F: She was one of the older students in my class, around 45. She is a widow, but the death of her husband did anything but slow her down. She is smooth, self-assured, smart, a hard worker and a chain smoker. None of that shy, dainty, delicate demeanor that some girls here try to aim for. Nope, she is strong, confident and bold. When I visited her, I was in awe of her story and her current work. She is the president of the Mafraq branch of the Jordanian Women’s Union. The organization serves women by educating them in their rights before and within marriage and during a divorce. She helps women who are being abused by their spouse by giving them a safe place to go and get support. She explained that when a new woman comes for help, she begins by helping this woman see that she is valuable and that the abuse is not her fault nor what she deserves. She also introduces this woman to others who have been through similar situations so that she can see that she is not alone and that there is a way out. Then, she helps this woman learn a new trade, like how to work on computers, work in a beauty salon, or sew so that she can support herself. Sometimes she is able to find grants to help the woman rent her own apartment, separate from her husband.
Another aspect of her work is with young girls who are married off. Some girls here who come from very poor families are married off at a really young age, like 12 or 13, to a rich man for a specific price. These “marriages” aren’t meant to last long, the man usually comes from a country in the gulf only for a week or so, takes the girl for a week and then divorces her and leaves her. It is basically a form of sanctified pimping and sex trade. The marriage and divorce are not written up formally, only religiously, so, if the girl gets pregnant during this time, her baby technically has no nationality (because the nationality always comes through the father). She explained that in these cases, she helps by trying to get the correct papers so that the child can receive the correct nationality (a child without a nationality is without rights). They do this by trying to contact the father and getting him to admit that the child is his. If he refuses to admit it, they try to get him to swear on the Quran that the child is not his. F (who is Muslim) said, usually, in this case, he will finally admit the truth out of the fear of God. She explained that if the father can’t be contacted or will not tell the truth, the child is considered an orphan, even with a mother. She also helps these young girls to recognize their worth and learn professions so that they can depend on themselves and not get sucked into the cycle of these sex trade “marriages.”
As I listened to her, I just wanted to hug her and to tell her to keep on going strong! In a culture with so many injustices, especially against women, people like her are catalysts for change. She could take an honest look at her own culture and say with strength and confidence that it needs to change… then go and work towards that change.
She also told me a bit about her childhood. Her mother died when she was young and her father was a simple farmer. Because of the absence of her mother, she was always around her father, learning from him how to do “manly” things, like stand up for herself, speak her mind, and not back down. She said when she got married at 18, she wanted to go to college, but it was not accepted by her community. She insisted on studying anyway, all while raising her children, cooking, cleaning and taking care of her household. She finally graduated and received her bachelor’s degree. She also worked in politics and was a member of city counsel. Now she is running this much needed organization in Mafraq and training other woman to work alongside her.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6