Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa - Jordan

  • Author: Reem M. Abu Hassan
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    14 October 2005

Population: 5,500,000
GDP Per Capita (PPP): $4,220
Economy: Mixed capitalist
Ranking on UN HDI: 90 out of 177
Polity: Traditional monarchy and limited parliament
Literacy: Male 95.5% / Female 85.9%
Percent Women Economically Active: 27.6%
Date of Women's Suffrage: 1974
Women's Fertility Rate: 3.7
Percent Urban/Rural: Urban 79% / Rural 21%


Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.4
Autonomy, Security, and Freedom of the Person: 2.4
Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8
Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.8
Social and Cultural Rights: 2.5

(Scale of 1 to 5: 1 represents the lowest and 5 the highest level of freedom women have to exercise their rights)


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy that gained independence from Britain in 1946. King Hussein ruled the country from 1952 until his death in 1999, at which time his son, Abdullah II, ascended the throne. King Abdullah II, along with his council of ministers, holds broad executive powers and may dissolve the bicameral National Assembly at his discretion, as he did in 2001; he reinstated it in 2003. The central government appoints the upper house of the National Assembly, the regional governors of the 12 governorates, and half of the municipal council members. The National Assembly's lower house and the other half of the municipal council members are elected through universal adult suffrage. The king serves as head of the judiciary.

Jordan has a population of an estimated 5.5 million, a substantial number of whom are Palestinian. A number of Jordanians live in rural areas, although rural-urban migration is on the rise. Islam is the state religion; more than 95 percent of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims. Religious minorities are relatively free to practice their religions.

Under King Abdullah II, Jordan has embarked on a course of economic reform, acceding to the World Trade Organization and working closely with the International Monetary Fund, as well as signing free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union. Nevertheless, Jordan continues to lack significant supplies of water and oil. The country has a GDP per capita of $4,220.

The Jordanian government limits freedom of expression. It owns a majority of broadcast media, has wide discretionary powers to close print publications, and often censors potentially offensive articles. Freedom of assembly is also somewhat restricted. A substantial number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate within the country on a broad range of social and political issues, but professional associations have come under pressure to abstain from engaging in political activities.

The status of Jordanian women is currently undergoing a historic transition, with women achieving a number of positive gains and new rights. While much room for progress remains, Jordanian women enjoy equal rights with respect to their entitlement to health care, education, political participation, and employment. Nevertheless, women in Jordan continue to be denied equal nationality and citizenship rights with men. Women also face gender-based discrimination in Jordan's family laws and in provision of government pensions and social security benefits. Violence against women remains a serious problem in Jordan, and protection mechanisms for women victims of violence are inadequate.

The government has taken several steps to improve women's status in recent years, including the appointment of women to government ministries and high-level posts. In November 2003, King Abdullah II appointed 7 women to the 55-seat upper house of the National Assembly.

A significant number of NGOs work for the promotion and protection of women's rights in Jordan. Women's NGOs have had much success in breaking the silence on the issue of domestic violence by lobbying high political offices to denounce domestic violence and by increasing debate on the issue in the media. Despite the parliament's rejection of several decrees and draft legislation aimed at providing women greater equality, Jordanian women's rights advocates have made great strides in placing women's rights at the center of national political debates.


Jordanian law is a blend of Napoleonic code (inherited from the Ottoman and Egyptian legal systems), Islamic Shari'a, and influences of tribal traditions. The Jordanian Personal Status Law (JPSL) (No. 61 of 1976) is derived from Shari'a, and includes various opinions from a number of jurisprudential schools; in the absence of a provision in the law, the Jordanian courts refer back to the most authoritative opinion in the Hanafi school. The JPSL is applied in all personal status matters related to the Muslim family such as inheritance, child custody, marriage, and divorce.

Article 6(1) of Jordan's constitution states: "Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination between them as regards their rights and duties on grounds of race, language or religion." Article 6(2) of the constitution further stipulates: "The Government shall ensure work and education within the limits of its possibilities, and it shall ensure a state of tranquility and equal opportunities to all Jordanians." While the constitution refers to the right of "every Jordanian" in numerous articles, it fails to prohibit gender discrimination. Nevertheless, women's rights advocates frequently cite this article as verification of the constitution's intention to guarantee full equality between men and women, even though it does not explicitly specify gender.

While Jordan's laws are not overtly discriminatory, women are treated unequally in a number of statutes. Gender-discriminatory language can be found in provisions that regulate economic rights such as retirement and social security, as well as laws that govern the family. In cases that fall under the jurisdiction of Shari'a, Jordanian women are not provided the same rights as male citizens and endure unequal treatment in their right to divorce, custody, and inheritance.

In the absence of a constitutional court, the available legal means to contest the constitutionality of laws include bringing a case before the High Court of Justice and submitting an ancillary challenge in a case before the courts. The National Center for Human Rights deals with gender discrimination cases through its complaints unit but does not have the legal capacity to file such cases before the courts.

