Solidarity across borders: Arab women demand action after series of femicides bleed society dry

Jordanian women protesting outside the Parliament building to condemn the recent murders of women throughout the region.
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On July 6, women throughout the Middle East and North Africa region gathered in response to more than eight crimes of femicide occurring in June, six of whom were killed by their partners.

Sparking the movement was the murders of Nayera Ashraf and Iman Irshaid, who were brutally killed at their university campuses by men for simply refusing their advances.

"There needs to be strict and publicised procedures against anyone that assaults or threatens the security of women and girls. Legislative articles excusing murderers’ crimes must be dropped in courts and these cases need to be restricted from entering family courts"

People in the region were shocked by such violence in public, although femicide is nothing new behind closed doors.

Following Nayera and Iman’s murders, the other women killed included media figure Shamia Gamal, Lubna Mansour, and Raneen Sal’ous. And this week, a man in Ramtha, Jordan beat his two daughters to death who were only nine and 12 years old.

These brutal killings led feminist groups across the region to call for a transnational strike, instructing women to stay home from work to show solidarity and condemnation of the ongoing violence.

Organisers also designed a social media campaign with the use of the hashtags #تضامن_عابر_للحدود،# اضراب_نسائي_عام، #نساء_ضد_العنف and #أنا_مضربة to exchange solidarity and enhance engagement through posts and publications on victims’ murders.

Women hold signs showing support for the WomenStrike22 movement with hashtags reading "Cross Border Solidarity", "I'm on Strike", and "Women Against Violence" [photo credit: Lara Bellone]
Jordanian women demand more protection from the law and authorities following the recent murder of Jordanian university student, Iman Irshaid [photo credit: Lara Bellone d’Altavilla]

Along with the strike, protests occurred throughout the region including in Beirut, Tunis, and Amman, where Takatoat, a Jordanian feminist collective group, organised a silent protest outside the Jordanian Parliament building wearing all black to commemorate those murdered.

Protesters’ signs read ‘Solidarity Across the Border, Stop Killing Women’ or listed victims' names with their stories. Most protesters were Jordanian women who wanted to show solidarity with all the victims that had recently been killed and unite with those protesting across the region. 

Banan Abuzaineideen, the Executive Director and co-founder of Takatoat, described the protest’s message, “Our strike is for those women whose voices have been taken and for our voices to also be heard. Perpetrators think they have the right to end our lives and not be held accountable. We choose to stand here calling out the systematic violence taking place against women in private and public spaces, which is a result of misogyny.”

As Banan mentioned, perhaps the most significant difference in the murders of Nayera and Iman was that they were committed in the public sphere for everyone to witness.

To feminist groups, the lack of accountability and consequences for murders committed privately within the home has led to perpetrators not being fearful of killing women in broad daylight, only showing how the law is failing women. 

The protest was reminiscent of the women’s protest held in July 2020, which was in response to the murder of Ahlam, whose father casually sipped tea after brutally killing her with a brick.

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But since COVID, murders of women and girls in Jordan have only increased with protesters not seeming optimistic about the future. A Jordanian woman explained frustratedly, “We are protesting today because, like many other places in the region, there is nothing else we can do. We want the laws to change and for women to be protected, but we know that women will continue being killed.” 

Men were also present with one protestor explaining that Jordanian society needs to uphold men accountable, “As a male, I do not want women to be afraid of me in my society and run away from me in the street. More men need to speak out about how these murders are wrong and show more support towards women’s rights.”

This support is desperately needed as the increase in female murders is a mixture of discriminatory legislation and the failure of authorities to enforce the law. Takatoat’s team explains, “The Jordanian Constitution guarantees no discrimination against any race or religion but does specify gender. Essentially, there are no legal guarantees protecting women’s lives or holding perpetrators accountable. Those that are punished receive lenient sentences.” 

For there to be change, various Jordanian feminist groups and activists have set a list of demands that are urgently needed to protect women. Banan cited these demands at the protest, which include reforming the women’s protection system and not setting limitations on women’s liberties in protection centres, including freedom of movement and other basic rights.

“There need to be strict and publicised procedures against anyone that assaults or threatens the security of women and girls. Legislative articles excusing murderers’ crimes must be dropped in courts and these cases need to be restricted from entering family courts," she told The New Arab. 

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Lastly, feminist groups are demanding that hate speech against women must be defined and legally criminalised to fully protect women. 

For some of the protesters, the protest was a space for them to commemorate victims they knew personally.

A protester reflected on the death of his friend who suffered years of domestic abuse by her husband and was eventually shot dead by him after relocating to the United States. “The lack of accountability has allowed violence against Arab women to extend beyond the region’s borders, making this an international issue.” With laws setting the precedent that perpetrators can literally get away with murder, this mindset can travel with them wherever they go.

Banan and other organisers ended the protest by warning everyone to return home safely, but also to remain safe within their homes, sending a clear message that whether in the streets, on social media, or at home, Arab women are not safe. “Our solidarity together will hopefully help to end the violence against women, but we must keep demanding for our safety,” concluded Banan.

Lara Bellone d’Altavilla works in the humanitarian field and has published works across various platforms covering social justice issues in the Middle East. She is the founder and content writer for GRLبنت and co-founder of Guardians of Equality Movement (GEM).

Follow her on Twitter: @LaraBellone