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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

JORDAN: Iraqi domestic violence victims find shelter

AMMAN, 8 March 2004 (IRIN) - A young Iraqi woman who told workers she was sexually assaulted in a refugee camp is the latest person to be helped by a safehouse run by the Jordanian Women's Union.

Because of societal taboos against speaking about violence against women, those who told the woman's story refused to give any details or to give their own names. But the assaulted woman is just one of hundreds who stay at the safehouse temporarily each year, centre director Hanan Banat, told IRIN.

"Women may be threatened or hurt by families, but our traditions don't accept a woman leaving her home, even if there is violence," Banat said.

In recent months, many of the women at the shelter came from Iraq, Banat said. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently said it will give money to the women's group to help Iraqi refugee women, along with some from Iran and Algeria, who are now in Jordan. Others helped at the shelter come from around the Middle East and sometimes further afield, Banat said.

"These are women who are beaten or assaulted or kicked out of the house," Banat said. "First we had a telephone hotline to report abuse. The shelter idea came because we needed a place to help these people."

About eight to 12 people a day call to get help, Banat said, or up to 50 people a month.

As in many Western countries, the shelter's address remains secret, as do the number of women and children who live there from one day to up to three months. The amount of violence against women in the Middle East appears to be about the same as it is in Western countries. It's just talked about less, shelter workers said.

"They prefer not to talk about their problems, and we don't talk about them either at first," Nadia Shamroukh, director of programmes at the shelter, told IRIN.

At the Jordanian Women's Union office near the shelter, Iraqi refugee women in headscarves can sip cups of tea in one room. They drop their children off in another room so they can deal with paperwork at government offices. Others chat together in a third room filled with Internet-enabled computers.

"We want to work on problems in a comfortable way, not to have our clients stressed," Banat said. "But if the families knew what was going on here, they might try to come get the women."

The director of the women's group, Ghoussan Fahhal, and her colleagues got their start helping Palestinian refugees nearly 30 years ago. The group now has branch offices around Amman offering computer training, sewing instruction and handicraft making.

Even though the safehouse is temporary, it has been a boon to women with no place to go, Fahhal told IRIN. In fact, it is so successful that the Jordanian government recently approved a measure to create a "national guesthouse for women", Fahhal said.

"We managed to solve some issues for them," Fahhal said of the shelter. Up to 10 women can comfortably stay there at one time.

Workers also help Iraqi refugee families at the Al Ruwaishad camp on the Iraq-Jordan border, including some who had previously fled to Iraq from Sudan, Somalia and Chechnya. In at least one case, workers were able to help Palestinian women married to Jordanian men to enter the country by appealing to Jordan's National Centre for Human Rights and the country's Queen Rania for help.

They may be helping Iraqis and others now, but the group's first love is helping Palestinians with income-generation projects and education, Fahhal said.

The group's experiences over the years helped it recently receive the UNHCR 2003 award for the Promotion of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Refugee Women. High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers created the award in 2002 on World Refugee Day.

The Jordanian women's group receives money from UN organizations, from private donors, and from the Jordan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its 18 employees and more than 6,000 volunteers oversee four refugee camps and various programmes and offices in Amman.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Gender Issues



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