Gaps in Jordanian laws also fail to provide protections for women's rights and equality. For example, no law specifically defines or criminalizes domestic violence, and there are no enforcement mechanisms to ensure the implementation of laws to promote and protect gender equality.

The actual implementation of Jordan's laws is often influenced by factors such as a lack of training of police and court officials, patriarchal cultural norms and customs, and male domination of the public sphere. Many women internalize these social norms and practices, leading them to believe that the discrimination they face is a normal part of life. Offenses committed against women are often justified in terms of cultural beliefs. In addition, the state tends to favor the interests of its male citizens by continuing to enact laws that reflect certain social beliefs, value systems, and attitudes discriminatory against women.

Despite the challenges to the advancement of women's rights, the Jordanian government has taken steps to update Jordan's laws and bring them in line with international standards. From 2001 to 2003, after the king dissolved the parliament and much of the government, King Abdullah and the Council of Ministers issued a number of provisional laws that promoted women's rights. These provisions included amendments to the Personal Status Law (No. 82 of 2001), the criminal code (No. 86 of 2001), the Civil Status Law (No. 9 of 2001), and the Provisional Passport Law (No. 5 of 2003). Nevertheless, when the House of Representatives came back into session in the summer of 2003, it rejected many of the provisional laws.

Article 3(3) of Jordan's Nationality Law (No. 6 of 1954) declares, "Any child born of a father with a Jordanian nationality shall be Jordanian wherever born." A Jordanian woman is allowed to retain her nationality after marrying a non-Jordanian; however, Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians are not permitted to confer their citizenship on their children. Furthermore, the Law of Residency and Foreigners' Affairs (No. 24 of 1973) does not facilitate residency for foreign men married to Jordanian women nor to their children, even though this law grants foreign wives of Jordanian men preferential treatment.

Women have the right to be plaintiffs and defendants in Jordanian courts and may appear before the police, the public prosecutor, the courts, and administrative tribunals as witnesses or as experts. The testimonies of men and women in Jordan's civil courts are afforded equal weight, as they are in non-Muslim (Christian) tribunals. In Shari'a courts, however, the testimony of two Muslim women is equal to that of one man.

Social norms and traditions sometimes deter a woman from seeking justice from the courts on the premise that she is disobeying her family. While the Bar Association Law (No. 11 of 1972) states that one of its objectives is to provide legal aid to financially incapable citizens, in practice this does not include equal access for women. A number of civil society organizations provide legal aid for women, but most groups are based in Amman, and rural women have limited access to such services.

The Jordanian penal code (No. 16 of 1960) provides certain gender-specific concessions to women who are pregnant or mothers. According to Article 27, if a married couple is sentenced to prison for more than a year and have children under the age of 18, then such sentences are consecutively applied. Article 17 also substitutes the death sentence with life imprisonment and hard labor for pregnant women. At the same time, the Law of Criminal Procedures (No. 9 of 1961) seems to contravene Article 17; it states that the death sentence for a pregnant woman should be delayed for three months after she gives birth.

Certain articles of the Jordanian penal code also discriminate against women. Article 340 provides reduced penalties for any man who surprises his wife or a female relative during the act of adultery, in any location, and proceeds to kill or injure the woman and/or her partner. While a wife who injures or kills her husband or his lover during the act of adultery may also receive a reduced penalty, the adulterous act must have been committed in the matrimonial home.

Article 98 of the penal code also mandates penalty reductions for a perpetrator who commits a crime in a fit of anger in reaction to an unlawful or dangerous act on the part of the victim. Although this article is gender-neutral in language, it is most often applied by the court in favor of men. Courts sometimes cite this article to justify more lenient treatment in cases of alleged "honor crimes," in which a male family member kills a female family member based on the suspicion of fornication.

Family-based violence against women in the name of family "honor" is a serious problem in Jordan, and men and women receive different legal and social treatment based on their gender. Although the Jordanian Law of Criminal Procedures contains a number of principles that guarantee the right of the accused, these principles are often jeopardized by other laws and regulations that contradict the rule of law. The Crime Prevention Law contains some preventive measures that empower the administrative governor to place persons who may constitute a danger to the community in administrative detention. In the case of "honor crimes," women whose lives are threatened by their families are placed in prison pursuant to this law for their own protection. However, the release of such women from detention is conditional upon the consent of a male relative.

The penal code outlines the standards of proof for adultery cases, one of which is conclusive documentary evidence that a crime has been committed. In practice, the police will submit a request to the forensic medical department to carry out an examination of a woman accused of adultery by a forensic physician. Women will usually consent in writing to such an examination in order to prove their innocence.

