Islam, Gender and Reproductive Health: Part 5 of 6
This event was co-sponsored by the Environmental Change and Security Project, and supported by USAID's Office of Population and Reproductive Health and the Interagency Gender Working Group.
Dr. Angel Foster discussed gender-based violence in Tunisia and Jordan, focusing on community-based efforts in these countries to address honor killings and domestic violence. The region overall, she explained, is divorced from this global issue, and broad stereotypes remain that link Islam with inherent violence. In her work with Ibis Reproductive Health, she addresses the legal, institutional and educational priorities of violence against women and encourages development of kin-based networks to provide support for women who feel reporting their abuse is futile.
In Tunisia, violence against women, which Foster described as an under-reported public health problem, is not restricted to a particular class or educational status. It typically occurs in the form of intimate partner violence, or spousal physical abuse. Tunisia's legal system has attempted to address violence against women; for example, in 1993 Article 207 made the act of killing one's adulterous wife equal to that of killing one's adulterous husband. Previously, the husband's penalty for murder was less.
Civil law in Tunisia has been progressive in providing a number of rights to women. The Personal Status Code, which was created after independence in 1956, divides civil from Islamic laws and has led to the abolition of polygamy and repudiation. In 1993 it was amended to enable women to receive alimony and the right to child custody in cases of divorce. Still, Foster noted legal challenges remain – for example, it is still difficult for women to obtain a divorce – and applying existing laws poses a significant problem for abused women.
While NGOs have been instrumental in creating hotlines and offering information sessions, they have a limited reach, Foster said; what is needed are institutional changes, to make women more aware of their options, and for spousal abuse to be deemed morally and legal wrong throughout the country. Working with men and religious leaders are two avenues toward reaching this goal.
In Jordan, though all citizens are equal under the law, personal status codes permit repudiation and polygamy and permit alimony payments only once a year, leaving few options for women who seek to leave their abusive spouses. Jordan's penal code has attempted to address the situation of honor killings – which Foster said comprise one-third of all murders in Jordan each year – with Article 340, which was temporarily amended for gender parity. However, Article 98, which Foster said is more widely applied, has decreased the penalty for a crime committed in a 'state of fury.' She explained that honor killings in Jordan are often justified to protect a family's honor, often to cover cases of rape or incest.
She stressed that mobilizing Jordanian women is a challenge because organizations have difficulty obtaining funding for their activities to curb violence against women. She suggested supporting local NGOs in their research and programming to integrate violence prevention and advocacy campaigns into education circles, as well as being critical of popular images.