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Syria’s refugee brides:’My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family’

y:  Foreign Affairs reporter, Published on Fri Mar 22 2013


Save to Mystar

AMMAN, JORDAN—Nezar’s face is tight with expectation as she arrives for the meeting. She is a heavy-set mother of 12 and as she arranges herself on the small sofa in Um Majed’s living room she removes her black veil and the pious black gloves that allow her to shake hands with men who are not her relatives.

Um Majed sets down small cups of hot Turkish coffee to ease the tension. Nezar is a Syrian refugee and looking for a husband for her daughter. She lists the girl’s qualities.

“She is tall and pretty,” she tells Um Majed. “She finished the seventh grade.”

“There is one available. He is Saudi,” Um Majed answers.

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  • Um Majed, 28. is a Syrian refugee, who doesn’t want her real name published because of her shame about what she does for a living: procuring young brides,zoom

This is what Nezar wants to hear. Saudis, flush with petrodollars, will pay well. She has high hopes for this Saudi.

So does Um Majed who will earn a $287 fee if the two sides agree to the match.

Um Majed, 28, is also a Syrian refugee, a former housewife from Homs. Um Majed isn’t her actual name but a respectable Arab moniker meaning ‘mother of Majed,’ her young son. She doesn’t want her full name published because of her shame about what she does for a living: procuring brides, some as young as 12, for men as old as 70 from all over the Middle East in exchange for money.

The Star in Syria:

Nezar too was a homemaker in Homs who arrived in Jordan last year. Her husband was a taxi driver but he can no longer work because he has a heart condition. Her son is badly injured.

“He was a fighter with the resistance army and they were removing a roadblock the regime set up on the street when he was hit by a missile,” she explains. “Four others died. He has had three surgeries and needs another one.”

Her daughter Aya is their best hope.

“My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family,” Nezar says. “If the war had not happened I would not marry my daughter to a Saudi. But the Syrians here are poor and have no money.”

Nezar’s daughter is 17. The Saudi groom is 70.

Stories of men fighting and dying to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime have fixated the world but for women the war has different, troubling dimensions. Syrian women and their children make up 75 per cent of the 429,000 refugees in Jordan. The vast majority do not live in the camps set up by the Jordanian authorities. They flood into cities like Amman where they live on the charity of kindly Jordanians and aid organizations.

Many of these women are not equipped to support their families, having been raised to keep the home and hearth while husbands and fathers provided for them. The true cost of how the war is ripping apart the nation is evident in the brutal life choices Syrian women are forced to make to survive.

Grasping for the security of a husband and home, hundreds of girls are being sold into early marriage. These are undoubtedly forced marriages but the truth has several shades of grey: some mothers believe they are protecting their daughters from further hardship and violence, others are desperate to pay the bills. Yet their voices are rarely heard because their lives are lived behind closed doors, their private tragedies not shared with outsiders.

“If you see how Syrians here live you will see why they marry their daughters to whoever will take them,” Um Majed says. “People are poor and they will do anything to pay the rent.”


The surplus of desperate Syrian refugees means marriage has become a buyer’s market with some grooms offering as little as $100 cash for a bride.

The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18 but some religious clerics will marry underage girls for a small fee. This puts the girls at even greater risk for exploitation because some of Um Majed’s clients want a temporary union lasting a few weeks or months after which the girl is returned to her parents.

In other words, it is religiously sanctioned prostitution.

“One of my brides has been married three, four times,” Um Majed says. “She is 15.”

Yet Nezar believes she is saving Aya from a life of hardship. What are her daughter’s prospects in Jordan where she has no right to work? There is little hope of the war ending and returning home. She will soon become a burden on her parents. No, a life in Saudi Arabia with a husband who can provide a home and children, perhaps send money back to Jordan, is the answer.

She admits the marriage market is hazardous. Most of the potential grooms offer a few dollars to leer at her daughter.

“You are already selling your daughter, you might as well sell her to someone decent,” she says.

Nezar cuts the meeting short. Aya is having belly-dancing lessons to increase her appeal to the elderly groom.

“I will take 3,000 dinars ($4,300) from him,” she tells Um Majed. “If he was younger I would accept 2,000 dinars.”


In the old days, the neighbourhood busybody, a matronly figure, was the matchmaker. She would appraise the unmarried girls on her street on behalf of the grooms’ families. At the Turkish bath, the would-be bride was paraded like a prizewinning filly: her mane tugged to check she wasn’t wearing a wig, a walnut cracked between her molars to make sure her teeth were real. In a society where women, especially unmarried girls, do not mingle with men not related to them, or even venture outside the home at risk of being labelled sexually loose, many families relied on matchmakers to find the right bride for their sons.

Um Majed raises a cynical eyebrow at this innocent archetype as she strikes a match and lights a cigarette. She became a matchmaker when she approached a local Islamist charity for food and the manager asked if she “knew any pretty girls.”

