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Sexuality and Honor Killing in Jordan

Sexuality and Honor Killing in Jordan

Maybe it was the progression of conversation that startled me. Or that most cases of adultery in America end in a sleuth of curse words and regret for lack of a better prenup.

Over tea with my homestay family, a traditional Muslim family consisting of seven sisters and three brothers, I asked Hadeel–a 26 year old sister who works for Jordanian Customs–if it makes her uncomfortable that I have a boyfriend back in the states.

“No,” she told me. “What you do there it is your life; in our culture it is different.”

This segwayed into the topic of sexuality in Jordan. “If a Jordanian woman is harassed, the family will often take care of it,” Hadeel said nonchalantly. Then, with a shrug, “But if a girl has sex before she his married, her family will kill her.”

The role of honor in Jordan is largely incomparable to the provoked feelings of pride

Marj Al-Hammam, where a 19-year-old man killed his 17-year-old girlfriend who may have been pregnant last month to restore honor to his family.

Americans tend to feel in times of familial hardship or workplace instability.

Silly me for thinking honor killings were a thing of the past in Jordan–for assuming these kinds of rituals only happened in Saudi Arabia or rural Yemen or Libya.

“[Disavowing honor] is a disgrace to the family,” Hadeel told me. “When a woman does this, every family member going back to the third grandfather must leave the area.”

Jordan is rumored to have one of the highest per-capita rates of honor killings in the world–about 25 women per year in a country of less than six million. In America, 2,397 people are killed every year by familial violence, girlfriends or boyfriends. Roughly half are female.

The tradition of honor killing in Amman can be traced back to Bedouin tribes in the

Badia region of southern Jordan. These nomad tribes who roam the Badia have long-set guidelines for handling premarital sex and adultery.

In the city, some families will try to cover sexual indecency by marrying a a girl to her cousin and never speaking of it again. If a woman is raped, often she’s not killed but married to the man who raped her (“after he is punished, of course”).

Premarital sex and adultery not only ruin the lives of the women who commit them here, but the lives and reputation of the entire family. It breaks tribal ties, affects

King Abdullah II, who is of Bedouin descent, has been working to stop honor killings for the past decade.

employment, and prevents second, third, and fourth female cousins from being married.

Honor killing typically lands the perpetrator (usually a male member in the family or boyfriend) a few months in jail. The more violent the crime, however, the longer the sentence.

“Everyone here talks. If it happens, we hear about it. It is not common,” Hadeel told me. Last month, a violent killing in Marj Al-Hammam–an area mostly home to Jordanian soldiers–spurred much gossip and speculation amidst the city. But as in the States, it only takes a few weeks for gossip to recede and the families involved to reap the repercussions.

In Marj Al-Hammam, a man received six months in jail for setting his pregnant girlfriend aflame and throwing her in a dumpster. But in Jordan, a violent pursuit of lost honor will never wholly repair the shattered reputation left in its ashes.

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