Women victims of sexual violence in Jordan face numerous gender-specific legal and social obstacles. Societal customs often serve to pressure the guardians of a female victim to waive personal claims and drop charges to avoid social stigma, particularly in cases of sexual assault, rape, and homicide. Waiving the personal claim by the guardian allows the court to use its discretion, which often leads to lenient sentences for perpetrators. In most cases, a perpetrator of rape or molestation will avoid punishment if he marries his victim in accordance with Article 308 of the penal code. This provision is always justified on the basis of conferring protection on the female victim from social stigma. There are no clear procedures to ensure the victim's consent to such a marriage.

Jordan signed on to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992, with reservations on articles chiefly concerning women's nationality and housing rights. The regular reporting system of CEDAW encourages Jordan to eliminate gender-discriminatory legislation; however, for CEDAW to affect Jordanian laws, the convention must be approved by the parliament in accordance with Article 33(2) of the constitution. Debates on the compatibility of CEDAW and Islam are frequent in Jordan, and a number of civil society groups have called for the removal of Jordan's reservations to CEDAW, particularly Article 15(4) concerning freedom of movement and choice of residence. The Jordanian National Committee for Women (JNCW) monitors Jordan's compliance with CEDAW.

Women's rights groups and civil society actors in Jordan are working to promote the status of women's freedoms in all aspects of life. Their activities include lobbying for legal reforms and better rights protections, providing services such as counseling and legal aid for women, and implementing numerous advocacy projects. The government is engaged in a dialogue with women's rights groups that has helped to advance women's rights as a key component within Jordan's overall strategy for political development.


  1. The government should amend the nationality law and the law of residency to ensure that Jordanian women and men have equal nationality rights as citizens.
  2. The government and civil society organizations should expand legal aid and education programs to foster social values that reject gender-based discrimination and violence against women.
  3. The Jordanian parliament should revise and repeal discriminatory clauses in the criminal and penal codes to ensure women's equal access to justice.
  4. The government should remove all reservations to CEDAW and take steps to implement it locally.


Article 14 of the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, provided that religious practices are consistent with "public order and morality." Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the only state-recognized religious faiths. However, while the Druze and Baha'i faiths are not officially recognized, their practice is not prohibited. According to the constitution, waqf (religious community trusts) and matters of personal status such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of Shari'a courts for Muslims and separate, non-Muslim tribunals for the other state-recognized religious communities. The small Druze and Baha'i communities do not have their own courts to adjudicate personal status and family matters, and their cases are heard in Shari'a courts.

Jordanian law provides citizens the right to travel freely within the country and abroad except in designated military areas. Unlike Jordan's previous law (No. 2 of 1969), the current Provisional Passport Law (No. 5 of 2003) does not require women to seek permission from their male guardians or husbands in order to renew or obtain a passport. Nevertheless, in several recent cases mothers reportedly could not depart abroad with their children because authorities complied with requests from fathers to prevent their children from leaving the country. Social norms continue to play a major role in maintaining restrictive measures on women's freedom of movement.

The Personal Status Law is applied in all matters relating to family law that involve Muslims and the children of Muslim fathers. Non-Muslim tribunals apply their own personal status laws, which are not published in the official gazette. However, many Christians elect to apply Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance.

Jordanian Muslims are required to marry according to Islamic marriage law. According to Article 19 of the Personal Status Law, a woman can stipulate conditions in the marriage contract provided that the conditions are not unlawful and do not affect the right of any other person. In practice, however, many women are unaware of this right and it is therefore rarely exercised. Some Jordanian women's advocates have suggested attaching a list of the possible conditions to the actual marriage contract in order to inform women of their full rights.

Welaya (guardianship) is a system in Jordanian law whereby a person is appointed to act on behalf of and in the interests of a minor or any other person of limited legal capacity. In Jordan, such a guardian has the authority to require that his female dependent be under his supervision if the woman is unmarried and under the age of 40 or previously married. If such a woman rebels against her guardian, she will no longer be entitled to her financial maintenance.

Islamic legal principles allow women to be the legal guardian of their children, but the Personal Status Law in Jordan does not provide women with this right; only the father is designated as the guardian of his children.

Recent amendments to Jordanian laws have raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, but the chief justice retains discretion to permit the marriage of anyone who is at least 15 years old if it is deemed to be in his or her interest. While the Hanafi school of Islamic law, dominant in Jordan, does not require a male guardian to conclude a marriage contract on behalf of an adult Muslim woman, the Jordanian government elected to adopt the position of the Maliki school in this matter. The consent of a Shari'a judge is required to conclude the marriage if the woman's guardian opposes the marriage without lawful justification.

Article 66 of the Personal Status Law is derived from Islamic Shari'a and obligates the husband to provide maintenance for his wife including food, clothing, housing, and medical care. This entitlement is viewed as a wife's lawful right, irrespective of her wealth or religion, and is interlinked with the husband's role as a provider and as the head of the matrimonial household.

