Dar Amneh, the safe house for Jordanian women

Dar Amneh is very similar to other walled villas on the outskirts of Amman, with several apartments that include kitchens and children’s playrooms that can accommodate 40 women.

Saturday 24/08/2019
Women enjoy the view in downtown Amman. (AP)
Vulnerable but resolute. Women enjoy the view in downtown Amman. (AP)

AMMAN - A safe house for women at risk of being victims of so-called honour killings by relatives is providing a lifeline to those in danger.

A reported 17,426 women in Jordan were exposed to violence from 2013-18 and 7,288 cases were reported in the first six months of 2019, officials said. There were 89 reported cases of women being killed in 2018, compared to 127 in 2017 and 133 in 2016. So far this year, 12 women and six children have been victims of their families. Most of the reports involved honour killing.

Dar Amneh — “Safe House” — aims to abandon the concept of “protective custody” and integrate at-risk women into an environment more like a family home until it is safe for them to resume their normal life.

“The opening of the guest house for women is an important step for Jordan because, for the longest time, women were threatened to be killed by their families for reasons such as honour killing and were placed in prison under protective custody, sometimes for years,” activist Rana Husseini said.

“The measure was taken to protect the women from their families who, as a cultural thing, want to cleanse family honour. A male’s actions will not greatly affect or hurt his family’s standing like a woman’s actions would.”

Husseini, whose book “Murder in the Name of Honour” focused on women killed in crimes she reported about, said: “The good thing about the safe house is that women feel at home and do many activities. The most important thing is that they don’t see themselves in prison but more of a temporary home until their situation is solved.”

Dar Amneh is very similar to other walled villas on the outskirts of Amman, with several apartments that include kitchens and children’s playrooms that can accommodate 40 women. However, security concerns are handled seriously, starting with a ban on mobile phones in case there are apps that use GPS or social networks with check-in capabilities

“Before the establishment of Dar Amneh, women were exposed to what is legally referred to as ‘protective custody’ in which they were placed in the Jwaideh Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre for indefinite periods, which sometimes exceeded 10 years,” said Mahmoud al-Harout, director of Juvenile and Community Security.

“Since [Dar Amneh] opened, women have the opportunity to stay and receive psychological, legal, social, medical and recreational services until they decide to leave after the threat has ended and that their lives are safe again. Dar Amneh is a place to reconnect women with their families and not to punish them,” he added.

The World Health Organisation estimates indicate that about 35% of women experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Harout said Dar Amneh plays an important role in protecting women threatened by their families for reasons such as disapproved behaviour, allegedly bringing shame to the family through illicit relations, involved in sexual acts or behaviour seen by relatives as related to “honour.”

“Staff members, who have gone through several training courses, have been instrumental in making life easy for the women here,” he said.

“The house provides food, clothing, training and rehabilitation services, physical and psychological recovery, health and guidance education, legal assistance to the beneficiary and seeking to solve their problems in line with the principles of human rights in coordination with related entities.”

He said Dar Amneh works with the public sector and civil society to provide suitable work opportunities for its residents.

The Jordanian Ministry of Social Development said it sponsors an annual average of 515 abused women, 130 children exploited by their family to become street beggars, 86 girls abused by their social environment and 77 girls accused and convicted of breaking the law.

The Sisterhood Is Global Institute NGO commended Dar Amneh as “an important step towards the end of the protective custody of women and girls subject to violence and threats.”

The Jordanian National Commission for Women, led by Jordanian Princess Basma bint Talal, labelled Dar Amneh a success.

“Opening a safe guesthouse with systematic standards complies with the conditions for the promotion of human rights in Jordan,” the commission said in a statement. “The provision of social and psychological care coupled with economic empowerment programmes will reduce the women’s psychological burden and restore their confidence in themselves in a healthy manner.”

Social media play a major role in the abuse of women. In 2015, a study indicated that 60% of women were abused by their husbands because of using social networks. Rumours often lead to the killing of women out of suspicions.

In 2003, a Jordanian has confessed to cutting his sister’s throat and stabbing her 20 times because she was rarely home. In 2017, a divorced 43-year-old woman was killed by her 25-year-old brother and, in the same year, an 18-year-old killed his sister while she was sleeping after the brother found a mobile phone that belonged to his sister and that the family didn’t know about.

The Prevention of Crimes Act No. 7 of 1954, which gives governors authorities to detain people administratively, was designed to arrest people to prevent crimes but also for women who are arrested because of family issues and are in danger of becoming victims of “honour crimes.”

Since last September, Dar Amneh has received 60 women as an alternative to protective custody. Twenty-five of the women have been returned to their families.

Harout said the absence of the role of the family coupled with a lack of psychological health care are the main challenges.

“Parents should be aware of how to direct their children and stay close to them and share their problems. Most of the victims were exposed to bad behaviour because of lack of care and support by their families,” he said.