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    Country Reports


Initial and second periodic report submitted on 27 October 1997 (CEDAW/C/JOR/1; CEDAW/C/JOR/2)

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is bordered by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria. Its population is almost entirely Arab, with small minority communities–Circassians from southwestern Russia, Armenians and Kurds. 

Like other Arab countries, Jordan is experiencing rapid population growth and urbanization, with the accompanying strain on social and economic structures.  Official estimates indicate that the population has doubled in less than 20 years, rising from 2.2 million in 1980 to 4.1 million in 1994.   Forty-eight percent of the population is women.  Approximately 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas. [1]   

Following the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, 250,000 refugees entered the country, and more recently, the Gulf War of 1990-1991 resulted in a new wave of refugees.  About 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs, including more than 950,000 registered refugees and displaced persons from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, reside in Jordan, many as citizens.

Recent Political History

Jordan obtained independence from British administration on 25 May 1946. The government is a constitutional monarchy that was ruled by King Hussein from 1952-February 1999.  Following his death, his eldest son, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Hussein assumed the throne. Jordan has a prime minister and a legislature consisting of an appointed upper house and an elected lower house.  Executive authority is vested in the king and his council of ministers.  The king signs and executes all laws.  He appoints and may dismiss all judges, approves amendments to the constitution, declares war, and commands the armed forces.

The political and economic systems of Jordan have been heavily influenced by regional conflicts and crises.   On 5 June 1967, Jordan entered the Six-Day War against Israel. Two days later, with Jordan’s air force destroyed and the West Bank occupied by Israeli forces, a cease-fire was signed.  In 1970, internal fighting erupted between Jordanian troops and Syrian-backed Palestinian guerrillas, many of whom had fled to Jordan as refugees following the Six-Day War.  The late King Hussein expelled the guerrillas the next year. After the indecisive 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, Jordan recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.  In 1988, the country ceded all claims to the West Bank to the PLO. A peace agreement with Israel was signed in 1994, ending 46 years of strained relations.  King Hussein went further in embracing full peace with Israel than any other Arab leader ever had.


In 1998, King Hussein introduced a repressive press law that authorizes censorship and provides mechanisms to sanction independent or critical journalism.  Article 37 bans coverage on news or information that defames the heads of Arab, Islamic or friendly states, or harms national unity.  Article 39 grants power to the judiciary to censor news coverage on criminal investigations or trials.  Article 50 allows the judiciary to indefinitely shut down publications that are the subject of litigation for matters of public interest or national security. [2]

Jordanian reporters have been repeatedly subjected to harassment and abuse.  On 23 August 1999, Jordanian authorities arrested and jailed Abdel Karim Barghouti, editor in chief of the weekly newspaper, Al-Bilad.  According to media reports, Barghouti was arrested for publishing an article covering allegations that the Prime Minister’s son had sexually harassed a group of female nurses aboard a bus. [3]

Human Rights

Refugee Women

Jordan hosts one of the largest communities of Palestinian refugees (1.5 million), whose legal status reflects the ambiguities of Middle Eastern politics.  While refugees from the Partition era (1948) were granted citizenship, they are not full citizens as they cannot hold office.  At the same time, they are not covered by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as these conventions do not apply to any person considered by the competent authorities in the country of residence to have certain rights and obligations linked to the nationality of that country.  The 1951 Convention, which establishes international economic and social standards for the treatment of refugees as citizens of the host, also does not apply to Palestinians who sought refugee in 1967 because they are under the protection of the United Nations Relief Work Agency (UNRWA). This Convention stipulates that it does not apply to those persons enjoying protection or assistance from commissions or agencies of the United Nations, except those of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), until that protection or assistance ends.

Regulation of the affairs of Palestinian refugees, and among them large numbers of Palestinian refugee women, is not governed by binding international laws or conventions but by political and regulatory decisions issued by the Jordanian Executive Authority.  These decisions are not binding.  They change with political conditions, and with the responses of the Jordanian government to resolutions and policies related to the follow-up of UNRWA work in Jordan.  UNRWA itself is threatened by the cut-down of its services and reduction of salaries of its employees. This form of discrimination is condoned by government agencies and courts in official transactions, when they investigate the origins and descent of the person concerned in order to find out whether his or her roots are Jordanian or Palestinian. [4]

