Women’s shelters caught between law and duty

A woman that found refuge in one of the women shelters in Jordan is seen in this recent photo at the shelter. (Photo: Saher Qaddarah/JNews)
AMMAN — Currently, six facilities host abused women and their children in Jordan, but activists told Jordan News that the policies governing the majority of these shelters is unclear, which can lead to gaps in safety. اضافة اعلان

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) manages four of these shelters, while the remaining two operate under the Jordanian Women’s Union (JWU) and Sisterhood is Global Institute Jordan.

These protection units offer women fleeing gender-based violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse access to services such as psychological and social support, family rehabilitation, economic support, legal counseling, education, and various vocational training.

However, activists said that under current policies, government-run shelters suffer from rules that stifle the freedoms and safety of the victims they were set up to protect. It is also not clear how the legal process, which gives women the right to leave at their own behest, is actually playing out on the ground.

Banan AbuZainEddin, executive director of Takatoat, an independent feminist collective based in Jordan, told Jordan News that instead of providing victims or at-risk individuals with rights and freedoms that allow them to protect themselves, women are being placed in shelters where they feel detained.

Under the current system, being admitted into a government-run shelter requires a court decision, which is issued after an investigation by the Department of Family Protection (DFP), according to Ashraf Khreis, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Development.

Khreis told Jordan News that when a woman or girl is referred to a shelter by a judge, she receives services and protection until another decision issued from the executive authority, (administrative governor) allows her to leave.

However, it is also possible for women to leave shelters with authorization from their legal guardian — usually a father, husband, or brother — while, statistically, the highest rates of violence against women come from these family members, according to AbuZainEddin. 

“This can be demonstrated by the case of Ahlam”, AbuZainEddin said, referring to the case that shook the country in July 2020, when the 30-year-old Ahlam was allegedly killed by her father. “She was a resident of one of those shelters which she left (allegedly) after her father came to take her back. A few days later, she was murdered.”

However, according to an Amnesty International report released in 2019, the situation on the ground is much more complicated. The law governing shelter procedures directly contradicts having to obtain permission for releases.

Theoretically, the victim, authorities, and other stakeholders sit down and discuss the options and risks of leaving a shelter, but the final say should be up to the woman, according to the report.

However, Amnesty International received conflicting reports, stating that “officials and civil society activists told Amnesty International that a governor’s permission is still required for a woman to leave, despite the lack of legal basis to prevent her exit.”

The report added that governors might be hesitant to sign a release if there is still a chance a woman might be at risk once she leaves a shelter.

Nadia Shamrokh, director of JWU, explained that the government-run shelters “operate under a different system and philosophy of work,” adding that “they are restricted by the existing laws and regulations imposed by the ministry.”

In contrast, at JWU, a team drafts a personalized plan with the participation of the victim. “Our specialists only present them with the options. The final say is theirs. The final solution may not be the ideal one, but that’s another complicated subject,” Shamrokh told Jordan News.

The director further explained that very often, families are supportive, knowing the women are in a safe place.

In the event their family is not supportive, a long-term support plan has to be set in place until social workers find a solution through mediation or until the women and girls are able to provide for themselves and their families, which can take years.

Shamrokh said that women have to stay in the shelter until they resolve the problems that brought them there, adding that the most complicated cases are often those of unmarried girls escaping their families. In these cases, secrecy is mandatory.

“One of the main reasons leading to anger and violence towards girls is when their case gets exposed,” Shamrokh said. “When neighbors, extended family, and society in general start talking, families get embarrassed, and that could rapidly escalate to violence.”

In addition to the women’s shelter in Amman, which takes in both Jordanian women and an increasing number of female migrant victims, the JWU also runs a hotline that provides emergency support 24 hours a day, active in over 20 locations across the Kingdom.