“I have 10 families looking for grooms,” she says. “Their girls are between 12 and 21. The grooms are always in their 40s, 50s, or 70s. They want beautiful girls, the younger the better.”

She pauses and takes a drag of the cigarette.

“The Saudis usually ask for 12-year-olds.”


As she sees it, life has become about exploiting or being exploited.

“I have to feed my children,” she says.

“What does freedom mean?” she asks. “We were living with pride and in our own country. I asked my husband this question. He said that they are Alawites and we fight them. But the Saudis are Sunni like us and they harass Syrian girls. Is this religion? Is this freedom?”

Her husband owned a car wash in Homs. Last year, he was hit by a stray bullet and after Um Majed nursed him back to health he joined a militia fighting with the Free Syrian Army.

“I now wish the bullet pierced his heart,” she says bitterly. “He abandoned me to fight and left me with the burden of supporting the family.”

Syrian brides have always been sought after, especially by Gulf Arab men. There is an expression which roughly translates as ‘he who does not marry a Damascene will never know a night of peace.’

The stereotype of the houriya, Levantine beauties with pale faces, speaking the melodious Syrian Arabic dialect and purveyors of a famous cuisine holds great appeal. A Syrian hostess’s reputation can rest on the balance between the olive oil and lemon juice in her tabbouleh salad.

In the Middle East, the groom or his family are expected to provide maher, roughly translated as dowry. If he is a good catch he will approach the girl’s family with a fully furnished flat, perhaps a car, and bank statement proving his savings.

Zayed Hamad who runs Kitab al Sunna, a Sunni Islamist charity that helps women refugees and receives funding from Saudi Arabia, says he receives 100 phone calls, emails and even text messages a month from grooms all over the Middle East looking for wives. Some are looking for a bargain.

“Some believe if they marry a Syrian girl it is cheaper,” he says. “I get approached by the brothers but I say it is not my responsibility to find them brides.”

He says it is a good thing as these girls will have more secure futures.


Eman is a typical Damascene beauty with her pale skin and hazel eyes. At 29, she is considered an older bride and has two daughters from her ex-husband whom she divorced because she caught him in bed with his sister-in-law.

Eman is tired of the war and its slogans.

“I curse the people who call for freedom,” she says. “But Bashar invited the devil to Syria.”

She fled to Amman with her girls late last year. All refugees are meant to stay in the Zaatari camp, a dusty, sometimes violent shanty town on the north border. The main drag is nicknamed the Champs Elysees and sells everything from shoes to shawarmas. Women dig small holes in the ground near their tents to avoid trips in the dark to the public toilets because they are afraid.

Eman refuses to live there. “It’s horrible,” she says. Instead, she rents a small apartment in Amman with her children, sister and mother for 150 dinars a month.

But life in the capital without the protection of a husband or father is hard. When Eman first arrived she would go to charities and mosques for food and mattresses where her soft Syrian accent immediately attracted attention.

“Wherever I go I get proposals,” she says with more weariness than pride. “They ask, can I smell your perfume for 20 dinars? ($28) Can you lift your veil for 35 dinars ($50)? I’d rather die of hunger than do something wrong.”

Just yesterday she heard about a rich man giving away cash at the local mosque so she went to investigate.

“He was giving $100 and gave money to all the others and told me to wait,” Eman says. “When everyone was done he asked me to call him in the morning at his hotel. I said I’d come with my mother. He said come alone. He would give double the money. I told him he was ridiculous.”

She works from home, shelling peanuts for a factory and earning 2.5 dinars ($3.50) for every 10 kilograms of nuts she peels. Eman wants to marry soon so she doesn’t have to expose herself to unwanted attention.

“I want a real husband and a real marriage, someone like Muhandin,” she says, and giggles. He is a Turkish actor in a popular soap opera.

Um Majed, though, has no time for romantic dreams.

A new client, a Jordanian man aged 29 wants a young bride from the Zaatari camp. He will give Um Majed fake documents and they will pose as charity workers to gain access to the families and size up their daughters.

“Some families accept 50 dinars (72) to let the groom look at their girls,” she says. She has done this ruse several times.

Um Majed will get her cut for brokering the arrangement. But she insists it will be a food package, not cash.

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Islamists urge Ensour to retract statement on CEDAW reservations

by Rana Husseini |             Nov 11, 2012             |             22:52                   


AMMAN — The Islamic Action Front (IAF) has called on Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour to apologise and retract statements he made last week on reconsidering Jordan’s reservations on an international convention related to women’s rights.

Ensour had said that the Kingdom is committed to the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

“We believe the reservation Jordan has on one article of the treaty does not distract from our respect for the convention. However, we will revise the issue of these reservations, hopefully soon,” the premier said in an address at a human rights conference last week.

Ensour’s address was delivered at the opening of the 11th Conference of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

“What you [Ensour] said is unacceptable to us and we reject it and demand that you withdraw your statements or apologise because what you said contradicts our traditions, religion and true Jordanian values,” said the IAF statement, which was released on Saturday.“It also threatens Jordanian families and social security,” the statement added.

