By Nisreen Kakish
Jordan: Data from a recent nationwide government survey suggests a puzzling contradiction: educated women, especially those with educated husbands, are less likely to experience domestic violence. But they are equally unlikely to report it when it does happen as less educated Jordanian women.
These findings are based on Jordan Population and Health Survey 2017-2018 published by The Department of Statistics. The surveyors interviewed women aged 15-49 who are or have been married and who reside in Jordan by randomly selecting households within each region of the country. A total of 6,852 women were interviewed and are nationally representative.
Physical violence according to the report is any act of pushing, shaking, or throw something at the spouse; slapping; twisting the armor or pulling the hair; punching with fist or with something that could hurt her; kicking, dragging, or beating her up; trying to choke or burn her on purpose; or threaten or attack her with a knife, gun, or any other weapon.
Based on the survey, 1 in 5 women in Jordan have experienced physical violence since the age of fifteen, and 1 in 7 women had experienced physical violence in the last 12 months before the survey. For those women in Jordan who experience violence, their chances of seeking help and telling anyone about it is extremely low, creating a hidden epidemic. More than 7 in 10 women who experience violence are choosing complete silence instead of seeking help from anyone including the wife's family, husband's family, relatives, friends, neighbours, doctors, lawyers or police, despite the adverse mental and physical outcomes.
In Jordan, educated women are less likely to experience domestic physical violence, but what are the odds?
4 in 20 women without an education or only a preparatory education, 3 in 20 with an elementary education and 2 in 20 women with a higher education experienced domestic violence.
Educated men are less likely to abuse their wives
The women least likely to experience violence are those married to men with higher education; 2 in 20 women married to men with higher education experience violence, 3 in 20 women are married to men with preparatory education, 4 in 20 women are married to men with elementary education and 6 in 20 women are married to men with no education experienced violence during the year before the survey.
In an interview with Helena Sayegh, a counselor with more than 28 years of experience, she explained how this trend may develop. She explained,
“In general, 70% of our behaviors are repeated from our environment, especially what we learn during the first 7 years of our lives.”
She also explained the reasoning behind the intergenerational transmission of violence: “Humans have mirror neurons within the brain and those neurons are used to mimic behaviors we witnessed during childhood including behaviors of violence.” She also added that when a child is raised in a dysfunctional environment he or she may lack certain skills like communication, emotion and anger management and coping strategies skills, so he or she may turn into abusive adults who rely on the behaviors they were raised with because they feel familiar and normal.
Wealth, nationality, number of children or urban or rural lifestyle are all variables that do not influence the probabilities of increased violence
Survey responses indicate that there is not a strong link between women’s age, wealth, nationality, and whether they live in rural or urban areas with whether they were likely to have been beaten by their husbands in the previous year.
In the survey, women were sorted into five groups by household income; wealth was not shown to predict whether women would experience violence. The highest rates of violence are found among women from the second poorest while the lowest were among the richest women; While the richest women experienced the lowest level of violence, there was no clear correlation among wealth and abuse among other income levels. Women with no children or with children have about the same chances of experiencing domestic violence.
The survey was based on questionnaires distributed to women between the ages of 15 and 49 who were married or ever married, which classified women according to several social factors such as place of residence (urban or rural), age, governorate, nationality, number of children, social and economic status, and whether the woman was a working mother. in addition to the degree of education they have obtained. This is in order to study the different factors that women belong to, determine their impact on physical violence, and disclose or report it and seek help.
Education is a great tool to use to limit domestic violence, but is it enough to beat it?
Despite the role of education in limiting domestic violence, data suggests that no social factors studied are effective in breaking the culture of silence around abuse. No matter how educated the victim, those who do experience violence are likely to remain silent. Two thirds remained silent; they never told anyone about it and never sought help.
Asking for help according to the survey included several sources: family members, husband's family members, friends, neighbors, doctors, lawyers, police or social work organizations.
As for the small percentage of women who asked for help, for every 40 women who sought help from their family, only one reported to the police. The number of women, regardless of the societal indicators categorized in the survey, who reported violence to any type of government institution is so low, in fact, that it’s impossible to identify trends. Women were not asked in the survey about their reasons for not reporting violence.
What happened when domestic violence victims were forced to share their 24/7 time with the perpetrator during COVID-19 lockdown?
According to a report by EuroMed rights which was published in July 2021 after less than 5 months of nationwide COVID-19 lockdown announcement by authorities. Family protection department of the police reported 33% increase of domestic violence cases but according to Jordanian feminist organisations this percentage represents only 20% of the actual domestic violence that happened during the loackdown.
Invisible barriers to reporting violence
In an interview with Serin Walid Al-Bitar, who has been working for more than 16 years in the field of women and child protection, she stated that, based on her experience, there are many factors preventing Jordanian women from reporting; shame culture and family structure are the huge factors that women take into consideration prior to reporting.
Often, women are under threat by the perpetrator and surroundings not to report. She also adds “the tribal nature and structure of our society plays a huge part in the process of seeking help, a lot of women might seek help from their direct family or tribal leader… marriages within the family are widespread too, so if a woman reports abuse from her husband who may also be her cousin, things might escalate in an unwanted way causing a lot of family troubles, this is why they keep it within the family.
In parallel with the period during which the survey was conducted, the Jordanian Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Protection Law in April 2017. The law required all health and education service providers to report domestic violence with the consent of the victim if the act committed was a misdemeanor.
Currently in Jordan there are five main care homes, belonging to the Ministry of Social Development, for women whose lives are at risk. Dar Al-Wefaq “Amman” receives women survivors of violence, Dar Al-Wefaq “Irbid” and Dar Al-Karama receive women survivors of human trafficking crimes, and Dar Amkena receives women whose lives are in danger, while Dar Amna, which began work not long ago in July of 2018, receives women whose lives are at risk from honor killings.
This home was established to end preventive detention, according to which women whose lives are at risk are referred to prisons in order to preserve their lives, and it is scheduled to receive all cases gradually.
The long-lasting impact of domestic violence
Domestic violence is often associated with a variety of other forms of gender inequality for women. Based on an information sheet which was produced by the WHO and PAHO as part of series “Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women” published in 2012 and according to other studies, women with a history of abuse are more likely to report chronic health problems like headaches, chronic pelvic pain, back pain, abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastrointestinal disorders.
A greater risk of developing mental problems among women is also linked to physical abuse, such as: depression, suicide attempts, post-traumatic stress disorder, other stress and anxiety disorders, sleeping or eating disorders and psychosomatic disorders.
Research also finds that health consequences can be acute and immediate or long lasting and chronic, and can persist even after the abuse has stopped.
Despite all of that, abused women are not speaking out and choosing not to tell anyone about it, which can lead to the normalization of this act among Jordanians whether by societal norms or, perhaps, the absence of a safe system to report and escape the abuse.
Nisreen Kakish is a researcher and writer. She writes investigative data supported articles with a focus on socioeconomic factors and educational impact. While Nisreen is dedicated to education, she also has a keen interest in cultural, psychological and artistic nuances.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.