In the case of a wife who works outside the home, amendments in Jordanian laws protect her right of maintenance provided that her husband views her work as legitimate and has agreed to it either explicitly or implicitly. The condition regarding a husband's approval stems from the argument that a wife should obey her husband, which some Jordanian jurists interpret as the husband's right to confine a woman to the home. In practice, the legal and social hardships that some women encounter while recovering their maintenance diminishes the positive aspects of this right.

While polygamy is allowed in Jordan for Muslim men, amended laws obligate the judge to verify that the husband has the financial means to maintain his new wife. In addition, the courts are now required to inform the second wife of the first marriage and notify the first wife of her husband's second marriage. If a man can satisfy all such financial and legal requirements, he can be legally married to up to four wives at one time.

Women do not have the same rights as men to marriage and divorce in Jordan. The most common divorce procedure is the talaq (arbitrary divorce), which is exclusively a right of the husband to divorce his wife without providing any legal reason. The law recognizes the wife's right to financial compensation after an arbitrary divorce. Recent amendments have increased this amount to equal the wife's maintenance, compensated for no less than one year and no more than three years. The wife also has the right to keep her dower amount and the maintenance accumulated during the iddat period, a compulsory waiting period for a woman following a divorce to ensure that she is not pregnant by the husband with whom she is getting a divorce. Although there is increasing social resistance in Jordan to men's arbitrary right of divorce, there are currently no legal restrictions on this practice.

A woman seeking a divorce in Jordan, on the other hand, must sue under the Khula divorce proceeding. The Khula divorce was recently introduced through amendments in Jordanian law that enable a wife to appear before the court and request a dissolution of the marriage by stating that "she does not want to continue her marital life, is afraid of disobeying God's rulings, and gives up all marital rights." This method does not require the woman to prove her claims; she simply states her desire, and the court will order the dissolution of the marriage. However, this method of divorce favors financially affluent women and does not take into consideration the circumstances of poor women who will have trouble giving up their financial marital rights to dissolve the marriage.

There are no specific provisions or laws in the penal code that criminalize domestic violence, and there are no restraining orders for cases of abuse. Cases of domestic violence in Jordan are prosecuted under the penal code's general laws on assault and battery. Although assault and battery are accepted as valid reasons for initiating a judicial divorce, it is often very difficult for a woman to prove such a case. Shari'a courts require the testimony of two male witnesses in these circumstances; the testimony of the wife alone is not accepted as sufficient evidence.

The law obligates members of the medical profession to report cases that may involve a possible felony or misdemeanor; however, underreporting is common. The police will not pursue cases in which the inflicted injury causes an inability to work for ten days or less without a complaint by the injured party. Women victims of violence are often discouraged from reporting their abuse to police because of the social stigma and shame associated with such crimes. A battered woman may also be pressured by her family to drop the charges.

Although the Family Protection Department and the Ordinance of Shelters for Family Protection (No. 48 of 2004) represent major advances in services rendered to victims of domestic violence, the shortage of shelters for battered women has prevented the Family Protection Department from delivering sufficient assistance to victims of physical and spousal abuse. Only one temporary shelter for battered women is in operation; it was set up by the Jordanian Women's Union, a nongovernmental organization.

Women's rights groups and civil society actors in Jordan are working to promote the status of women under the family law and to address issues of gender-based and domestic violence. The government is also working in cooperation with civil society to combat these problems.


  1. The government and parliament should amend the Jordanian Family Law to remove articles that do not ensure women equal rights with men within the marriage.
  2. The government and civil society organizations should expand their efforts to raise public awareness of the problems of family violence and the need to support women victims of violence.
  3. The government and parliament should amend the penal code to provide clear and explicit penalties for instances of domestic and family violence and abuse.
  4. The government should take steps to fully implement the 2004 Ordinance of Shelters for Family Protection Number 48 in honor killing cases.


Jordanian law recognizes a woman's right to own property without restrictions. Women do not need the approval of their husbands or guardians to dispose of their property. Nevertheless, a recent report by the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) states that only 10 percent of land and property owners in Jordan are actually women. Social norms, especially in rural areas, hinder women's ability to obtain economic resources, particularly for land ownership and finance.

There are no legal restrictions on the right of Jordanian women to enjoy their income and assets independently. However, it is the accepted norm for single working women, who represent the highest percentage of economically active women, to contribute to the family income by giving their salaries to their families. Working wives, on the other hand, often use their salaries to pay for family expenses directly.

Women are guaranteed the right to inheritance under Islamic law as applied in Jordan, but in certain cases the woman will inherit half the share of the man. In addition, social constraints impede women's rights to inheritance. Societal customs place emphasis on confining family property to the males of the family, exerting pressure on women to waive their portions of inheritance, especially property, in favor of their brothers. There are no set procedures in Jordanian Shari'a courts to protect women from being forced to waive their inheritance rights and no guarantees that they will be compensated.