The IAF, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, claimed that Ensour was under pressure by other governments and international organisations whose values and traditions “do not comply with our traditions, culture, morals or beliefs”.

“If the premier commits to what he pledged, then we will practise our legal and constitutional right to oppose any conventions and agreements that contradict our religion and higher national interests,” the IAF said.

In July 1992, the Kingdom signed CEDAW, which was ratified and published in the Official Gazette in August 2007 with three reservations related to the citizenship, housing and women’s mobility clauses in the Personal Status Law.

In February 2009, the government decided to lift its reservations on paragraph four of Article 15 of the convention, which gives women freedom of mobility and choice of residence without the consent of their husbands or other male family members, a move which was approved by a Royal Decree.

In April 2009, the IAF called on the government to withdraw from CEDAW, alleging that the convention will undermine family values and lead to a wide range of social problems in the country.

“Families in Jordan face the threat of total collapse under CEDAW,” the IAF warned.

According to Islamists, the clause contradicts the teachings of Islam, under which authority over women’s mobility is in the hands of their husbands if they are married, and their brothers or fathers if they are single.”The agreement is not consistent with our religion and traditions and it will change our national identity,” the Islamists said, adding that CEDAW adopts the views of liberals who do not represent Arab Muslim communities.

Other Islamists such as Marwan Faouri, who was president of the Moderation Assembly for Thought and Culture, had said several years ago that CEDAW was a form of “cultural globalisation”, and “a type of control practised by the UN on member countries”.

Faouri is currently a member of the Islamic Centrist Party’s political bureau.

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Identity and the Jordanian Elections

Posted By Laurie A. Brand , Fayez Hammad   Thursday, January 17, 2013 – 1:50 PM

The period of Arab uprisings that began in winter 2010 to 2011 has brought myriad changes to the region. However, one perennial constant is the willingness of official and semi-official elements in Jordan to manipulate identity issues in order to stymie meaningful reform. Indeed, given the past history of the Jordanian government, the most recent developments could be viewed as simply boring, were they not so deeply cynical and destructive.

The newest chapter in this ongoing saga of who is a Jordanian — native East Bankers, certainly; Jordanians of Palestinian origin, not so much or perhaps not at all — has come in response to the upcoming parliamentary elections. With only a few exceptions, most notably in 1956 and 1989, elections in Jordan have been highly controlled affairs, in which the outcomes have been largely cooked beforehand, either through changes in the electoral law (as in 1993), or through outright fraud (most notably, but certainly not exclusively, in 1997 and 2007). On occasion, when it is argued that “regional conditions” are problematic, elections have been postponed, as in the early 2000s, and in many cases some of the most significant opposition forces, most recently the Muslim Brotherhood, have decided to boycott rather than play the palace’s or security forces’ game. 

King Abdullah’s response to the domestic impact of the winds of discontent sweeping the region has been to call for several key “reforms.” The most important among them has been amending the constitution and revising the electoral law — all in the context of the usual palace response to domestic unhappiness: the dismissal of four prime ministers in less than two years. Among the 2011 constitutional amendments, the most potentially significant for the holding of elections was the establishment of an independent electoral commission to oversee the process of registration and voting, chaired by the respected former Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah al-Khatib. However, the electoral law itself, for which there had been great hopes of significant change, was modified only at the margins. The primary opposition demand had been the return to a multiple-vote system in place in 1989, which allowed electors to vote not only for a tribal or clan candidate, but also for other candidates who might represent a more political or ideological choice. Instead, the one-person, one-vote system, which was first implemented in 1993 to reduce the representation in parliament of Islamists, was amended only to the extent that now 27 seats are set aside for national lists, while the total number of parliamentary seats was increased from 120 to 150.

This designation of national list seats, along with the increase in the number of seats in several urban districts, was a kind of consolation prize for Jordanians of Palestinian origin (JPs). This is because they are heavily concentrated in these districts, they are seen as the primary constituency for more ideological parties (especially the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front), and because the current configuration of electoral districts and the seats allotted to them significantly underrepresents JPs in parliament. This underrepresentation is but one aspect of JP second class citizenship, and there have been increasing calls, indeed unparalleled ones, since the beginning of what the king likes to call the “Jordanian spring” to redress this citizenship deficit.

That kind of reform, however, is an outcome that certain segments of the Transjordanian population find intolerable. Indeed, it was apparently members of the so-called old guard and other “traditional powers” that were responsible in 2011 for pressuring the National Dialogue committee, which was looking into possible changes in the electoral law, to ignore calls for allowing Jordanian expatriates (the majority of whom are JPs) to vote from abroad. More dangerous, however, have been increasing calls from the more extreme voices in these sectors for actually disenfranchising JPs altogether. Some calls have come from ultra-nationalist retired military officers; others have come from Transjordanians who otherwise fancy themselves “leftists.” (Only in Jordan could those who call for discriminating against fellow citizens, indeed, for depriving them of their already second-class citizenship status, be considered leftists simply because they criticize neoliberal economic policies.) 