This situation has serious implications for other human rights, in particular the protection of social and economic rights to housing.  UNRWA had rented land to settle the refugees, and in recent years,  the landowners have initiated lawsuits to evict them.  Illiteracy and poverty rates among refugees are double those in other sectors of the society, as UNRWA schools are unable to absorb all of the refugee students, and public schools do not accept refugee children. [5]   Refugees are barred from taking government jobs, and their work is limited to simple development programs offered by UNRWA. [6]

Women’s Movement

Women have a long history of organizing for change in Jordan, dating back to the 1940s, with the establishment of women’s solidarity societies. [7] According to one Jordanian activist, the democratization process and the 1995 Beijing women’s conference “have helped stimulate the creation of an environment where the sensitive issues of women’s legal status and equality before the law can be discussed, and where women’s rights groups can begin to actively advocate for amending legislation of concern to them.” [8]   On the other hand, women’s human rights activists have complained that the government tends to see their work as a kind of political opposition.  In the past, government officials have attempted to undermine their work by stating that it is “not related to the reality of the people, [it is] spreading Western ideas that contradict the original ideas of the people and their inherited culture.”  Some human rights experts report harassment, including house raids, searches and arrest. [9]


Although the population is educated, the economy cannot generate enough jobs and support adequate living standards because of the high population growth and relative youth of the population (more than 50 percent of Jordanians are under 16).  According to 1996 data, 22 percent of the population is active in the labor force, and the dependency ratio has reached nearly 1:5 in Jordan, compared to averages of 1:2 in industrialized countries and 1:3 in developing countries. [10] Jordan’s political disputes with and among its traditional trading partners (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states) frequently restrict regional trade and development.

The following report is based on basic information resources, on a 1996 UNDP/UNICEF report entitled “Affirmative Policy Measures and Initiatives to Promote the Implementation of CEDAW Convention in Jordan,” and a report on the status of women, presented by Ghussoun Rahhal at the conference, 'The Exclusion of Women in the Arab World from the Effective Protection and Benefit of International Human Rights Law" (26-28 November 1999, Beirut, Lebanon).



According to the 1952 Constitution, Jordanians are equal before the law, irrespective of “race, language or religion,” [11]   but sex-based discrimination is not specifically mentioned.

The Court of Cassation affirmed in a 1982 decision that  “International conventions supersede local laws and have priority in implementation in the event they conflict with each other.”  This was endorsed in Resolution 32/83 issued on 6/2/1982 by the Jordanian Court of Cassation.  But the Constitution lacks clear provisions on the relationship between international conventions and national legislation. [12]

The Jordanian Penal Code does not contain provisions protecting women from discrimination and violence.  No punitive measures are imposed on those who discriminate against women. [13]


Gender Stereotyping in School Curricula

A 1995 Ministry of Education study of textual reference to women in basic-level school curricula found that women were portrayed almost exclusively within the context of their traditional roles as mothers and homemakers.  In response to these findings, the Department of Curriculum amended discriminatory references to women and changed the portrayal of women to reflect a wider range of roles and to emphasize women as playing active roles in the electorate and as decision-makers. [14]


The monarchy is by law patriarchal. According to Article 28 of the Constitution, “The Throne of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is hereditary to the dynasty of King Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein in a direct line through his male heirs. . . “ [15]

Women have been largely unsuccessful in penetrating the electoral process.  On the national level, women continue to be severely underrepresented in elected office.  In 1989, none of the 12 women who ran for the lower house of parliament were elected.  In 1993, only three women ran for office, and one was elected. [16]   In 1997, none of the country’s 17 female candidates for parliament were elected.   Women’s organizations have requested quotas to increase the number of women in politics, but the government rejected such a consideration because it claims that  it would deny “equal opportunities without discrimination.” [17]

At the local level, however, women have achieved some modest electoral successes.  In 1995, a record ten women were elected to municipal council seats, including the first woman mayor.  In the 1999 municipal elections, however, women fared far worse.  No bloc allowed women to join.  Three out of 44 female candidates were elected for the 2,530 mayoral and council seats.  The only female mayor, Iman Futaymat, lost to another candidate.  Supporters of Futaymat maintained that her rival’s supporters “played a campaign trick in her defeat by blocking her voters from casting their ballots.”  Her opponent denied the allegations. [18]  

In an apparent attempt to compensate for the low numbers of women elected to municipal seats, the government increased the number of appointed women members of the city council from one to three (out of 40). [19]  


