August 6, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8213

Jordanian Journalist: The Test Of A Progressive Arab Society Is Whether Women Have Freedoms, Equal Rights

August 6, 2019
Jordan | Special Dispatch No. 8213

In his July 13, 2019 column in the Jordanian Al-Dustour daily, titled "What Would Happen If a Woman Were Appointed Prime Minister?" Jordanian journalist Fares Al-Habashneh argued that the prevailing views in Jordanian society, and in Arab societies in general, are preventing women from holding key roles. The test of how progressive these societies are, he added, would be to appoint a woman to head the country's government, parliament, or judiciary. He went on to state that unlike women in the West, who are preoccupied with consumerism and pleasures, Arab women's problems concern attaining basic rights and gender equality. He also claimed that most of the women who do hold key positions in government are not working to promote women's rights, "to the extent that it seems that it is a man standing before us, not a woman."

It should be noted that in June 2017, Jordanian lawyer Mohammad Al-Subaihi also wrote an article promoting the idea of appointing a woman to lead the Jordanian government, and appointing women to lead other governments in the Arab world. In it, he stated that Arab society rejects this idea for chauvinistic reasons and for fear that a woman might succeed where many men have failed.[1]

Jordanian journalist Fares Al-Habashneh (Source: Al-Dustour, Jordan, July 13, 2019)

The following are translated excerpts from Al-Habashne's column:

"What [would happen] if a woman were appointed to head the government? This may be the first time that this question has been debated in Jordanian politics. Of course there are no legal obstacles [preventing this]. This question is not discussed in Jordan: Why shouldn't a woman head the government, one of the houses of parliament, or the judiciary council?

"[It is true that] there are voices waving the banner of liberalism and liberation. We hear them – [but] the Jordanian political community is conservative and traditional... Today [in Jordan], there are women members of both houses of parliament. There is a woman minister and a woman director-general. But the basic attitude toward women is still rigid and inflexible, and it dictates that women [only] be given positions based on a fixed quota allocating them.

"In the Arab world, no woman has reached a level where she could head one of the three authorities: the government, the parliament, or the judiciary.[2] [Even] in Tunisia, where women were granted progressive rights in an amendment to the inheritance and personal status law, the highest position a woman has held is that of deputy prime minister...

"[In the Arab world,] even the political parties and the cultural forces claiming to be leftwing and liberal ignore women's issues. They neglect women in the political discourse no less than the fundamentalist and conservative political parties and forces and political Islam do. If we look at the history of the [liberal] political movements and groups, we find that they deliberately and intentionally marginalize women.

"The Jordanian woman's problem is not [only] the quota for the number of government and parliamentary positions available to her, or in giving her room [to become involved] in community activity, in charity, or in [human] rights. Her problem is [the in]equality in matters of marriage, divorce, rights under shari'a, inheritance, custody, guardianship, work, guarantors, providing testimony [and the absence] of legislation on gender equality. The legislature remains but window dressing behind which hides a tyrannical male.

"Furthermore, most women who reach key positions in government and legislation do not fight for amendments to legislation concerning women or defend women's issues. Their discourse is surprising and shocking to those who hear it because of their sheer hostility toward women's issues – to the extent that it seems that it is a man standing before us, not a woman with awareness and understanding of the problems of her gender.

"The problem of Jordanian and Arab women is not [related] to the culture of consumption, pleasures, and amusements, as those who preach liberation and openness imply. Neither is their problem maintaining a diet and fighting weight gain, nor... lifting and enlarging the bust... All such [accusations] embody a gross contempt for Jordanian women, and [that she is] blindly imitating the ideas and cultures of the West – [and the Western] view of women is not compatible with women's situation and with their social, economic, and cultural reality in Jordan. Clothing, [particularly] revealing clothing, does not attest to innovation or modernization; they are not a means for liberating women. Liberation of women [must be manifested in women's] rights and in egalitarianism for them; these are the standards of advancement in any society.

"The question of what would happen if a Jordanian woman were prime minister is the test of the country's and the society's cultural advancement. It is no ordinary question... but a challenge to the tradition, conventions, customs, and the fundamental sources of authority that are accepted [today]... in the country and society."[3]


[1] See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7026: Jordanian Lawyer: It's High Time A Woman Was Appointed Prime Minister, July 26, 2017.

[2] In fact, in the UAE, Ms. Amal Al Qubaisi is President of the Federal National Council, the UAE parliament.

[3] Al-Dustour (Jordan), July 13, 2019.

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