According to UNIFEM's 2004 report, it is common practice in Jordan for the head of the family to transfer his real assets legally to his sons during his lifetime to prevent women from receiving their inheritance share. If a father dies before making such a legal transfer, no laws can prevent a daughter from receiving her share as calculated under the Shari'a system. However, many women in rural areas may not be aware of such legal rights or know how to litigate such claims.

Women can freely enter into business and finance-related contracts and activities at all levels, and they enjoy full legal competence in the field of business. Women represent 70 percent of all beneficiaries of micro-finance projects in Jordan, with many of these programs exclusively targeting women. Micro-finance projects are being extended to many regions of Jordan. However, a study conducted by the ministry of agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the status of women in agriculture in 2001 demonstrated that women obtained only 20 percent of the total amount of agricultural loans, the value of which did not exceed 12 percent of the total amount of loans for that year.

Article 20 of the Jordanian constitution declares elementary education compulsory for all Jordanians and free for all students in government schools. There is no legal gender discrimination, and social norms encourage families to enroll their children in schools and universities. At the national level the gross education enrollment rate is now higher for females than for males (76.1 percent for women as compared to 71.9 percent for men), and 85.9 percent of women age 15 and above are literate.

The Jordanian constitution recognizes the basic principles of the right to work and equal opportunity for all its citizens in Articles 22 and 23. Workers and employees are described in gender-neutral ways in both Article 2 of the Labor Law, which defines the worker as "each person, male or female, who performs a job in return for wages," and the Civil Service Ordinance. However, no provisions specifically prohibit gender discrimination in labor opportunities or in the workplace, and no provisions stress equal salaries for men and women who hold the same positions.

Social discrimination against women is common in the field of labor and stems from popular notions that women need to be protected. Another popular belief in Jordan is that women who enter the job market are doing so to supplement and increase their family's income rather than to become economically independent or to individually support their family.

Laws and regulations in Jordan place certain conditions on the professions women can choose to pursue. As a result, women's economic participation is concentrated in the socially accepted professions for women, such as nursing and teaching.

According to Article 23 of the constitution and Article 69 of the labor code, the minister of labor issues decisions specifying the industries and economic activities that are off-limits for women workers, as well as the hours during which women are prohibited from working.

Women are prohibited from working in quarries (stone, limestone, phosphate, and other hazardous environments) and are not allowed to work between 8 at night and 6 in the morning, except in some professions in hotels, theaters, restaurants, airports, offices of tourism, hospitals, clinics, and some transportation industries. Exceptions are also made for jobs requiring yearly inventories and jobs preparing for beginning- and end-of-season retail sales, as well as jobs that involve a fear of financial loss. Generally, these regulations tend to cater to market interests rather than the protection of women. Evening work for women is limited to 30 days per year and a maximum of 10 hours a day. In reality, these restrictions serve to limit the competition between men and women in favor of men.

According to the Civil Service Ordinance of Jordan, the department for civil service does not differentiate between applicants based on gender; employment is determined by the application number and the results of exams and personal interviews. However, the Civil Service Ordinance does discriminate against women by unequally distributing certain benefits for men, such as the family allowance and cost-of-living allowance, which are not equally provided for women.

Within the Jordanian legal, cultural, and religious value system, women technically have the right to be maintained by their husbands, as husbands are required to support their wives financially. Based on this premise, the Jordanian state does not recognize women's rights to retirement and social security benefits unless certain conditions are met. Gender plays a key role in determining eligibility for benefits based on: the length of employment needed to become eligible for retirement benefits; when the benefits become available; who is eligible to receive benefits; and the conditions under which benefits are provided in the event of the death of an employee.

Article 14 of the Civil Retirement Law and Article 45(a) of the Social Security Law encourage women to resign from their jobs by allowing them to retrieve their entire retirement fund, giving them incentive to quit their jobs during times of family financial trouble. Working women are also encouraged by such legal provisions to leave their jobs when they marry. The law awards an end-of-service bonus to a bride that she would normally receive only at retirement.

Article 52 of the Social Security Law deems beneficiaries as, "those family members of the insured & who fit the following [categories]: a) his widow; b) his children and those of his brothers and sisters whom he supports; c) his widowed and divorced daughters; d) the husband of the deceased insured [woman].

Whereas a widow and dependents of a deceased male employee need only to prove their relationship with him and that he is in fact deceased, the requirements for the family of a deceased female employee make it extremely difficult for the family to receive any of the retirement benefits due her by law. According to Article 56 of the Social Security Law, the family must prove that the husband is incapacitated or that the woman was the sole provider for the family. The state justifies such discrimination on the premise that women are usually the secondary providers for the family, which contradicts the requirement that women workers pay the same share for such benefits as men.

