Jordanian Women’s Evolving Role in the Armed Forces

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Photo Credit: United Nations Radio http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2014/05/peacekeeping-adapts-to-new-challenges/#.WZdcmLYrKi4

 

By Jumana Kawar

 

“I love my country and the forces, and in the future if I have children, I will encourage them to join the military especially my girl,” says First Lieutenant Safaa Altahat in an interview about the role of Jordanian women in the military.[1] As the Jordanian Air Force prepares for the first group of female pilot recruits to join its ranks, one thing is obvious – the mentality among Jordanians about the role of women in the security sector is changing. Despite the fact that military is heavily male-dominated and conservative, it has provided women with well-paying jobs and an empowering work environment.

 

Jordan’s high female literacy rate of ninety seven percent has been met by a very low percentage of female participation in Jordan’s workforce. According to Jordan’s National Employment Strategy 2011-2020, unemployed women in Jordan are overwhelmingly university graduates.[2] Forty five percent of the public-sector employees are women and only thirteen percent are in the private sector where employers prefer to hire males over females.[3] In Jordan, employers worry that women will not show up to work because their families refuse to let them work or that they will not be able to work late hours as the job demands.[4] Not to mention, limiting opportunities especially for married women who are considered “less appealing” because they will have to take maternity leave.[5]

 

The Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) however have brilliantly appealed to this untapped and very educated group of the society. According to a 2006 NATO report about the status of women in the Jordanian military, the armed forces have more female applicants than it can accommodate.[6] While skills training and good benefits are attractive incentives for women to join the military, the institution takes a step further to ensure equal pay for women, promotion according to seniority and professional qualifications, and guarantees benefits such as three-month maternity leave.[7] In 2016, the Directorate of Women’s Military Affairs at JAF set a goal to reach a three percent female officer representation in non-medical career fields and to provide servicewomen with wider career opportunities through adopting a three-year action plan for implementing the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325.[8]

 

Servicewomen in the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF)

Integrating women in the Jordanian military began in the early 1950s in the field of education in military schools.  In 1962, the military established Princess Muna Nursing College, which opened up the door to recruiting more women in the medical field.  The first group of eight women graduated from the nursing college in 1965 and then joined the military services. They were awarded the rank of second lieutenant.  In 1973, the Armed Forces began recruiting women college graduates as officers for administrative positions such as computer programmers, accountants, secretaries, and typists.[9]

 

In the early 1990s, Princes Aisha Bint Al-Hussein and her cousin Princess Basma Bint Ali Bin Nayef petitioned the late King Hussein requesting the involvement of women in the Jordanian military.  Under royal orders, a research office was created in 1993 for this purpose. In 1995, the Directorate of Women’s Affairs – later changed to Directorate of Women’s Military Affairs– was established to advance women’s roles in the armed forces and improve their skills.[10] Even though royal authority initiated this program, Princess Major General Aisha Bint Al-Hussein earned her military rank and ran the directorate since its inception. Not only did her military career earn her this position and respect in the armed forces, it also enforced the role of women in serving their country. She was the first female from the Middle East to complete five military parachute jumps, receive her wings, and attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom.[11] During her stay in Britain, she gained insight on how to advance the role of women in the military by visiting all of the female military establishments in Britain.[12]

 

Fundamental to the directorate’s mission is providing the servicewomen with the appropriate training and education to ensure that the soldiers are executing their jobs to the highest standards. The directorate successfully cultivated relations with foreign military institutions, which allowed JAF female officers unique education and training opportunities. Drafting and implementing rules and regulations that pertain to women officers in the military are also among the directorate’s duties.  For example, the directorate put in place the rules of maternity leave and uniform design for women.

 

Key to the directorate’s success is seeking gradual change while demonstrating women’s competence in military careers to win respect, rather than demand opportunity based on the equal rights claim.[13] The directorate also takes into consideration cultural appropriateness, for example it allows Muslim servicewomen to wear the hijab as part of their uniform. This approach demonstrated to Jordanians that women can serve their country without jeopardizing cultural norms. In fact, Jordanians are very proud of the women serving. They often refer to the success of Retired Major General Falak Jamaani, who served for twenty sevent years as a career army dentist and then became the second female member of the parliament to win the election outside the quota election system in Jordan for her home district of Madaba.

 

The 2005 Amman bombings was a wakeup call for Jordan. Four suicide bombings targeted three hotels in Amman; three exploded and one failed to detonate. An Iraqi female terrorist by the name of Sajida Mubarak Atrous Al-Rishawi targeted the Raddisson SAS hotel with her husband. When she encountered trouble detonating her bomb, her husband told her to leave the hotel. He then set off his belt killing innocent civilians at a wedding.[14] Al-Rishawi was believed to be the sister of a close ally of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who ran the Al-Qaeda militant group in Iraq. She was then arrested and later executed by the Jordanian Government.

