Salsabeel Hantleh with Dr. Maysoon Al-Atoum, Director of the Center for Women’s Studies and a member of the Jordanian Parliament
Breaking Free from Denial and the Cycle of Violence
Violence is a never-ending cycle! A father insults a mother, a mother scolds a son, and a son beats a colleague, brother, or sister. This vicious cycle worsens differences, distance, and segregation. However, the greatest responsibility to break it may fall not on those who started it but on those aware of its existence and impact.
As a young woman who acknowledges the cycle of violence, especially among my generation, I chose gender-based violence (GBV) as a topic for my blog. I gathered questions from the Jeel 01 collogues, then met a specialist and activist in the field of GBV to explore, through her expertise and knowledge, the reality of Jordanian society and violence.
In an interesting and lengthy meeting, her excellency Dr. Maysoon Al-Atoum, Director of the Center for Women’s Studies and a Member of the Jordanian Senate, shared her opinion on many aspects related to GBV. We discussed several questions: Is there a need to address this issue in our country, or are these cases uniquely individual and not of our concern? What kind of support is needed to break the cycle; is it psychological, legal, or cultural support? How can we, as young people, break the cycle of violence?
Why focus on women? Isn’t there also violence against men?
Some people might wonder why all campaigns against GBV focus on women. Dr. Maysoon highlighted this point with facts, “95% of registered violence cases are against women! The most widespread violence in Jordan is psychological violence (insults), physical violence (beating of various degrees), and harassment, and abusers are normally close to their victims; husbands, brothers, or fathers.”
These facts might be hard to digest. However, they reflect the reality of our culture. Here, a question came to me: “Why women? Is it because they are considered weak?”
“Weakness is not why women face violence. On the contrary, the concept of strength has changed over time. Back in the day, strength was defined through physical capabilities, as men were more able to do arduous work like farming and plowing. Nowadays, women have entered the fields of education, academia, and technology, most of which don’t require physical strength. The problem lies in the prevailing culture and discourse. Changing the discourse entails altering consciousness, vision, and behavior,” Dr. Maysoon explained.
Her Excellency added, “Describing women as incomplete, or a source of shame, gives men a sense of guardianship over them, which may reflect on their behavior towards women, and we even see women justifying violence against them.”
According to Dr. Maysoon, the matter is not limited to the discourse of guardianship but also, bounding women within physical (sexual) roles and forcing them to conform to society’s perception of them as housewives and mothers. All of that reflects how important it is to change the prevailing discourse in our society today. “The discourse must be amended to give women the status of citizenship, The full characteristic of a conscious, responsible, and empowered person.”
The reason behind GBV denial
I asked Dr. Maysoon why we deny cases of violence against women even though the statistics tell a different story. Why are organizations advocating for women blamed for sabotaging or destroying society? Are they really trying to introduce new concepts rejected by our societies?
Her Excellency explained, “There is a misunderstanding about cases related to women locally; Demands are always described as Western and alien to us, although they are mainly found in religions, tribal cultures, and human rights. If we look at Islam, we will find a unity of assignment, reward, and punishment in which everyone is equal, whether male or female. Tribalism as well, where in villages customs completely forbid men from harassing the women of their village. Our authentic customs and traditions are based on societal cohesion, and they actually prevent any behavior that inflicts harm on any person, especially women.”
Looking at the whole scene, it is clear that we have progressed in terms of reporting violent cases in Jordan. It is true that we still live in a harsh reality where we have so many taboos. Breaking the cycle of violence by reporting instances could be one of the solutions. There is continuous work for developing this system, but I think we still need drastic cultural and legal change to prevent the consequences we see from reporting violence.
Is women’s empowerment one of the reasons behind family disintegration?
I asked Dr. Maysoon a question that might be considered strange, but it’s an undeniable fact that we have all thought about it at some point. Could empowering women play a role in breaking families apart?
“Empowering a woman helps her gain strength and better understanding and respect for herself, which clarifies her role in the family as a mother and a wife, and as a supporter of future generations. Empowering women entails cohesion, strength, and productivity in society.”
Back to breaking the cycle of violence, what if we looked at statistics to deal with reality and as a stepping stone to finding solutions instead of perceiving it as a threat to families? Identifying the problem and consciously discussing it is the first step to finding a solution. And by “consciously,” I mean:
Talking about the problem thoroughly, not randomly to delve into the feelings and experiences of others.
Not passing judgment or spreading hate speech that enables the cycle of violence rather than breaking it.
Directing the media towards positive human rights discourse and away from that not accounting for the victim’s feelings but rather causes her more harm.
Urging the authorities and the media to study cases of violence and analyze behavior based on violence to solve the problem at its root.
Finally, we, the youth, have the power to change, and we must utilize every resource to raise awareness. We must create a new perception, especially for men, towards the role and status of women. We need to pay attention to the minor details, like the language we use, the jokes we tell, and our daily means of communication. Most importantly, we must never keep our silence when we witness violence.
As young women and men, it is our responsibility and our right to support each other and empower one another to change laws that blame the victim and serve justice to the abuser. Let’s break the cycle of violence and establish a society based on peace and cohesion.
Image: Salsabeel Hantleh with Dr. Maysoon Al-Atoum, Director of the Center for Women’s Studies and a member of the Jordanian Parliament.
This blog reflects the ideas of Salsabeel Hantleh after an interview with Dr. Maysoon Al-Atoum, one of the most prominent local specialists and activists in the field of women’s studies, as part of the Jeel 01 Program implemented by Generations For Peace, with the support of the US Embassy in Jordan.
This blog was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.