A Pregnant Woman Was Brutally Murdered By Her Family in Jordan. Why Aren't We Talking About It?


I did not travel to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan last week expecting to think about women, gender, and Arab feminism. But when the front-page news upon landing in a new country is about a pregnant woman whose throat and abdomen were slit open in an "honor killing," one starts to pay a bit of attention. 

Unlike the brutal gang-rape and death of an Indian medical student last year, the death of the young mother-to-be in Ruseifeh has garnered little attention. There were no massive candlelight vigils; no international outcry, no huge protests. Why?

Islam's condoning of violence against women? Look again, dear reader — this just isn't true. Violence against women is neither condoned by Islam (as argued last month by Palestinian judge Yousif Ideis) nor unique to it, as PoliyMic's own Medha Chandorkar points out:

"Look to [majority Muslim] Pakistan's neighbor India, and you'll see Hindu villages committing the exact same violence in the name of honor. Look to Israel, and you can read a Jewish rabbi's strict instruction manual for appropriate female dress code, starting at the age of 3. Look to America, and you'll find Christian churches forcing rape victims to publicly 'apologize' for the 'sin' of getting pregnant from their rape."

Regional politics? Wedged between Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the tiny and oil-bereft Jordan is a key ally (or "agent," says my Syrian classmate) of the U.S. in the region. Despite an embarrassingly frank — -or deviously cunning? — interview in the Atlantic in which he slammed most of his family and key allies, Jordanian King Abdullah II met with both Barack Obama and Joe Biden last week to discuss the Syrian uprising. Could it be the case that Jordan's Western friends are too distracted by geopolitical considerations and internal instability to think too hard about questions of gender, despite the weaponization of rape in nearby Syria?

The basic laws of journalism? Reports suggest that 15-20 women in Jordan and 5000 worldwide are killed for "honor" or lightly-punished "crimes of passion." This sort of slow slicing makes for pretty non-compelling (read: more difficult) journalism. On top of that, three people died during a bomb blast at the Boston Marathon just a day after the woman in Ruseifeh's body was discovered, quickly burying other news. 

Regardless of the reasons for such inattention, the woman in Ruseifeh deserves better. It has been nearly twenty years since Jordanian activist Rana Husseini began her campaign to bring awareness to "honor killings" in Jordan and beyond. Despite her and others' efforts, such killings continue and are rising in many countries. There is much work left to be done and many lives which depend on it.