Jordan has entered a reservation to Article 9.2 of the Convention.  According to Jordanian Nationality Law No. 6 of 1986, “Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians have the right to keep their Jordanian nationality.” [20]   However, the child of a Jordanian woman married to a non-Jordanian is not automatically considered a citizen of Jordan.  A Jordanian mother cannot transfer her nationality to her child unless he or she is born in Jordan to a mother with Jordanian citizenship and a father of unknown or foreign nationality or whose paternity has not been legally established. [21]  

A Jordanian woman cannot obtain a separate passport without her husband’s written permission.  However, Jordanian legislation authorizes the Director of the Passport Department to issue a passport for special cases, for a period not exceeding one year. [22]


According to the Education Act No. 27 of 1988, education is free and compulsory from ages 6-16 for both sexes. [23]   However, many parents are not held accountable when their children fail to attend school for economic reasons, as the costs associated with education are high despite free tuition. In cases when parents are unable to afford to send all their children to school, the schooling of girls is sacrificed to school the boys. Conventional social concepts hold that the male will support the family, whereas the destiny of a girl is marriage. [24]   Particularly in rural areas,  school-aged girls are kept home by their families:

In practice there is no real enforcement regarding attendance, so the decision about a child’s education is left to the family, usually the father, who may not value education for a girl, particularly if she may play another, economic role at home.  Moreover, some villages do not have a school, and families are unwilling (or unable to afford) to send a female child to a nearby village each day for classes. [25]  

The system provides for coeducation in primary school (up to age 12) and at the university level, with single-sex education during the interim. [26]

The general level of women’s education has been rising over the past 20 years.  But even though women’s illiteracy rate was reduced from 49.5 percent in 1979 to 22 percent in 1991, they continue to lag behind men;  as of 1997, literacy rates for women were 73 percent, compared to 91 percent for men. [27]   Furthermore, the proportion of young women holding high school degrees in 1990 was only 13.4 percent. [28]   One Jordanian activist attributes these disparities to “social constraints which place greater value on education of males compared to females, whereby male roles in employment, production and family are more overtly stressed.  As for vocational training, girls’ schools are geared toward home economics, while boys’ schools are geared toward industry and agriculture.” [29]


Just 11 percent of women participate in the labor force in Jordan, one of the lowest rates in the world. [30]    Unemployment among women has risen from 5.9 percent in 1972 to 11.7 percent in 1979, 30.6 in 1990 and 34 percent in 1995, considerably higher than the unemployment rate among men. [31] Very few women are found in managerial and highly skilled jobs.  In the private sector they constitute only 4.1 percent of employees in the highest paid managerial jobs. [32]

Labor Law

Jordan’s Labor Law lacks a clear statement regarding wage or employment equality between men and women.  Wage discrimination is common in the private sector, and there is no minimum wage.  A 1987 survey of the state sector indicated that men’s pay was 27.9 percent higher than that of females of equal education, age, and experience.  Additionally, the Labor Law forbids women from performing certain jobs and working from the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the absence of special circumstances. [33]


Jordanian women’s organizations argue that  women have not been directly targeted for development in Jordan and women's interests are seen as restricted to conventional social roles.  Although development projects may provide short-term benefits to women, they are ineffective and unsustainable because of the premise on which they are based.  For instance, rather than investing in the education of women, which promotes the freedom to decide the size of their own families, “family planning” policies are designed solely to have women bear fewer children.  Women’s advocates claim that “micro-lending” schemes for women in order to combat poverty fail to encourage decision making,  and most of the efforts made by women usually end up benefiting the male members of the family.  According to a report on the status of women in Jordan prepared by a coalition of Jordanian women’s groups, “unless the economic participation of women is included within a global framework, such subordination will continue reproducing poverty.” [34]

Women’s advocates in Jordan have attributed the inadequacy of development schemes to women’s absence at all levels of development planning. The government’s five-year development plan for the years 1986-1990 was prepared by an 18-member all-male committee, and the plan for the years 1993-1997 was prepared by a 24-member committee that included one woman. [35]


Jordan has reserved on Convention Article 16 c, d, and g of Article 16 on the assumption that these provisions contradict Shari’a and personal status laws.  However, as the UNDP/UNICEF study on CEDAW in Jordan points out, “there is no unanimity in laws concerning women’s capacity and family issues in the Islamic countries.  For example, reservations concerning Article 15 were made only by Jordan (15/4) and Tunisia (15/4), but not by other 9 Arab countries that ratified the Convention.” [36]  