Many women work in sectors not governed by the labor law and therefore cannot enjoy the protection or benefits afforded by the law. Article 3 of the labor law states that it does not apply to, "domestic labor (servants), gardeners, cooks, and those in the same capacity, as well as members of the owner's family who work in his projects without receiving pay." Foreign women workers, who work primarily as domestic help or maids, receive no protection from gender-based discrimination under these laws.

Women have specific protections in the workplace, including the right to a 10-week maternity leave for the purpose of childcare, of which 6 weeks must be allowed immediately following the birth of the child. An employer who employs 20 or more women must provide a childcare facility for working mothers' children under the age of four in cases in which at least 10 children need care. Furthermore, a working mother is allowed to take a year of absence without pay to raise her children, and a mother is entitled to paid breaks to breast-feed her child during the first year after birth.

Sexual harassment in the workplace or any other public area is not explicitly defined or forbidden in Jordanian legislation. The Working Women Department at the ministry of labor in Amman receives complaints from working women, but these complaints are usually related to the misapplication of the labor law concerning payment of wages. Women workers are told to file complaints of sexual harassment with the Family Protection Department, as the ministry of labor does not document such complaints. There are no statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace and no specific records at the family protection department on this matter.


  1. The government and parliament should pass legislation banning gender-based discrimination in all stages of employment and benefits and establish enforcement mechanisms so that women have recourse to file complaints and receive justice.
  2. The government and parliament should pass legislation banning sexual harassment in the workplace and establish procedures for receiving complaints, collecting statistics on cases of sexual harassment, and providing support services for women.
  3. The labor ministry should establish a department to monitor the application of relevant laws and to ensure nondiscrimination against women in areas such as minimum wage and equal wages with their male counterparts, with particular focus on the situation of foreign workers, part-time workers, seasonal or temporary workers, and micro-enterprises.


According to Article 3(a) of Jordan's Law on Public Gatherings, all Jordanians have the right to hold public gatherings and to organize marches provided that prior written approval is obtained from the administrative governor. The request must be submitted at least three days before the date of the gathering and must include the names of the applicants, their addresses, signatures, and the purpose, time, and place of the gathering.

Women are free to express their opinions and discuss gender issues in public and in the media within the confines of Jordan's general restrictions on free speech and the media. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed in Article 15 of the constitution; however, the Press and Publications Law (No. 8 of 1998) imposes a number of restrictions on these rights. According to the law, all publications must be licensed by the government. The government is given discretionary powers to issue fines, withdraw licenses, and order media shutdowns, enabling the state to control the editorial content of newspapers. State intimidation encourages journalists to use self-censorship, as citizens may be prosecuted for slandering the royal family, the state, or foreign leaders and for "sowing sedition."

The constitution and a number of Jordan's laws guarantee the rights of citizens, both men and women, to vote and run for elections. Women face no legal barriers in their right to participate in local assemblies and other institutions. The state has taken some steps to encourage women's participation in the public sphere, with the appointment of 3 women ministers, 94 municipal council members, 7 members of the senate, and 2 ambassadors. In 2001, Jordan also established a quota for women in the House of Representatives, reserving 6 out of 110 seats for women candidates. However, the application of this quota is conditional on the approval of the Council of Ministers, who can apply it in consecutive elections if it is deemed in the public interest. The quota system was introduced in the 2003 elections through a legislative amendment; as a result, six women were elected to the lower house of parliament.

More than two-thirds of state-appointed seats in the municipal government are held by men, while women hold about 27 percent. Women can also run and vote in municipality elections, although women have generally showed less interest in these elections in comparison to the parliamentary elections. In 2003 local elections, female candidates represented a mere 2.4 percent of all candidates (winning less than 1 percent of the seats), whereas nearly 7 percent of candidates in the parliamentary elections were women. The only requirement placed on candidates running for municipal and national elections is a fee, which is stipulated in Article 12 of the election law. Nevertheless, this nonrefundable deposit serves to discourage some women from participating as candidates.

While the law does not prohibit women from joining the judiciary, there are currently no female judges in the Court of Cassation, the Court of Grand Felonies, or Jordan's Shari'a courts. In 2003, women constituted less than 3 percent of Jordan's 608 judges, and no women served as public prosecutors.

Women are also underrepresented in senior civil service positions. Only about 4 percent of employees in the highest levels of the civil service system are women. The percentage of women increases in the third class of the civil service, in which women constitute nearly 54 percent of the total number of employees. Overall, women constitute 39 percent of civil service employees.

Women's participation as ambassadors in the diplomatic field continues to be limited. Women generally do not hold high-ranking positions such as minister plenipotentiary or counselor, and only 4 percent of ambassadors are women.

Article 4 of the Political Parties Law (No. 32 of 1992) grants Jordanians the right to form and join political parties; conditions for membership, as listed in Article 5, do not discriminate against women. Women participated in the founding bodies of 28 of Jordan's 31 political parties, representing 7 percent of the total number of members of such founding bodies.

