• Angad Chowdhry

The power of the Internet to tackle gender-based violence in Jordan

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Unsplash image by Anton Lecock

Last week, the Netflix original series “Al Rawabi School for Girls” was released, a teen drama written, produced, and directed by Jordanian women. The show highlights issues high school students face, such as bullying, mental health, family honor, and violence against women. The show has garnered media attention and is the number one most watched show on Netflix in Jordan. Its release comes on the heels of a year of increased attention to and activism around violence against women in Jordan.

In May 2021, the Jordanian Criminal Court sentenced a 33-year old man to life in prison for the attempted murder of his wife, Fatmeh, after a domestic dispute at home. The incident was followed by a gruesome murder of a woman by her father that was recorded by a neighbor and widely shared across Jordan in July 2020.

Additional incidents of violence against women and so-called honor killings, the murder of a woman or girl by a family member due to the belief that the victim brought shame to a family, gained significant attention through 2020 and early 2021. Human Rights Watch estimates there are 15 to 20 such crimes each year in Jordan. These incidents set off a social media firestorm and street protests drawing attention to violence against women and so-called honor killings.

The Jordanian government issued a gag order banning the media from reporting on the murders or the public from discussing them on social media. Despite the gag order, women and activists organized several in-person protests against violence against women. Many across the Kingdom drew attention to and denounced the violence on social media.

To better understand shifting public perceptions of violence against women (VAW) in Jordan, Quilt.AI, analyzed 28 search keywords and 14,750 unique searches on Google related to honor killings and VAW, in Arabic and English.

In addition, Quilt.AI used its Cultural AI tool to analyze 2,980 social media posts in Arabic and English from Twitter and Instagram. All of the data collected and analyzed was from March 2020 - March 2021 in Jordan.

Online Searches to Understand Violence Against Women

The digital insights revealed a significant increase in interest in learning about the topic of violence against women in Jordan. Google searches for “عنف ضد المرأة” (violence against women) increased 195% over the course of the search analysis. Similarly, searches for “what is violence against women” and “honor violence” increased by 100%, and searches for “honor crimes” and “stop violence against women” increased 25% and 33%, respectively, over the year. Interest in learning about “العنف المنزلي” (domestic violence) also increased 76%.

Increased Google searches for keywords related to VAW and honor killings indicated spikes in interest that matched social media posts related to individual cases of VAW that gained visibility.

People Increasingly Took to Social Media

Throughout the period of our analysis, Jordanians increasingly took to Instagram and Twitter to share information and outrage regarding incidents of VAW. Each incident of VAW or honor killing sparked the creation of a new hashtag.

Here are some of the examples of some Arabic and English hashtags that became widespread:

  • صرخات_احلام# #ScreamsofAhlam

  • بنت_مستشفى_الجامعة# (University Hospital Girl)

  • جريمة_ماركا# (A crime in Marka, a neighborhood of Amman)

  • أوقفوا_قتل_النساء# and #StopKillingWomen

There were over 4,500 tweets with hashtags related to specific incidents of VAW during the study period. One example is the Instagram post below with art by Lina Abojaradeh Art that included multiple hashtags signifying each victim.

Screenshot of Instagram post from @linaabart signifying multiple honor killings

Several Instagram posts and tweets were calls to join protests or coverage of attending protests against VAW. In July 2020, multiple protests took place in Amman in front of the House of Representatives. For example, the below Tweet highlights images and slogans from the protests.

Twitter post of protests in July 2020 in Jordan calling for an end to VAW

Discourse on VAW focuses on Religion and Law

We ran social media posts related to VAW through our bespoke AI analysis tool to gain insights into the focus of the messages. The highest volume of discourse was related to the categories of spirituality and religion. This means that posters mention religion, in this study, either Islam or Christianity, in their posts around VAW. Posts cited religion and quoted religious texts to argue against violence against women, to pray for the victims, and start discussions on equality of women in Islam.

The second highest volume of discourse was related to law, government, and policy. This is due to discourse calling for a change in the penal code and enforcement to call for harsher sentences on so-called honor killings. Previously, those who killed female relatives in the name of honor had lessened penalties under the law. In 2017, women’s rights activists successfully advocated for amending the penal code and increasing the minimum prison sentence from one year to seven years for those who violate the law. However, there are still loopholes in sentencing for a man that finds his wife in the act of adultery.

Using the Digital platforms to Change Norms

Jordanian gender-based violence expert, journalist, and author of Murder in the Name of Honour, Rana Husseini, asserts that the recent response to the killings is “an important indicator of how society’s attitudes towards gender-based violence have shifted.” Husseini acknowledges the role that civil society, government, the Royal family, and activists have played in raising awareness against violence against women in the last couple of decades.

Moreover, the use of social media has amplified awareness and driven calls to action on-ground. Quilt.AI’s digital insights indicate that efforts to raise awareness against VAW in Jordan manifest online as well. This indicates how activists and civil society organizations can mobilize the public to garner action and end VAW in Jordan.