Last week I found myself frustrated to hear some of the loudest voices for feminism (put it in inverted commas if you like) becoming embroiled in verbal jousting with members of the transgender community, largely in the bird-cage that is Twitter. Lots of people got offended, quite fairly, there was a lot of puffing and blowing, and no-one seemed to come out of it terribly well.
Why does this matter? Because two Jordanian women have silently suffered domestic violence for years. Because feminism, or equality, is just as important and vital as ever it has been.
In the basement of St George’s Pilgrim House in Madaba, North Jordan, four Christian ladies sit round a towering three tier walnut cake. Madam Hind is short, nicotine-rusted and indomitable, with a Mafioso’s taste in jewellery and a throaty chuckle. Samar is pale, her dark hair sensibly short. There are deep bags below her eyes, but she has a warm and ready smile. Her best friend, Anna, should be on stage. A born entertainer, she cackles, pulls faces, tells bawdy stories and wears high-heeled boots. The three women are joined by a girl, a Palestinian engineering student, also called Hind. Hind has extraordinary eyes, like the blue sky you see when you tilt your chin slightly. It is Mother’s Day, and the three mummies are taking a well-earned break. Their talk is garrulous and lively, but there is a painful undercurrent to their wit.
“Marriage day is the day you go to the grave,” proclaims Anna, her statement followed by hoots of laughter. “I’m a widow of a living man!” The conversation has changed. The women want to talk about life with their husbands. And it isn’t at all funny.
Expected to deal with all the housework and raise numerous children single-handedly, on top of having full-time jobs, their recompense is a husband who ignores them. Or worse.
Samar says she has lost three children by miscarriages that were a result of brutal beatings from their father. William was a relative, ten years her senior. The couple had no choice but to marry: their fathers had decided on the match, and that was final. It hasn’t turned out well. Samar says that the happiest time of her marriage was when William worked away from home for several months. And although Samar utterly despises him, they have had four sons. Their marriage bed doesn’t bear thinking about. “I believe Hell is here, is now,” she explains, “And Heaven is when we die.” You get the sense that, but for her sons, she might be tempted to explore the second option.
The ladies think that about 80% of women probably want a divorce, but feel that the ensuing social stigma would be too much to bear. They stay positive by reading self-help books and holding tight to their Christian faith, an astonishing feat of mental toughness.
Their story is sadly all too real and all too relevant. If the recent protests and outrage in Delhi are anything to go by, the world is waking up to the violence to which some women are still subjected. But we need strong, sensible feminist voices to bring our attention to continuing injustices like this.