Women are generally free to participate in civic life. Laws governing Jordan's 12 professional associations do not discriminate against women. However, women are underrepresented in these associations, constituting about 22 percent of the total membership. Only two professional associations have women serving on their board of directors. Women fill an estimated 25 percent of positions in the administrative bodies of voluntary organizations and constitute 25 percent of the founders. A 1996 survey by the general statistics department on living standards in Jordan showed that one-third of men over the age of 15, and one-tenth of women, oppose women's participation in voluntary work.


  1. The government should appoint more women as judges, senior officials in Jordan's diplomatic corps and civil service, ministers of government, senators, and members of municipal councils.
  2. Professional associations should take steps to ensure that women have full and equal opportunities to participate as members and leaders in their organizations.
  3. The government and parliament should amend the election law to help women become more competitive candidates in elections.


A noticeable divide between Jordan's public and private domains greatly affects the advancement of women's rights and explains many of the gender inequalities that prevail. In this divide, Jordanian women are often limited to the private sphere, while men enjoy the public sphere. Additionally, a broad societal perception of a tension between women's rights and family obligations continues to impede advancement of the status of women. Some Jordanians fear that women's equality and independence might lead to the destruction of the family unit. As a result of these dominant cultural attitudes and the public-private divide, Jordanian women face particular challenges in obtaining full social and economic rights.

A woman is not legally required to inform her husband or obtain his approval concerning her choice of contraception. However, service providers ensure the consent of the husband and wife during the counseling and the selection of contraceptive methods. A husband's written consent is also needed by service providers for a tubal ligation. Of Jordanian women who do not use contraceptives, 58 percent attribute this decision to their husband's opposition, while 28 percent of women claim that not using contraception is a personal choice. Of the married women who use contraceptives, 79 percent state that the decision is a mutual one shared by both partners, while 18 percent of married women using contraceptives stated that it was a personal decision that was made without the interference of their husbands.

According to prevailing customs in Jordan, women generally do not visit the doctor or a health unit on their own, especially if they are unmarried. This is partly because a majority of women do not have independent financial means, and their ability to receive medication depends on being supported by their husbands or fathers. In most cases, health insurance for women is a benefit provided by the husband or father's employer, particularly in the case of women who do not work. Obtaining coverage for medical expenses is a problem for a large percentage of women in Jordan; particularly for divorced and widowed women.

A woman's right to housing is connected to her status as a wife or a daughter. According to Article 36 of Jordan's personal status law, "The husband prepares a residence which includes the living necessities in accordance with his abilities and in his domicile and place of work." The wife has the right to obtain housing in the event of divorce, but only if she is nursing or has been given custody of the children. Social traditions discourage women from living alone, particularly when they are single.

The Law of Owners and Lessees (No. 11 of 1994) declares that property intended for purposes other than residence should be transferred to the heirs (ancestors and offspring) of the deceased and to his wife. However, a widowed woman will lose this property if she remarries. The wife and children of an arbitrary divorce or an ecclesiastical separation (the husband abandons the leased property) have the right to continue to occupy the property as original lessees, provided that a final judgment is issued from a competent court.

Groups most affected by poverty in Jordan are the elderly, the sick, widowed women, the disabled, and those without family support. These groups commonly have low educational attainment, poor-quality housing, and inadequate income, and are dependent on cash assistance and welfare services. However, some victims of poverty are unable to gain access to welfare assistance and must depend on relatives, friends, or charity groups. Official statistics show that Jordanian women have a high chance of becoming widowed or abandoned after the age of 55. Widows, divorcees, abandoned women, and girls over 18 years with no provider are categorized as eligible for aid under the Law of the National Aid Fund (No. 36 of 1986). Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians are also eligible but on an individual basis. In addition, emergency aid is provided for families whose financial provider has died, was imprisoned, or is ill.

Women are able to advocate openly for the promotion and protection of women's human rights in Jordan; there are no legal restrictions on their efforts. While some issues such as "honor crimes," women's reproductive rights, and sexual harassment are regarded with skepticism and doubt, women activists continue to lobby for advances in these areas. Women's overall participation in nongovernmental sectors is on the rise, and women's NGOs are engaging in issues such as domestic violence and women's political participation. However, the percentage of women working in nongovernmental organizations outside the capital remains low, as does women's representation in Jordan's media, particularly in upper decision-making positions.

Gender issues and women's participation are key components of any attempt by the government to pursue sustainable development. While recent advances in Jordan are encouraging, the state needs to take further steps toward gender equality. In order to increase progress, the government and women's rights activists should reframe women's rights issues out of the current cultural context and adopt a rights-based argument – a move that would shift the terms of the debate, advance women's rights, and promote Jordan's overall development.


