Jordan

Country: Jordan

Population: 6.459 million

Estimated prevalence among women aged 15-49: Unknown

There have been no widespread studies conducted in Jordan to quantify the prevalence of FGC.  It is generally believed that FGC does not exist. However, it has been suggested that there is a high prevalence rate of FGC amongst an unnamed Jordanian tribe of Egyptian decent, which predominantly resides in Rahmah, Aqaba. The small town has a population of around 500 inhabitants.

In 1999 The Jordan Times conducted a health survey in Rahmah and held interviews with local women who expressed an array of attitudes towards the practice. In Aqaba, most doctors and officials denied any knowledge of the practice of FGC by the tribe in Rahmah. Despite this Maria-Luisa Galer, a general practitioner at the Jordanian Society for Family Planning and Protection in Aqaba, said she had seen three cases of circumcised Jordanian women throughout her career.

Type practised: Unknown

It has been suggested that Type I is the most prominent form of FGC practiced in Rahmah, identified through medical examinations. The village survey identified two circumcisers, known as "shalabiyyahs", elderly women who often use Islam as a justification for the continuation of the practice, whilst advocating its health benefits and warning of dire social consequences for those who remain uncut. It was documented that most girls were cut between the ages of 8 and 12 years old. Due to unsanitary conditions, infections and infertility are often unavoidable. Many of the women interviewed deemed the practice unhealthy and in some cases fatal, expressing a desire to protect their daughters from undergoing FGC.

Legal status:

There is currently no law banning FGC in Jordan. Government officials use very low prevalence rates of FGC to justify the lack of legislation banning the practice. In tribal communities where the practice has been identified, it is often delegitimised as being a ‘Jordanian problem’ as the tribe is of Egyptian decent. Similarly, religion is also used to deny the existence of the practice,

“[FGC] has not flourished here [Jordan] because it has no basis in Islamic doctrine and no infrastructure to support it, as doctors, mosque preachers and officials, do not encourage it.”

This being said, it is suggested that some government initiatives have admitted small prevalence rates of FGC and have developed strategies based on the cooperation between the region’s elders, women and circumcisers to gradually reduce the practice.

History of FGC:

FGC is believed to have been brought to Rahmah and other villages dotting the sand swept Wadi Araba region by tribes and nomadic Bedouins who roamed across the boundary-less region decades ago, before they were forced to settle down in areas bordering Israel after the 1967 occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, the Negev desert and the Gaza Strip. Many of these clans, including the tribe living in Rahmah, trace their origins back to the Sinai Peninsula where FGC endures.

A crack erupted in the wall of silence surrounding the practice in Jordan after social workers came across it during a study conducted on the health needs of Rahmah. The discovery resulted in a brief article which ran in one of the weeklies and enraged Rahmah’s elders, who saw it as “defaming their women”.  Within days, the social workers supervising the community development project were subjected to intimidation and asked to leave the village, after pledging in writing that they would never talk about the practice again.

It has been suggested that urbanization and growing literacy have helped dilute such traditions. There has been a large migration of tribespeople from Rahmah to Shallalah, despite the close proximity of the villages the migration has resulted in a declining trend in prevalence rates. This could also be attributed to the lower prevalence rates of FGC in Shallalah, the local disregard of the practice could be influencing newcomers to abandon the practice and shift their cultural norms.

Current efforts to abandon FGC:

There has been a sufficient lack of literature on FGC in Jordan in recent years. However, stemming from the study undertaken in Rahmah in the late 1990s, many of the younger participants interviewed voiced their concerns with the practice of FGC, stating severe psychological and medical repercussions experienced, including damaging impacts on women’s sexuality and reproductive health. Some women advocated against the practice but feared its continuation due to the deep-seated cultural and religious weight the practice carried.

“We see circumcision as halal (allowed by religion), and therefore all the women in our tribe are circumcized,” said a 60-year-old mother of ten. “If a woman is not circumcized, then she is not as fertile as her circumcized peers. Uncircumcized women are also considered nijes (not pure), so their homes will be shunned by elder tribesmen. Their food does not taste good so no one will eat from it, their face will not glow, and their chastity and sexuality is not safeguarded.”

Anne Skatvedf, UNICEFs representative in Jordan, identified a need for the organisation to show commitment to ending the practice in the communities affected. Similarly The Centre for Social Development ran an awareness project in Rahmah, however was unwilling to discuss progress and achievements.

Ongoing challenges:

The interviews conducted revealed that tribeswomen in Rahmah held mixed opinions on the subject of FGC. Some women suggested that Islam does not encourage FGC, but despite this understanding felt they lacked the agency to defy village elders who held the tradition in high regard.

 “Even if we are against it, we cannot convince our husbands, let alone, society,” said one woman in her early 20s.

Lack of education was identified as a potential barrier to reducing the practice of FGC. In particular when considering deeply entrenched cultural myths that permeate the minds of youth, who are unequipped with the knowledge to challenge such sentiment;

"If you don’t remove it [clitoris], it will grow bigger and bigger until it looks like the man’s [penis]. Then the woman will be [sexually] demanding like a man.”

Galer, a local GP, also uses lack of education as a distinguishing factor when identifying women and girls at risk of FGC. She explains that uneducated women, as compared to educated women, rarely seek medical advice and suggests that a lack of education perpetuates the practice.

Major languages:

Arabic

Major religions:

Sunni Muslim – 95%

Sufi, Shiite and Baha'i – 5%

In the news:

The Jordan Times - Jordan ranked 58th for opportunities for girls; Jordanian women more vulnerable to child marriage and FGM, says new report released by Save the Children

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