The Personal Status Law

According to the Personal Status Law, the legal age for marriage is 15 for women and 16 for men.   A guardian is required to administer a bride’s marriage contract.  Unlike men, women must specifically request a special clause in their marriage contract to obtain the right to divorce, and the law requires men to pay support to divorced wives for only one year.  According to one outside expert, the real problem is that the few protections that are included in the law are often not respected, particularly as to child support and inheritance rights. [37]   

The ‘Family Book’ (daftar al-’a’ilah)

According to Jordan’s Civil Status Law, the “family book” is required to conduct nearly all official transactions, including voting or being a candidate for elected office, registering children for school or university, obtaining civil service jobs or gaining access to social services such as food assistance.  Upon marriage, a woman is transferred from her father’s daftar to that of her husband.  If a woman is “separated” from a daftar due to divorce or death, the only solution is to re-register under the daftar of a male family member, which becomes problematic if the male family member is working abroad or deceased. [38]  

Inheritance Rights

In 1990, women’s rights to inherit were restricted to conform literally to Shari’a, giving women only half the share that their brothers could receive.  Until that time, their inheritance rights had been equal to those of men. [39]

Widows inherit one-eighth of the husband’s estate if there are children and one-fourth if there are no children.  By contrast, widowers inherit one-fourth of their wives’ estate if there are children and one-half if there are none.  Additionally, according to Jordanian activists, in many cases, daughters’ inheritances are managed by male family members, further denying their access to their already limited share. [40]


In 1996, 483 crimes were committed against women, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, injury, and rape.  The motives for such crimes were usually family disputes, honor, or robbery.  The lack of laws prohibiting aggression against women and female minors, or acts of violence within the family, legitimates violence against them. In addition, a combination of social factors leads to impunity.  According to a report by Jordanian women’s activists, “family pressures stemming from tribal concepts, the authority vested in the male, the acceptance by women of their secondary status in society and of the right of the man to abuse and punish them, all contribute to engulfing violence against women in a shroud of secrecy.” [41]

Honor Killing

An honor crime (torture or murder) is an assault committed against a woman by a male family member in response to alleged sexual misconduct. [42]   According to Article 340 of the penal code, “he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives has committed adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one or both of them, is exempted from any penalty.”   In a landmark ruling in July 1999, a Justice Ministry panel decided to annul an article of the Penal Code that provides for leniency toward men who commit violent acts against women in the “honor” context.   In November 1999, however, Parliament rejected the change.  Members stated that they fear that the annulment of the law would “unleash widespread social delinquency.” [43]   Meanwhile, police reports indicate that between 25 and 30 women are killed annually (one-third of the murders in Jordan [44] ) in the name of family honor, making it the most common type of murder of women in the country. [45]   In 1997, 95 percent of women killed in Jordan for alleged violations of honor later were proved to be innocent of “immoral behavior.” [46]

Rania Arafat refused an arranged marriage with a cousin and eloped with her Iraqi boyfriend.  In 1997,  she was lured into a field by two aunts and shot four times in the back of the head by her 17-year old brother. [47]   In another case in 1994, a 16-year old girl was murdered by her older brother because she had been raped and become pregnant by her younger brother.  The family encouraged the older brother to “cleanse” the family honor, fearing ridicule by neighbors. [48]

According to law, a “crime of honor” defense may be invoked by a defendant who “surprises his wife or any close female relative” in the act of adultery or fornication.  Defendants who successfully employ this defense are found  innocent of murder.  More often, the man acts on a report of the inappropriate sexual behavior of his wife, sister, niece or cousin without investigating or witnessing the incident.  Defendants who do not meet the strict interpretation of the honor crime law and are found guilty of murder typically spend only three months to two years in prison.  The penalty for murder in other circumstances is death for first degree murder and 15 years in prison for second degree murder. 

Women may not invoke the honor defense for murdering a male relative under the same circumstances; nor may they use it for killing men who attempt to rape them, sexually harass them , or otherwise threaten their honor. The penalty if the female defendant is found guilty of murder is death. [49]

Rape and Domestic Violence

In the case of rape, cultural and social traditions coupled with inadequate laws inform discriminatory legal practices, which hinder a woman’s ability to obtain legal and medical assistance.  Furthermore, the effect of violence against a kidnapped or raped woman is exacerbated by the practice of dropping the prosecution if the perpetrator agrees to marry his victim.  The right to prosecute is re-established if he divorces her before the passage of three years of marriage without legitimate grounds, in accordance with Article 308.   The perpetrators usually agree to marry the victim, to evade punishment, without the goal of building a family.   Marriage for the victim in such a case becomes a means to cover up the scandal and avoid shame.  At the same time, it is an encouragement to a man who is turned down by a woman to kidnap her and force her into marriage. [50]

Marital rape is legal.  While wife beating is considered grounds for divorce, a husband can argue that the Quran gave him the authority to discipline his wife for irreligious or insubordinate behavior. [51]


Committee Against Torture.  Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture: Jordan. 26/07/95. A/50/44, paras. 159-182.