Historically, the justification for concern about full integration of JPs into Jordan derived from the fear that the Israeli government would use such a development to claim that Jordan was in fact the Palestinian state, and that therefore there was no need for a “second Palestinian state” in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, in 1989, it was rumored that Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasir Arafat had urged JPs not to participate in the elections, precisely for this reason. Over time, the concern that Israel would stymie a peace settlement on the grounds that a Palestinian state already existed in Jordan (known as the alternative homeland,al-watan al-badil), has been transmogrified into an expectation among some Transjordanians that Jordan will become largely free of Palestinians in the context of a two-state solution. Zionist policies and threats over the years have played a major role in heightening Jordanian sensitivities regarding the alternative homeland (al-watan al-badil) scenario. Yet, it is also the case that the al-watan al-badil threat is trotted out virtually any time one political faction or another seeks to discredit a particular political or economic proposal. The threat has been used most recently implicitly to call into question the legitimacy of JP political rights, and has, thereby played a major role in the relative absence of Palestinians (except as part of the Muslim Brotherhood) from opposition demonstrations.

The elections scheduled for January 23 have been billed by the palace as a centerpiece in the king’s reform process which is received so warmly during his appearances on the Daily Show and in interviews with the western press and diplomats, (although Abdullah also regularly stresses in such settings that Jordan and Jordanians are not yet ready for full democracy). He and other officials have repeatedly insisted that the January 2013 elections will be free and fair as a way of reinforcing his commitment to real reform and securing domestic legitimation for his approach through a respectable turnout. The first step toward ultimately claiming success required securing sufficient registration numbers, and when potential voters did not initially flock to register — in part because the Muslim Brotherhood had announced its intention to boycott the elections, but also, likely, because of past experience with fraud and the futility of the exercise — repeated exhortations were made, many arms were likely twisted, and ultimately, the deadline was extended and the vote postponed by two months.

It was certainly a sign of the regime’s desperation that, during the process of trying to legitimize the vote through respectable voter inscription, the state turned to JPs, the sector which it has often otherwise found expendable; the sector which has seen arbitrary passport withdrawals continue, despite claims of royal opposition to the practice. In need of support, government officials targeted the JP refugee camps, urging the camp leadership to mobilize the residents to register. Ultimately the national registration numbers reached 2.3 million, well beyond the government’s 2 million goal.

Now, with only days remaining before the vote, the palace and the government are keen to ensure a robust turnout, and to do so they need JP support. To that end Prime Minister Abdallah Ensour recently met with a delegation of mukhtars and other notables from the refugee camps who issued a statement urging camp residents to participate in the upcoming vote. That expression of citizenship was welcomed by, indeed, certainly solicited by the government. Yet only a few days earlier, Nsour had referred to refugee camps residents as Palestinians, not Jordanians. Those statements were no doubt intended to resonate well with the Transjordanian sector of the population eager for the ultimate evacuation of these JP camp residents from “their” country.

The elections on January 23 offer insights into a variety of critical issues facing the kingdom, the most important of which is what they portend for the development of real citizenship, regardless of social class, gender, religion, or communal origin. A betting (wo)man would be well advised to place her or his money on an outcome of little to no serious change, in no small measure because the actions of the palace speak louder than its words. The election law virtually guarantees that the same set of forces that have participated in the regime’s strategy of minimal or cosmetic reform will once again be elected. Indeed, the palace’s policy seems aimed today, as it has been in most previous elections, at avoiding uncertainty of outcome. Yet uncertainty is a central part of any true democratic process.

The continued instrumentalization of JPs (and of Transjordanians, but that is a story for another day) is just one manifestation of the lack of serious commitment to reform, a form of debilitating legal-political corruption deliberately aimed at undermining the possibilities for real national unity to address the daunting political and economic challenges ahead. Sadly, proclamations of commitment to reform notwithstanding, there is little reason to think that the decades-old strategy of promoting national disunity as a pillar of regime maintenance will be revisited or revised any time soon.

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Rawabdeh named 4th most influential Arab woman in gov’t sector

 JT | Mar 17, 2013 | 20:09 Updated: Mar 17, 2013 | 22:02

Nadia Rawabdeh

AMMAN  – Nadia Rawabdeh, director general of the Social Security Corporation (SSC), ranked fourth in a recently launched list of the most influential Arab women in the government sector.

Compiled by Forbes Middle East, the list covered 30 Arab women in the government field, according to an SSC statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times on Sunday.

The website of Forbes Middle East, which also launched a list of the most influential Arab women in family business, said the criteria to determine the rankings included collating and analysing information sourced from official government and company websites, along with Forbes’ own resources and relevant data pertaining to women in high-profile business and government roles.

Rawabdeh came fourth after the UAE’s Amina Al Rustamani, group CEO of TECOM Investments.

UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi topped the list, while her compatriot Salma Hareb, CEO of JAFZA and Economic Zones World, was second.

Rawabdeh was appointed SSC director in August 2012 and prior to the appointment she held several posts in the corporation over 25 years of service.

These include head of the insurance rights department, president of the investment portfolio department, director of the retirement and compensations department and director of the quality and risk analysis department.

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Young Jordanians weigh in on post-2012 development goals in Amman forum

by Khetam Malkawi | Mar 14, 2013 | 21:50

AMMAN — Arab youths have led calls for reform and they were in the forefront of those who demanded modernisation and development in their countries, HRH Princess Basma said on Thursday.

Thus, the princess added, young people should have the largest and most important role in the formation of their future and the future of this world.

Addressing a group of young Jordanians, the princess, who is also a goodwill ambassador for the UNFPA, said: “You are participating now” in drafting goals that are in line with your priorities in this era, which is witnessing big changes that have been sweeping the world over the past few years.

The princess, who made the remarks at the opening of the “Jordan Youth National Consultation Meeting on Post-2012”, added that young people have a lot to say to form their future, but their chances to be heard are few.

“This meeting is a precious opportunity” for them to have their voices heard by decision makers, she noted.

The two-day meeting, which is organised by UNFPA in partnership with the Higher Youth Council, and attended by 100 young people, is a result of a series of consultations that the UNFPA has facilitated to give the younger generation a voice in shaping the global development agenda after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

It is one of a number of UN-led consultations in the country on the shape of the post-2015 global development agenda.

Muna Mohammed Idris, UNFPA assistant representative in Jordan, said the forum is being held to give young people an opportunity to share their perspectives on their future within the global context and to build a coalition with those attending the meeting to work as an advisory panel for UNFPA Jordan country office youth-related programmes.

In a speech delivered by World Food Programme Country Director Maha Ahmed on behalf of UN Resident Coordinator Costanza Farina, the UN official said Jordan has made considerable progress in achieving the majority of the MDGs, as well as the level of preparations and readiness for the development agenda beyond 2015.

She added that young Jordanians have a role to play, especially with all the challenges and changes they are facing, as they are the only ones able to respond to these challenges in innovative ways.

“Today, with good investment and correct guidance, the youth can reach their full potential as individuals, leaders and as agents of progress,” she noted.

In addition to the participants in the consultation, youths all over Jordan are able to contribute to the meeting virtually through Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks.

This event is part of a series of activities that are taking place in different countries to come up with the necessary data to finalise a framework for the MDGs post-2015 and to identify development priorities for the post-2015 agenda as well as the ICPD Beyond 2014 process.

The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

The eight MDGs are reducing child mortality, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, improving maternal health, combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating global partnerships for development.

A total of 191 states, including Jordan, have committed themselves to achieving these goals by the year 2015.

The International Conference on Population and Development

• In 1994, 179 countries met in Cairo for the ICPD, where all aspects of human life were addressed comprehensively

• A 20-year programme of action was developed recognising that population is not about numbers but about people’s quality of life

• All 179 countries agreed that education and health rights, including reproductive health rights are a prerequisite for sustainable development

• They also agreed on a road map for progress with the following main goals:

– Universal access to reproductive health services by 2015

– Universal primary education/closing the gender gap in education by 2015

– Reducing maternal mortality by 75% by 2015

– Reducing infant mortality

– Increasing life expectancy

– Reducing HIV infection rates

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International Women’s Day: A Jordanian Entrepreneur’s Impact on Education, the Workforce, and Society

Posted: 03/07/2013 3:17 pm

Today, I would like to reflect on the progress women are making in the global economy by highlighting the work of one woman who has been a source of inspiration for many: Randa Ayoubi. Randa is a woman entrepreneur from Jordan who had a dream of enhancing the lives of children by raising educational standards through multimedia learning.

Nearly 20 years ago, after her studies in computer science at Texas Tech, Randa returned to Jordan to work at a bank. However, Randa wanted a different path and aspired to be her own boss and contribute to society. She started a software business called Rubicon where she became one of Jordan’s pioneers in multimedia software for education at a time when rural poverty and the lack of teachers in villages was a big issue.

randaayoubi_23Randa exemplifies how the lives of women around the world have improved dramatically over the past century. According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, gender gaps in primary education have closed in almost all countries. And over the last 30 years, more than half a billion women have joined the world’s labor force. Progress has been made in other areas as well, such as formal rights and constitutional guarantees for women.

Randa started her company with only $60,000 and two employees. Her creative nature, passion for animation, and desire to improve the quality of education across the Arab world led her to create the “Ben & Izzy” cartoon series. The cartoon focused on the difficult relationship between two boys, one American and the other Jordanian, conveying how co-operation is more productive than conflict as well as creating awareness and appreciation for differences.

