Monday, August 22, 2011

Equal Before The Law

By Nermeen Murad
Morocco’s new constitution stipulates that it is a charter for human rights, as well as for the rights and duties of citizenship. In this context, it claims, the supremacy of international charters is asserted over the national legislation, as is equality between men and women, when it comes to civil rights, in the context of respect for the rulings of the constitution and the laws of the kingdom, which are inspired from Islam.
It also confirms the equality of men and women when it comes to all political, economic, social and cultural rights, and sets up mechanisms to promote gender equality.
Article 10 of the Turkish constitution guarantees that all individuals are equal without any discrimination before the law, irrespective of language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any other considerations. It further adds that men and women have equal rights. It stipulates that the state has the obligation to ensure that this equality exists in practice.
It warns that no privilege shall be granted to any individual, family, group or class and, finally, it proclaims that state organs and administrative authorities shall act in compliance with the principle of equality before the law in all their proceedings.
The Bangladeshi constitution states that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. It adds that women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state and of public life. No citizen shall, on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to any place of public entertainment or resort, or admission to any educational institution.
“Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making special provision in favour of women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens,” it adds.
The Qatari constitution says that all persons are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex, race, language or religion.
These are only some examples of constitutions of other Arab and Muslim states, to be used as a reminder of where we are along the scale of equality and how we compare with equally conservative, Arab and Muslim countries.
This week, we in Jordan watched the delivery of the new draft of the Jordanian Constitution, only to find out that in somebody’s grand wisdom, it was decided that Jordanian women are not necessarily equal to Jordanian men and therefore the Kingdom is now not constitutionally committed to the principle of equality for all its citizens, only the men among them.
One of the Jordanian “statesmen” entrusted with the task of drafting the new constitution added insult to injury by proclaiming that women ”should work to establish their presence in society” because the hindrance to their equal status, in his opinion, “is the culture and the mindset which can’t be controlled by the Constitution”.
If we follow his line of reasoning, then our Constitution should not mention any category, including religion, language and ethnicity, and we just ask those Jordanians who belong to non-mainstream (male) communities to just go ahead and lobby for themselves against discrimination without any state or legal protection.
It would be an interesting state of affairs where Christians and other religious minorities would have to fend for themselves and create campaigns to change the culture and mindset of some Jordanians who do not view them as equal citizens.
Or is it just women who need to do that?
Another member of the committee entrusted with redrafting the Constitution let on in a closed briefing to political experts and personalities that the “political price” of granting women constitutional equality would have scuttled the whole political reform effort.
There is this quiet whispering and resigned raising of the brows as the word “nationality” buzzes around us to somehow give the impression that women were not granted equality in Jordan only because there are hundreds of thousands (exaggerated) of Jordanian women married to poor desperate Palestinians and these would change the ethnic and economic makeup of Jordan and irrevocably change its political identity - if not empty the whole Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of its men who would be rushing across the borders to marry Jordanian women and take their nationality for their offspring.
If it were not so sad, embarrassing and demeaning to our Jordanian men and women - and a huge black mark on the country’s reputation and international standing - it would actually be sarcastically hilarious that the team of elders entrusted with the historical duty of taking Jordan to another level failed in one of the first and most important articles of the Constitution - the one that guarantees all the Kingdom’s citizens equality before the law.
They effectively relegated half of the population to a substandard and lowlier level of citizenship based on their sex, starkly highlighting the irony of their decision to deny women equality in their country.
Women leaders met to discuss this development and their meeting was characterised by disappointment, shock and incredulity that they - half of the Jordanian population - were bartered easily just to avoid a political headache and clash with xenophobes and male supremacists.
An air of resigned sadness permeated the atmosphere while they tried to find excuses for the betrayal they just experienced. One of them proclaimed: “Today our voice was silenced.”
I add: “Today our citizenship was stolen.”
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 22/08/2011

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