No recommendations concerning women were issued by this Committee.

Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Jordan. 25/04/94. CRC/C/15/Add.21

Concerns, Suggestions and Recommendations:

·        Concern that, although the National Charter guarantees equality between the sexes in Jordan, discriminatory attitudes and prejudices continue to exist.  Disparities exist in the areas of inheritance rights, the right to leave the country and the acquisition of Jordanian nationality.  In the last respect, the Committee is concerned that in the light of Jordanian legislation, statelessness could arise.  It is also concerned that the national legislation with respect to the minimum age for marriage may not be fully compatible with the non-discrimination provisions of the Convention.

·        Take measures to prevent and eliminate discriminatory attitudes and prejudice and ensure effective protection against discrimination, particularly with regard to the girl child and children born out of wedlock, as well as any differentiation resulting from the status of parents.

·        Conduct a study on the nature and extent of domestic violence; develop appropriate follow-up measures, including family education and social support.

·        Give emphasis in school education to the values of peace, tolerance and respect of human rights.

·        Take steps to improve school attendance for children living in remote areas, to reduce the school drop-out rate and to raise the level of literacy, particularly among females.


[1] Lamis Nasser, Affirmative Policy Measures and Initiatives to Promote the Implementation of CEDAW Convention in Jordan, November 1996, 15.

[2] Country Report: Jordan, Committee to Protect Journalists, available on-line at http://www.cpj.org, accessed 25 August 1999.

[3] “Editor Jailed for Covering Alleged Sexual Harassment by PM’s son,” Committee to Protect Journalists, on-line, available at http://www.cpj.org, accessed 25 August 1999.

[4] Ghussoun Rahhal , "The Jordanian Case Study,” presented at the international conference: 'The Exclusion of Women in the Arab World from the Effective Protection and Benefit of International Human Rights Law" sponsored by (WCLAC) The Women Center for Legal Aid and Counseling/Jerusalem, held in Beirut, Lebanon, from 26-28 November 1999.

[5] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Laurie A. Brand, Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences  (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 120.

[8] Lamis Nasser, 16.

[9] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[10] Lamis Nasser, 15.

[11] Constitution of the Kingdom of Jordan, Chapter 2, Article 6. 

[12] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Lamis Nasser, 47.

[15] Constitution of the Kingdom of Jordan, Chapter 4, Article 28.

[16] Lamis Nasser, 33.

[17] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[18] “Newly-formed Amman Municipal Council Includes Women,” BBC, 17 July 1999, Nexis, 24 August 1999.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Lamis Nasser, 38.

[21] Ibid., 39.

[22] Ibid., 42.

[23] Ibid., 46.

[24] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[25] Laurie A. Brand, 130.

[26] Lamis Nasser, 46.

[27] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, Where Women Stand (New York: Random House, 1997), 489.

[28] Laurie A. Brand, 130.

[29] Lamis Nasser, 46.

[30] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 493.

[31] Laurie A. Brand, 131.

[32] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[33] Laurie A. Brand, 131.

[34] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Lamis Nasser, 70.

[37] Laurie A. Brand, 106.

[38] Ibid., 106.

[39] Ibid., 106.

[40] Lamis Nasser, 78.

[41] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Jordan MPs Reject Bid to Overturn Honour-Killing Leniency,” Agence France Presse, 22 November 1999.

[44] “Eleven Women Killed for ‘Honor’ in Jordan since January:  Report,” Agence France Presse, 12 August 1999, Nexis, 23 August 1999.

[45] “Jordanian Women Demonstrate Against Domestic Violence,” Associated Press, 26 November 1998, Nexis, 19 August 1999.

[46] “HRFW Calls for New Methods To Deal With Family Violence,” Info-Prod Research (Middle East) Ltd, 27 May 1999, Nexis, 17 August 1999.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Joha, Ghassan. “Honor Crimes: Need for Greater Awareness,” The Star (Amman, Jordan) July 16, 1998.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ghussoun Rahhal.

[51] US Department of State, Jordan report on Human Rights Practices for 1997 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 1998).





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