|Credit: Equal Rights Trust|
In Jordan, a country with a reputation of being progressive, women and girls who go to the police to report abuse or honour crimes, often end up being the ones thrown in jail. Instead of prosecuting their abusers, the police place them in “protective custody” – a common practice in the country, seemingly to protect women from gender-based violence.
The practice not only fails to protect women, but further exacerbates the harm they experience and allows perpetrators to act with impunity, according to a damning new report by the Equal Rights Trust, which urges civil society and the Jordanian authorities to end the practice.
The report, Shouting Through the Walls, documents instances where women were detained for up to 10 years and only released with the support of a male relative or husband, an extremely dangerous practice in domestic violence cases. Indeed, the report cites cases of women being killed upon release by male relatives, despite guarantees of their safety. And women who don’t have a husband are kept until they can find one. “The Governor is insisting I need to have a husband [to be released], but where am I supposed to find a one when I am locked up?” one women in protective custody said.
The practice is also used to detain foreign women who have been trafficked or who have left their employer’s home because the employer abused them.
Women in “protective" custody's situation is grim: they are detained without having committed any crime, often following significant violence or threats of violence. They have no prospect of release nor any real ability to influence their release. Not surprisingly, they are more likely to experience psychological problems than women in judicial detention. According to a 2014 Penal Reform International survey undertaken at Jordan’s Juweida prison, 62% of women in “protective custody” suffered form depression and a quarter have self harmed and had suicidal thoughts.
The report also paints a bleak picture of the conditions in jail, including overcrowding, a lack of access to healthcare, poor hygiene and few opportunities for work.
There are very little data about this practice, which exists also in other countries, but figures from the National Centre for Human Rights (2015) showed that nearly half of women prisoners in Jordan are administrative detainees. Despite its reputation as a progressive state, Jordan ranks low on gender equality and women’s rights amongst world’s countries.