Women leaders in Jordan fighting for equal rights offer hope that feminism can be advanced without sacrificing our unique culture.

Former U.S. First lady Laura Bush, center, meets Jordanian women leaders (from left) Dr. Amal Sabbagh, Malak Ghazal, Reem Abu Hassan,and Wijdan al-Saket, in Madaba, Jordan, 21 May 2005 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This is the last in a series of five articles on women’s rights in the Middle East. Winner of first prize in our recent Storytelling Contest, the series is based on an interview with Reem Abu Hassan, a lawyer and former minister of Social Development in Jordan. Today’s article explores how women can push to be recognized and respected. We provide links to the first four articles below.

In a recent visit to our school, Salma Al Nims, Secretary General of The Jordanian National Commission for Women, spoke about how she has been disrespected or dismissed by powerful men in her career.

Men at the highest levels of the Jordanian government would ignore her doctorate title or refer to her as “ya sabeyeh,” which means “girl,” she said.

Dr. Nims made clear how far Jordan has to go to achieve gender equity.

Important reforms are already under way. The National Commission for Women, which is headed by Princess Basma Bint Talal, aims to make gender equality a reality through policy and legal reforms.

In an interview, Reem Abu Hassan, Jordan’s former minister of Social Development, shared tips on how women can respond to misogynistic behaviour.

It is important to be firm and fair.

“We as women are active listeners,” she said. “We listen to people, and we try to find collective solutions. It is very important to use those traits when you are a minster or in a decision-making position. You need to be able to listen, to all opinions, even if you disagree with 90% of them.”

“Once you have let everyone give their opinions,” she continued, “then you can say ‘Okay, I agree with this for the following reasons and I disagree with this for the following reasons.’”

But she was clear that women should not tolerate disrespectful conduct.

“If somebody crosses the line,” she said, “you make sure that you put him in his place. It’s like what you would do in your social circles. You will not tolerate anyone walking all over you.”

She stressed the importance of being a firm and fair decision-maker.

“At the end, you need to be decisive when you give a decision. You also need to have good communication skills so that people can trust you as a leader. Once they trust you, they will know that you are fair and you are not deciding based on interest. People will understand then, and they will work with you.”

There is hope for our country.

I went into my interview with Hassan hoping for the best but not sure of what to expect. I had read a lot about Hassan’s career and competency but wondered whether she would be like many of the politicians you see on TV: fake, skirting questions or avoiding controversial topics.

My brief conversation with Hassan was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. Hassan provided thoughtful insights into the problems we face while offering innovative solutions to many of them.

In a country like Jordan, where corruption is rampant, it is easy for people to run out of hope. It can be difficult to trust individuals, especially those in power.

Knowing that people like Reem Abu Hassan exist puts my soul at ease. There is still hope for our country. There are many unsung heroes among us, working behind the scenes to create a society that its people deserve — a society that lives up to its own promise.

Of course, as Hassan said, there is much more to be done. We have to take charge, on our own terms and through our own understanding of our culture and religion. We must adapt them to be compatible with feminism.

We should not fall into the trap of believing that the preservation of our heritage is antithetical to the advancement of women. It is crucial that our Western allies understand that.

The rights of women do not need to advance at the cost of erasing our culture.

To listen to the full recorded interview with Hassan, click here.

Here are the first four articles in the series, which was co-winner in News-Decoder’s recent storytelling contest:

How the Syrian crisis is affecting Jordan
Women’s rights can be advanced under Islam
Jordan needs reforms to include women in its economy
Jordan’s struggle to erase the stain of honor crimes

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  1. What is the mission of the Jordanian National Commission for Women and how is it trying to accomplish change?
  2. What is misogyny? Have you seen examples of misogyny in your own life?
  3. How does Reem Abu Hassan recommend that women respond to misogynistic treatment? What do you think of her recommended approach?

Raghda Obeidat is in her third year of high school at King’s Academy in Madaba, Jordan. She loves reading English and Arabic literature and staying well-informed on Arab and global politics. Raghda volunteers with organizations that provide social aid and educational assistance to refugees. She also contributes to her school’s literary magazine.

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