Under pressure from international organizations and its own Western-educated king, Jordan's conservative Muslim society is trying to eradicate honor killings, according to The Associated Press.
The government has introduced legislation amending a penal code that allows lenient punishment to men who kill female relatives to preserve family honor, and 30,000 Jordanians have signed petitions urging Parliament to accept the change, said the agency.
Parliament, which has no female members and is dominated by conservatives, has twice rejected the proposal but will debate it again later this year.
“We want to see the law changed because it is alien to us,” said Chief Justice Izzeddine al Khatib al Tamimi, a top adviser to King Abdullah II. “Islam does not allow individuals to take the law into their hands even if a case of adultery was proven.”
An estimated 25 Jordanian women are killed each year for having sex outside marriage, dating, simply talking to men or even for being raped, according to the AP.
King Abdullah made his position clear in a March 1999 letter instructing the prime minister to “amend laws that discriminate against the rights of women and inflict injustices upon them.” He has sent family members, including his brother Prince Ali and his cousin Prince Ghazi, to the demonstrations.
“I am embarrassed that such acts against women take place in our country,” Prince Ali said at a rally last February.
The government introduced a draft amendment proposing that honor killings - like other crimes - be punishable by up to life in prison. The current maximum penalty is one year in jail.
But in rejecting the proposal, the 80-seat Chamber of Deputies argued that a lenient punishment for male killers deters women from committing adultery. Some lawmakers accused the state of buckling to Western plots to decay the values of the society.
Prince Ali called that argument “nonsense” and said Jordanians themselves were demanding the change.
Besides signing the petitions circulated by a local human rights group, Jordanians have taken part in talk shows, attended seminars and held demonstrations demanding the law be changed.
In Lebanon, the only other Arab country openly trying to end honor crimes, Parliament last year reversed a law that ensured no punishment for men who kill women in the name of honor. The act is now punishable by a sentence lighter than death.
The shift to oppose honor killings in Jordan followed warnings from the European Parliament that violence against women imperiled the nation's business ties with Europe. Western human rights groups also said it tarnished Jordan's human rights record.
“The timing of the issue is in line with the state's desire to polish the country's image under King Abdullah as a liberal country that fights all phenomena of backwardness and medieval thinking,” said Moussa Kilani, a columnist at the English-language daily Jordan Times.
Nonetheless, changing entrenched attitudes in this male-dominated, tribal society could be difficult.
“A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that the society stays clean and pure,” Trad Fayez, a tribal leader told the agency.
“We will not become like Europe and Western countries and condone dissipation,” he said. “We are tribes and devout Muslims, and we stick to our customs.”
Human rights activist Asma Khader argues that even opening the public debate is a significant step.
“At least we are able to talk about it openly now,” said Khader, a criminal lawyer. “It used to be a big taboo.” – Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)