my entire family if I had not killed her and shame would have followed us wherever we went.|
According to a report by the National Institute for Forensic Medicine, the victim was a virgin.
Activists say current legislation makes it easy for killers to get away with murder, as long as the killing is proved to be honour-related.
Premeditated murder in Jordan is punishable by death, but the penal code exempts from the death penalty men who kill female relatives found committing adultery. Instead, men committing honour crimes receive short prison sentences.
Rights activists continue to push for tougher penalties on those who commit honour crimes.
Queen Rania, the wife of King Abdullah, is a strong advocate of women’s rights issues and a leading supporter of changes in honour killing legislation. A Royal Commission on Human Rights, set up by King Abdullah, has already proposed stricter measures against honour killings.
However, when the government introduced a bill outlining stiff penalties for honour killers, parliament rejected it outright, saying it would encourage adultery and create new social problems.
MPs who supported the draft law said it was shot down because the majority of lawmakers come from tribal backgrounds and cannot risk angering their electors.
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