  1. The government should amend the legal provisions that discriminate against women in housing, including the Law of Owners and Lessees, to ensure gender equity.
  2. The government and media leaders should provide training to journalists on women's rights issues and facilitate the research capabilities of more women in order to encourage further assessment of social policies from a gender perspective. 3. The government should ensure that women, particularly those divorced, abandoned, or widowed, have full access to a basic level of health care and housing.

AUTHOR: Reem M. Abu Hassan is a lawyer in Jordan who specializes in family protection and women's legal issue, and serves as the Vice President of the Jordanian Society for Protecting Victims of Family Abuse. Ms. Abu Hassan has conducted extensive research on "honor crimes" and violence against women in Jordan.

Ms. Widad Adas, a human development expert based in Amman, contributed to the social science research aspect of this report.


[Refworld note: source files did not contain inline references to these notes; they have been included to enable further reading and research.]

1. Freedom in the World 2004 (Washington, D.C. and New York: Freedom House, 2004), 295.

2. The general consensus among Jordanian legal experts is that gender equality is mandated by the Jordanian constitution. The term "Jordanians" refers to men and women. In Arabic, the male form of the adjective includes males and females. (Author's note.)

3. There are no precedents; judgments can vary, which leads to instability in court rulings. This acts as a deterrent, especially for women, to employing this method as a way to contest the constitutionality of gender-discriminatory laws. (Author's note.)

4. The provisional law for the National Center for Human Rights is No. 75 of 2002; the center began operations in June 2003.

5. These rights include, among others: the right to be presumed innocent, the right to counsel and legal representation, and the right not to be detained except in certain crimes.

6. CEDAW, Articles 9(2), 15(4), 16(1c, d, g).

7. Article 33(2) of the constitution: "Treaties and agreements which involve financial commitments to the Treasury or affect the public or private rights of Jordanians shall not be valid unless approved by the National Assembly."

8. Also known as "Khul."

9. Articles 333, 334, 335 of the Jordanian penal code.

10. The Family Protection Department is part of the Public Security Directorate; it is a specialized police center assigned to deal with cases of violence against women and children.

11. Jordan Human Development Report 2004: Building Sustainable Livelihoods (Amman: United Nations Development Program [UNDP], 2004), http://www.undp-jordan.org/jordan_hdr/JHDR_2004.pdf.

12. Under the personal status law, a husband should provide for his wife. Therefore, any payments made by her to the household are voluntary and she is not entitled to reclaim them in a divorce.

13. Jordan Human Development Report 2004: Building Sustainable Livelihoods (Amman: United Nations Development Program [UNDP], 2004), http://www.undp-jordan.org/jordan_hdr/JHDR_2004.pdf.

14. Table 24, "Gender-related development index," in Human Development Report 2004: Cultural Liberty in Today's Diverse World (New York: United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2004), 217-220, http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2004/.

15. Article (22) of the constitution states: "(i) Every Jordanian shall be entitled to be appointed to public offices under such conditions as are prescribed by law or regulations. (ii) Appointment to any government office or to any establishment attached to the Government, or to any municipal office, whether such appointment is permanent or temporary, shall be made on the basis of merit and qualifications." Article (23) states: "(i) Work is the right of every citizen, and the State shall provide opportunities for work to all citizens by directing the national economy and raising its standards. (ii) The State shall protect labor and enact a legislation therefore based on the following principles:&(d) Special conditions shall be made for the employment of women and juveniles."

16. The Labor Law (No. 8 of 1996) governs labor relations in the private sector, while the Civil Service Ordinance (No. 55 of 2002) governs civil service employment in the public (government) sector.

17. The laws governing such benefits in the private sector are the Social Security Law (No. 19 of 2001) and the Civil Retirement Law (No. 34 of 1959).

18. The Civil Service Ordinance gives a 90-day maternity leave, of which only 15 days are allowed before the birth of the child.

19. Article 3 of the Ordinance for the Division of Electoral Districts and Seats (No. 42 of 2001).

20. This level includes employees of the higher administration such as legislators, chairmen of legislative councils, the prime minister, chiefs of administrative divisions, as well as government employees at high levels, such as general managers and chief executives of institutions with special mandates.

21. The legal requirement for holding a job in the third class is to have a high school certificate.

22. These include the 11 female members of the board of directors of the Bar Association and the 10 members of the board of directors of the Pharmaceutical Association.

23. The Status of Jordanian Women: Demography, Economic Participation, Political Participation and Violence (Amman: United Nations Development Fund for Women [UNIFEM], 2004), http://www.unifem.org/global_spanner/index.php?f_loc=arab.

24. Jordan Human Development Report 2004: Building Sustainable Livelihoods (Amman: United Nations Development Program [UNDP], 2004), http://www.undp-jordan.org/jordan_hdr/JHDR_2004.pdf.

25. Ibid.

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