Today, Rubicon employs more than 300 employees in four locations: Jordan (Amman), the United States (Los Angeles), the Philippines (Manila) and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). It has partnered with some of the biggest names in Hollywood to co-create feature length films and cartoon series such as Postman Pat and Pink Panther. She has also expanded into other areas of digital content, including e‐learning, electronic game development, and virtual reality technical training.

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers has been a mentor to Randa. Since the start of their relationship in 2004, John has thought of Randa as his “adopted CEO” and has given her insight into Cisco’s best business practices, good governance, and corporate culture.

Randa has inspired her employees to become entrepreneurs themselves and to open their own businesses while providing them with mentorship, similar to what she received from John.

Randa states, “John, that is what I have learned from you all, that it isn’t just about the leaders or the owners doing well, but it’s about the whole company sharing in it too. And I wouldn’t have done that if hadn’t been for Cisco.”

I love to tell Randa’s story because she is a true entrepreneur who had the vision and perseverance to develop a strong business plan focused on niche verticals within the digital content industry. She has recruited and retained a high-quality workforce and empowered her employees with the latest technology so their creativity could flourish. She is an inspiration to women around the world, is highly supportive of women’s issues, and is truly a special human being.

Randa’s story is particularly relevant today, International Women’s Day. For more than 100 years, International Women’s Day has been observed in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their economic, political, and social achievements, as well as an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments.

More importantly, it is an opportunity to look ahead to the untapped potential and prospects that await future generations of women.

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Queen takes part in regional workshop – women’s empowerment is included in a workshop


Her Majesty Queen Rania delivers an address at the opening session of a regional workshop on the Post-2015 Development Priorities for the Arab world (Photo by Nasser Ayoub)

AMMAN — Her Majesty Queen Rania on Sunday attended a regional workshop on the Post-2015 Development Priorities for the Arab world.

A group of leaders from civil society, research institutes and academia from Arab countries are participating in the two-day workshop in Amman to discuss the main development challenges and priorities of the Arab world that will help shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda, according to a statement released by the Queen’s office.

Her Majesty is one of two members representing the Arab world on the UN High Level Panel (HLP), which was appointed last summer by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to help advise on the shape of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The March 3-4 event is hosted by the UN Foundation (UNF) in partnership with the King Abdullah Fund for Development (KAFD) and in cooperation with University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies and the Columbia University Middle East Research Centre (CUMERC). Participants will submit a summary report of highlights and outcomes to the HLP.

“In the last few years, a lot of countries in the Arab world have changed. We need to build new strategies and set out new goals based on the priorities of individuals; we need development strategies that empower Arabs and keep up with their ambitions,” Queen Rania said in an address at the opening session.

“Today, we have new opportunities and new challenges. Challenges such as the quality of our education, the global economic crises, high costs of living, increased rates of unemployment, conflicts and lack of security. All these challenges not only impede the process of development, but also cause it to deteriorate,” she added.

“We are gathered here to learn from the lessons and experiences we gained from the previous phase. Today, we are more aware of our countries’ needs, therefore, our recommendations must aim at improving the life of each person in the Arab world, to help unleash their potential and achieve their ambitions. This can be achieved through your hard work, wise planning and sharp vision.”

Later, Her Majesty also attended part of a session on education and skills, which discussed the quality of education, teachers and their skills, as well as school curricula.

KAFD Chairman Omar Razzaz talked about future development challenges and how to overcome them in the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Razzaz also gave examples of the inquiries and issues the workshops will be addressing.

UNF Vice President for UN Relations Suzan Myers spoke about the importance of such gatherings that aim at collecting information and learning about different ideas and perspectives that are essential to shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Amina Mohammad, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on Post-2015 Development Planning, talked about their action plan and praised Her Majesty for her support and efforts at the regional and international levels.

Sima Bahous, assistant secretary general of the UN and regional director of the UNDP bureau for Arab states, gave a presentation about the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in the Arab region.

“While there are six country consultations and multiple smaller meetings on post-2015 to be held in Arab states, the March 3-4 convening of about 60 experts in Amman is a means for its participants to engage in the post-2015 dialogue and the key issues specific to the Arab region, especially in the themes of education, growth and employment, women’s empowerment, inequalities, governance and freedom,” the statement said.

The event, which was held at CUMERC, brought together participants from Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Palestine.

The workshop also included other sessions, such as the sustainable growth and employment session where Ibrahim Saif, resident scholar at Carnegie Middle East Centre, talked about the distribution of economic returns, as well as job creation and entrepreneurship.

Participants also attended the women’s empowerment session, which was presented by Maya Morsy, country coordinator of UN Women Egypt, and coordinated by Dalia Mogahed, executive director at the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies.

Another session on inequalities was presented by Ibrahim Awad, professor at the American University of Cairo.

Guest Post: The Politics of Egypt’s Rape Epidemic

by Guest Blogger for Robert M. Danin
February 26, 2013

This post is written by Allison Nour, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In a powerful scene from the 2010 Egyptian film “678,” a veiled woman boards a crowded public bus on her way to work, squeezing through a mass of passengers in search of a space where she will feel least vulnerable to attack. Inevitably, though, groping hands reach her and she has no choice but to endure or try to quietly move away without drawing attention.

