Existing laws fail to address sexual harassment – advocates

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AMMAN — Legislation on sexual harassment, an on-going ill-mannered societal pattern in Jordan, present both on the streets and on social media platforms, remains elastic and indecisive, which deprives women of seeking legal aid according to Jordanian National Commission for Women(JNCW)اضافة اعلان

A survey conducted by the JNCW, 75.9 percent of 1,366 mainly-women respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment at some point in their lives.

“Here at JNCW, we are not a monitoring agency or a service provider; we do not have a hotline where we receive complaints officially, nevertheless, we occasionally get notified on social media platforms regarding issues on harassment,” said secretary general of the organization, Salma Nims, in an interview with Jordan News. 

“There are organizations that give legal support such as the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA), Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI), and Mizan”, she adds. 

According to Nims, women in Jordan usually refrain from reporting cases of sexual harassment as it is not like domestic violence or abuse; in such cases they seek help from organizations such as Jordan’s Women Union. 

In remarks to Jordan News,  women’s rights advocate Dima Al-Kharabsheh said: “In Jordan, we do not have a law to combat harassment, and it is only considered to be an act of ignominy. A major controversy occurred at the Lower House over this issue of harassment three years ago.”

JNCW attempted to establish mobile applications to document cases of sexual harassment; however, it found no consensus from the National Team for Family Protection against Violence.

“We are aiming to utilize the application to provide women subjected to this form of harassment the opportunity to report it, and include information on its category being verbal harassment, physical acts, following or stalking, intentional invasion of personal space, or cyber harassment,” she explained. 

According to Nims, JNCW aimed to add a feature on the application to allow for a picture to be taken in the time of harassment, as well as a GPS to document the location of the harassment, but according to the National Team, this would create social instability and women would be subjected to more stress or harm. Due to this, the app was not pursued.  

“I personally believe the application is a crucial tool, as it was utilized in India and Egypt, and was successful in both countries,” said Nims. “It allows us to get a general idea on the occurrence of the harassment in terms of the when and where.”

“The JNCW is a policy level organization, and we have a referral hotline to provide support to women, by directing them to the service provider, whether its civil society organization or law enforcement,” explains Nims. “In urgent situations, we make the extra calls to the specific service providers to ensure that the cases are getting the attention they need,” she added.  

According to a study carried out by JNCW four years ago, 89 percent of men and women who were interviewed were subjected to cyber harassment, making it one of the most common forms of harassment. 

Further statistics from the study mention that about 11 percent of women quit their jobs because of being harassed in the workplace.

There remains to be a lack of legislations and procedures to protect women who are being subjected to sexual harassment in the work place, which renders women facing only one option and that is to quit the job. 

A report published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) pointed out that work places are key to developing self-realization, and work is fundamental for it, as well as improvement of income and family conditions. It is essential to advance workplaces through mechanisms ensuring the work environment is free from violence and harassment.  

Activists pointed to social pressure exerted on women which results in a great deal of hesitancy to report cases of harassment and abuse. Furthermore, societal norms are playing a major role in making sexual harassment an “act of masculinity”.

“There is a culture of relating sexually harassing a woman to masculinity, and unfortunately this concept has been nurtured between young men, and many feel they are flattering a woman with compliments in this way,” opined Nims. 

“Women are not advised to report cases of sexual harassment and abuse in fear of jeopardizing their reputation,” said Kharabsheh.

In an interview with Jordan News, Head of Women Studies Center at Jordan University Maysoon Al- Otoum said: “At times a student finds herself exposed to harassment from a professor and cannot speak up since she will be repressed; unless there is concrete evidence. Many young ladies choose to stay quiet.”

“Women often feel there is a greater loss than gain if they submit complaints on being harassed, however, as the head of the Women Studies Center at Jordan University, I am astonished by the amount of students and faculty members that approach me regarding situations of this sort,” Otoum added. 

Activists underlined that sexual harassment and abuse isolates women, and impacts their behavior in public spaces, which requires them to be more vigilant to minimize their exposure to harassment.

Sexual harassment is taking place both in the virtual and real world. Many women are subjected to cyber sexual harassment and deal with blackmail, or unwarranted explicit photos, texts, and comments sent to them, and many end up closing or deactivating their social media accounts, or exposing the perpetrator for awareness. 

“Regarding cyber harassment in Jordan, there have been campaigns to expose offenders of such acts on social media,” said Kharabsheh. 

“Perpetrators have used social media to gain access and create fake aliases as a front of their disgusting acts, which is considered to be an ongoing issue,” Otoum said. 

Alia Faris, a 28 years old with a social media following of 16,000, referring to herself as a daughter, sister, cousin, and friend, told Jordan News: “I have struggled with body image issues for the majority of my life, and as a driver of change, and public figure, I am often exposed to ill-mannered comments on my social media posts, and provocative text messages regarding my figure.” 

“Facial and cosmetic surgeons and nutritionists often approach me with offers of procedures or diet plans they feel that I need, and I truly feel harassed by such behavior,” Faris added. 

Activists object to the alibi stating that women’s clothing is the main cause of harassment, only to be contradicted by a documented video of a modestly clothed woman subjected to an act harassment.

Kharabsheh pointed that Middle Eastern countries which are labeled as being conservative tend to see higher rates of sexual harassment despite social restriction of women appearances and behavior.

“The first step to reduce the rate of sexual harassment is when official institutions put men and women in equality, and a woman is able to hold leadership positions …,” she argued.

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