Addressing Political Violence Sustainably Require Us to Rethink Our Approach to Empowering Women

December 9, 2021

By Najd Almuhaythif, Gender Expert, UNDP Jordan 

As we at UNDP and others are embarking on a campaign this year for the 16 days of activism to end Gender-Based Violence (GBV), it is useful to shed a light on the global and national themes for this year. In 2008, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign (UNiTE campaign) which is a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world. The campaign builds on existing international legal and policy frameworks and works to synergize the efforts of all UN offices and agencies working to end violence against women. The UNiTE global Campaign for this year is focusing on the interconnections between crises-related rapidly changing contexts and the rise of violence against women and girls in all forms and manifestations under its 2021 theme “Orange the World: END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN NOW!”

In Jordan, JNCW, the National Commission for Women announced, that the national theme for this year is addressing political violence as an issue that needs to be tackled to combat gender-based violence, in partnership with civil society organizations. This priority theme was identified based on a national study that were 64.5% of women respondents reported that they have been subjected to some form of political violence in their lifetime. Furthermore, the theme focuses on the following :

  • Tackling the different forms of political violence against women with a focus on online violence.
  • Breaking the silence on political violence and encouraging women to report.
  • Raising the awareness of the community on the value of women’s political participation.

Finding a sustainable solution to addressing political violence against women would require us to reexamine our approach to empowering women in politics and in the public space at large. Here are my reflections on the core areas to focus on moving forward: 

Focus on the impact of Gender Roles and Conditioning on Women’s Aspiration and Involvement in the Public Life

How boys and girls conditioning impact how they view values of gender equality and social justice. The socialization process that accompanies girls from a very early age can negatively affect their personalities and academic aspiration. On a community level, women tend to be conditioned to accept more traditional gender roles such as caretaking roles which impact internalizing their acceptance towards being confined only to the private sphere. While young males are encouraged, from an early age, to lead and innovate and have more access to the public sphere. In CEDAW committee’s concluding observation in 2017, they have highlighted that patriarchal attitude on the rise. They were concerned about the persistence of deep-rooted discriminatory stereotypes which overemphasize the traditional role of women as mothers and wives, thereby undermining women’s social status, autonomy, educational opportunities and professional careers. (1)

In Jordan, there are more women graduating higher education than men, but this does not translate into a gender balanced workforce. Women's labor force participation in Jordan is the lowest in the region for a country that is not in conflict and the 4th lowest in the world, only behind Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Women's low labor force participation does not have a single cause, but it must be analyzed in its entirety, considering all social, legislative, policy and structural levels. Over the past few years, reports have consistently posited that gendered social norms hinder women’s economic participation. a lack of structural support – such as safe transportation, childcare services and private sector investment – disproportionately affects women. However, there is still a huge gap between research and practice. (3)

Address the Root Causes of the Gender Gap in Politics and the Economy

Despite the progress achieved globally on women’s political representation and participation, it remains a universal challenge. Jordan managed to achieve moderate progress in women participation, yet the rate of positive change is slow and often infrequent. Women often have overcome a plethora of systematic and socio-economic challenges that stems from patriarchal social norms, if they decide to pursue a career in politics for instance.

At UNDP, we have conducted a study to understand how to address low participation of women in politics and the economy. The study showed that women face intersectional challenges that direct land indirectly impede them from meaningful and effective participation and representation in the public and political spheres. These challenges include entrenched sexism; prevailing harmful social norms; economic and financial constraints; and sociopolitical constraints. Evidence shows that even when women managed to get engaged in the public and political spheres, they continue to face discriminatory practices. For instance, women are more likely to face bullying from the media and lack of support from communities. 

Put an end to GBV in Public Spaces 

There is a high level of social injustice that makes participation for women and men an unequal, unleveled playing field. Women continue to face bullying and harassments even in big cities, offline in real life and online in the form of cyber bullying. Women in leadership positions often encounter political violence as they are often ridiculed whether in person or online due to their gender. It is evident that there is systematic political violence against women which is seen when localized informal institutions collectively consent on a political candidate, they tend to select men over women, even if the woman is more competent and qualified. Such patterns are seen in electoral lists that include women at the bottom of the lists only to secure tribal’ support and to merely increase list votes. Furthermore, representative bodies such as labor and professional unions as well as student unions along with the parliament, governorate councils, municipal councils, and local councils are all dominated by men and hence impact the political environment to be man-dominated.  

Respond to COVID-19 Heightened Impact on Gender Inequality  

COVID-19 pandemic has impacted gender equality and especially gender-based violence greatly worldwide and evidently in Jordan. Measures to reduce the spread of the virus has caused an increase in the cases of GBV due lockdown measures that limited the victims to access safe spaces and service providers. We saw firsthand the impact of not including women in decision making process during a health crisis. UNDP alongside UN Women have created a COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker that can be accessed here. The tracker monitors responses taken by governments worldwide to tackle the pandemic, and highlights those that have integrated a gender lens. It captures two types of government responses: women’s participation in COVID-19 task forces and national policy measures taken by governments. It analyzes which of the policy measures address women’s economic and social security, including unpaid care work, the labor market and violence against women. The Tracker can provide guidance for policymakers and evidence for advocates to ensure a gender-sensitive COVID-19 policy response. Evidence based policy making is essential to ensure that we are adopting a gender responsive lens when addressing political violence in Jordan.

(1) Gender Discrimination in Jordan, UN Women

(3) META-Analysis on Women’s Participation in The Labour Force in Jordan