For many women in Egypt, this scene is far too familiar—warding off potential harassment has long been a part of their daily lives. A study conducted in 2008 found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in public and nearly half described the harassment as occurring on a daily basis. Few women file formal complaints against attackers, either out of fear, embarrassment, or the recognition that the police are unlikely to pursue such cases.

But in recent months, this atmosphere of impunity has combined with Egypt’s volatile politics to produce a spike in harassment and a new trend of violent sexual attacks. These mob attacks are directed primarily against women demonstrators in Tahrir Square. On the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprisings on January 25, at least nineteen female demonstrators were sexually assaulted. The reports are shocking: In first-hand accounts, women have described being suddenly set upon by large groups of men, groped, stripped of their clothing, and raped. At least one woman was sexually assaulted with a bladed weapon.

Yet the Morsi administration has done absolutely nothing to respond to this unprecedented, intensely violent, and organized wave of attacks. Inconceivably and unconscionably, the Egyptian president has yet to utter a public word to acknowledge the problem. His prime minister, Hisham Qandil, has offered only a passing reference to possible new legislation to address the issue. With clear video evidence of attacks shown on television and online, the government either lacks the will or the ability to confront the situation.

More unfortunate than the government’s failure to act is the exacerbation of the problem by some in government and among the Salafi leadership. During a meeting of the Shura Council last week, elected representatives—most of them Islamists—blamed the victims for their attacks. As a Salafi member of the Asala Party put it, “Women sometimes bring rape upon themselves by putting themselves in positions which make them subject to rape.” In a video posted to YouTube, an Egyptian Salafi preacher declares that women protesting in Tahrir Square “want to be raped” and are attending the demonstrations either because they are “Crusaders” or “widows who have no one to control them.”

These comments, while shocking to many Egyptian observers, unfortunately reflect the sentiments of many others in the country. Many Egyptians still believe that the blame for sexual harassment falls largely on women who fail to behave “modestly.” At best, the Morsi administration’s failure to address the problem stems from a belief that sexual harassment is a natural consequence of women participating in demonstrations. At worst, the government is complicit in the attacks as a means to tamp down turnout at demonstrations. Either way, with economic turmoil and electoral debates dominating public debate, the issue is unlikely to become a priority anytime soon.

The women at the center of “678”—fed up with feeling helpless in the face of harassment in the public domain—decided to fight back by carrying weapons and stabbing their attackers. While the story was powerfully portrayed, I remember thinking their approach was unlikely to catch on in real life. But as the problem of sexual harassment intensifies with no end in sight, I couldn’t help but think of the film as women brandished knives at a recent anti-harassment demonstration in Talaat Harb Square. As with so many of the challenges facing Egypt, if left unaddressed by the powers that be, those who suffer most will find a way to fight back, even if doing so means drawing the country further into chaos.

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Women’s movement to convey demands to Parliament

by Rana Husseini |             Feb 19, 2013             |             22:08

AMMAN –– Representatives of the women’s movement in Jordan said they plan to convey their demands on issues related to women’s rights and legislation to the newly elected Parliament, and female MPs in particular.

Newly elected female deputies recently urged the women’s movement to provide them with a list of demands to fight for in the Lower House.

“We are 18 women now and a minimum of 10 deputies can file a request to amend a law in Parliament. We want the women’s movement to help us sustain the fight for our rights under the Dome,” Madaba deputy Falak Jamaani said during a February 9 lecture.

“We realise that women in Jordan still face many problems and that there are discriminatory clauses that have to be addressed and we need the movement’s knowledge and experience in this regard,” added Jamaani, who became the first woman to win a seat in the Lower House through direct competition after the quota was introduced in 2003.

But one activist pointed out on Tuesday that a list of demands has been submitted to previous parliaments.

“We have presented a list of demands to former MPs, including female deputies, but we will do so again because we have faith that our demands will be adopted and debated under the Dome,” Jordanian National Commission for Women Secretary General Asma Khader told The Jordan Times.

Amneh Zu’bi, president of the Jordanian Women’s Union, echoed Khader’s remarks, noting that female MPs have been notified about the movement’s demands in the past.

Nevertheless, both activists said they will arrange meetings with the 18 female MPs to reiterate the movement’s demands and to urge them to form lobbies in the Lower House to tackle laws that discriminate against women.

Zu’bi said cooperation with the new female MPs is essential and “we should draft a working programme to unite efforts and demands”.

“We really hope that all female deputies will have the will and desire to work for our causes and to stay in constant contact with civil society,” Zu’bi said.

One of the most important demands for the women’s movement, according to Zu’bi, Khader and activist Emily Naffa, is to increase the women’s quota when the Elections Law is debated in Parliament.

“Having only 15 seats designated for women is not enough and we want more women to be present in Parliament to form a stronger bloc when issues related to women are debated under the Dome,” Zu’bi said.

