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3 August 2017

A victory that must be followed up on

By: Daoud Kuttab
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In a matter of weeks, non-violent protesters and civil society activists marked two important victories in Jerusalem and Amman.
 
After two weeks of praying outside Al Aqsa Mosque, Palestinians succeeded in getting Israel to reverse all the changes that they tried to impose on entry to this holy place in Jerusalem.
 
In Amman, parliament went against its own judicial committee and voted to abolish Article 308 of the Penal Code, which allowed rapists to be free if their victims agreed to be married to their aggressors.
 
These victories are important and signal people power, but such impressive results are worthless if they are not followed up on.
 
In Jerusalem, we already saw Israel allowing a record number of extremist Jews to enter the mosque illegally, using the Moghrabi Gate, on the day Jews remember the destruction of their temple.
 
The massive actions in Amman that saw unity of purpose among the usually divided women’s movement and civil society at large were impressive.
 
The online and street protests, as well as the successful lobbying of parliamentarians shows that civil society can accomplish a lot if it puts its mind to it.
 
The issues that surround Article 308 are not gone just because the law was cancelled. Much more effort is needed to amend the Personal Status Law and other pertinent laws that affect the lives of Jordanians.
 
Some argue that opening up discussion on the Personal Status Law might be a problem and will expose many deeper issues that have been left hidden under the rug.
 
Issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption are all codified in this law that has been around for years without anyone daring to touch it.
 
The fear that opening up this Pandora’s box would stir social unrest or political backlash should not be a deterrent to a serious common effort.
 
It is important that activists agree on a set of possible amendments that a large segment of civil society and women’s activists can unite behind.
 
Something as simple as allowing DNA results to confirm parenthood could save the lives and future of many children who are denied a family name because they were born out of wedlock.
 
With the cancellation by the Lower House (and, hopefully, soon by the Senate) of this embarrassing article in the Penal Code, it is likely that parliament will take a summer break.
 
This break in the deliberations of the Jordanian legislature is a perfect opportunity to launch a discussion on the priorities that progressive Jordanians want to see change in the Personal Status Law as a follow up to the removal of Article 308 from the Penal Code.
 
It is of high urgency to keep the momentum that began with the changes in the Penal Code and the fact that members of parliament (and the government) proved that they are receptive to public demands.
 
Civil society coalitions such as Himam, along with various women’s movements and progressive bodies, need to get together and begin a serious discussion about the priorities that must be addressed in the coming legislative season.
 
Doable and reasonable amendments should be agreed to by the largest group possible and then a serious unified effort must be made to explain problems to the public and lobby the government, and when parliament is back in session, lobby by the MPs to introduce such changes to the Personal Status Law that now is keeping families apart, causing suffering to a large sector of society and inflicting unnecessary hardships on innocent, defenceless, children.
 
Building on the success of Tuesday’s vote in the Lower House will be a test of whether Jordanian civil society has the stamina and ability to help build a 21st century progressive society that respects the individual and the family in Jordan.
 
As to building on the success of the people of Jerusalem, it is important to recognise that it is necessary for Jordan, Palestine and others to be supportive of the people of Jerusalem in their non-violent struggle for dignity and freedom.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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