Naffa agreed, noting that increasing the quota will strengthen their “presence and stand on important matters related to women and the nation as a whole”.

The 2012 Elections Law increased the number of Lower House seats allocated for women from 12 to 15, guaranteeing that women will have a representative in each of the Kingdom’s 12 governorates and the three badia districts.

A total of 215 women ran in the January 23 parliamentary elections to compete for seats in the 150-member Lower House. Eighteen women won: 15 via the quota, two through national tickets and one through direct competition.

Laws on the women’s movement list:

• Citizenship and Residency Law: It deprives Jordanian women from passing on citizenship to their husbands and children

• Article 308 of the Penal Code: It pardons a rapist from punishment or legal prosecution if he marries his victim and pledges to stay with her for five years

• Social Security Corporation Law: Gaps include not allowing employed or retired women to benefit from their dead husbands’ pensions and not allowing a deceased woman’s family to benefit from her full pension

• Landlords and Tenants Law: It allows widows to stay in a rented property for three years after their husbands’ death. Activists demand that widows be allowed to stay as long as they pay the rent on time

Women of the Arab Spring, beyond objects and subjects

Women of the Arab Spring, beyond objects and subjects.

By Natana DeLong-Bas

Boston, Massachusetts – The Arab Spring introduced us to the strength and determination of the many Arab women who took to the streets and the internet to call for change in their governments and societies. Gone were the stereotypes of oppression and passivity.

In their place were voices and faces of hope, courage and indomitable spirit, calling for regime change and new, inclusive governments that would finally give women their rights and places in new societies free from corruption.

And, yet, the Arab Spring today is deemed by many to have turned into the Arab Autumn, as headline after depressing headline questions whether genuine regime change has really occurred. Concerns have been raised about the degree to which “Islam” is playing a role in these new governments.

And, in the process, women’s rights have largely been shoved to the side, returning women to the position of subjects of the state and objects of its policies, rather than actors and contributors.

But that doesn’t mean they are silent.

If nothing else, the past two years have pushed the debate on equality into the public arena throughout the Middle East. The biggest lesson women learned was the collective self-confidence that comes from experience, the experience of successful participation in the public sphere; experience of empowerment as their voices were heard, even in Saudi Arabia where King Abdullah recently announced double the expected number of women for appointment to the Shura Council (Saudi Arabia’s top consultative body); the experience of becoming agents of positive change bringing attention to issues ranging from environmental concerns to creating a culture of volunteerism; and the experience of standing together with men working toward collective, national goals.

These experiences cannot be legislated away, nor can they be removed from the individual psyche. They planted the seeds that will continue to grow into demands for women’s rights, no matter how desolate the surrounding climate has since become.

Their activism is not a personal hobby or pastime; it is vital to the futures of their countries. And, so, they keep on keeping on.

In Bahrain, despite threats and harassment, human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja tweets multiple times daily to circulate news about court cases, arrests and home invasions. And journalist Reem Khalifa braves harassment, death threats and even stun grenades from security forces to cover peaceful pro-democracy protests.

In Egypt, journalist, blogger and human rights activist Nawara Negm uses Twitter to encourage youth to remain politically active; civil rights activist and blogger Esraa Abd ElFattah –known as “Facebook Girl” for her live updates on Facebook and Twitter during the Revolution – continues her work with the Egyptian Democratic Academy, training youth in media production and election monitoring; and journalist Rasha Azab works to expose military torture cases.

In Libya, Rihab Elhaj and Iya Khalil co-founded the New Libya Foundation to build civil society from the ground up by teaching civic engagement, inclusiveness and working together. Magda Sharkasi co-established the Tibra Foundation to recognise and reward young Libyan women working for community objectives. And the Libyan Women’s Forum meets to raise awareness and recognition of women’s rights, calling for them to be embedded in the constitution. Libyan women today are at work addressing everything from environmental protection to human rights advocacy, the protection of historic and holy sites and arms collection.


Because these revolutions were never about “women’s rights” – they were, and still remain, about everyone’s rights – to democracy, freedom and human dignity – and the creation of a healthy, competitive political climate in which all components are included. Until these are achieved, the revolutions are not over.

Women keep coming out, they keep speaking, they keep protesting and they keep calling for their rights. And they will not stop. Their spirit, courage and determination cannot be broken. They have learned the power of collective action and the strength that uniting their voices can bring.

This is not 1960s Algeria when the needs of the post-colonial nation were considered greater than “women’s concerns.” This is 2013 when women’s issues are everyone’s issues and the needs of the nation cannot be met without including the voices of all of its citizens – women and men, young and old, from every ethnic and religious background.

Just as they collaborated and cooperated at the beginning of the Arab Spring, so they continue that work now to make sure that equality is not only enshrined in new constitutions, but is carried out in practice.

Dr Natana J. DeLong-Bas is editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women and author of Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. She teaches comparative theology at Boston College. This article was written for the