 

This attack signaled the need for more women in the security sector who are able to work in counterterrorism and intelligence forces. In 2006, women began receiving all specialized training programs identical to men.[15] More opportunities became available to women as military policewomen, bodyguards at the Royal Guard Protection Unit, military intelligence officers, religious preachers, and air traffic controllers. Moreover, the directorate established the first female company for special security tasks through which servicewomen received the necessary training to carry counterterrorism and crisis management operations, protect personnel, and provide security at airports and conferences. Their training included shooting, raiding, and evacuating hostages by sea, air, and land. In 2015, the female company for special security tasks was the first Arab female armed forces company to participate in the 15th NATO Days in Ostrava, the largest security show in Europe.[16]

 

Internationally, Jordanian servicewomen in the military, police, and civil defense are increasingly participating in the United Nations Peacekeeping operations and other NATO missions.[17] In Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they participated as medics. In West Darfur female Jordanian police advisors took part in the African-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).[18] In Afghanistan, Jordanian servicewomen took part in Task Force 222, Task Force 333, and other NATO International Security Assistance Force missions as trainers; their participation was essential to communicating important cultural and religious perspectives for women.[19] Despite women’s significant contribution to these missions, Jordan is not meeting its Department of Peacekeeping Operations target of twenty percent women participation in all peace contingents.[20] Out of 61,611 Jordanian peacekeepers, only 40 women deployed over the last ten years.[21]

 

Efforts and Obstacles in Implementing UNSCR 1325 and its Subsequent Resolutions in Jordan

The Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) began drafting a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement UNSCR 1325 and subsequent resolutions in 2010. The commission submitted the draft to the Government in 2012, but it remained under review for three years. From the Government’s perspective, the drafting process lacked local engagement and suffered from limited awareness-raising efforts.[22] It was not until 2015 that the Government of Jordan recommitted to accelerating adopting its NAP during the Global Gender Summit held at the UN General Assembly. Soon after the Summit, the JNCW re-launched the effort to develop a comprehensive NAP draft and an implementation process. Meanwhile, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders facilitated a NAP cost and budgeting workshop in Jordan.

 

In early 2016, JNCW reached out to local communities around Jordan through participatory consultations and dialogues. Some of the key issues identified during these consultations were unemployment, poverty and gender-based violence as overarching threats to communities. Some participants discussed the threat of political violence resulting from tribal conflicts and violent extremism, and they identified women as key players in preventing their family members from joining radical groups. One of the key recommendations through these consultations was to increase the number of women in the security sector including police and military forces.[23]

 

JAF’s Three-Year Action Plan for Integrating UNSCR 1325

The DWMA is leading an effort to increase the number of servicewomen in the military and peacekeeping missions through a three-year action plan for integrating UNSCR 1325. In line with this effort, Norway and the Czech Republic are providing JAF with the necessary funding to build a modern training center that can accommodate a larger number of servicewomen.

 

The action plan puts a way forward to increasing the number of servicewomen in the armed forces and the Royal Military Police to three percent through active recruiting efforts.  Some of the efforts include increasing the number of recruitment field officers, establishing women Quick Reaction Force, and transforming field platoons into companies to absorb larger numbers. Fundamental to this action plan is involving a wide number of military directorates and entities to provide the servicewomen with the necessary education and training to carry their responsibilities. For example, the action plan seeks to involve the directorate of personnel affairs at the Center of Excellence, Royal Jordanian Command and Staff College, Directorate of Infantry and Armor, and Directorate of Joint Training to provide basic and advanced tactical courses.

 

If successful, JAF will be in a unique position in the Arab world to further contribute to the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Internationally, JAF will be able to increase the number of women partaking in peacekeeping operations. Regionally, female soldiers can play an imperative role on the borders alongside their male counterparts in extending humanitarian assistance and medical care to Syrian refugees, especially at a time when both international aid and humanitarian support are diminishing. But most importantly, increasing the number of women in the security sector will best serve Jordan’s interests and its ability in dealing with emerging security threats such as radicalization and terrorism.

 

Jumana Kawar is a faculty associate at the Naval Postgraduate School, National Security Affairs Department. She holds a Master’s of Science degree in Global Affairs from New York University (2012) and a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago (2008).

 

 

[1]NATO Video: The Growing Role of Jordanian Servicewomen. 4 August 2014.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO8qiRX1NAY

[2] Jordan’s National Employment Strategy 2011-2020. Web: http://inform.gov.jo/en-us/By-Date/Report-Details/ArticleId/36/National-Employment-Strategy

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] NATO National Report: Jordan Armed Forces 2006. Web: http://www.nato.int/ims/2006/win/pdf/jordan_brief.pdf

[8] NATO PfP Trust Fund Report: Jordan III. January 2017. Web: https://salw.hq.nato.int/Content/factsheets/Factsheet%20Jordan%20III_en%20Jan%202017.pdf

[9] History of Women in the Jordan Armed Forces. Web: https://www.jaf.mil.jo/Contents/Woman_in_Army_forcesar.aspx#.WcAv1bYrKi4

[10] NATO National Report: Jordan Armed Forces 2006.

[11] Her Royal Highness Princess Aisha Bint Al Hussein’s Biography. Web: http://www.jordanembassyus.org/royal-family/her-royal-highness-princess-aisha-bint-al-hussein

[12] Ibid.

[13] Catherine Warrick. Law in the Service of Legitimacy: Gender and Politics in Jordan. Ashgate Publishing Limited: Britain. 2009. P. 137.

[14] Lamiat Sabin. Who is Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, the female suicide bomber at the heart of “ISIS” Japanese Prisoner Swap Plan? 24 January 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/who-is-sajida-mubarak-atrous-al-rishawi-the-female-suicide-bomber-at-the-heart-of-isis-prisoner-swap-10000572.html

[15] NATO National Report: Jordan Armed Forces 2006.

[16] Performance of female Unit of Jordan Armed Forces was among the Most Attractive Moments of NATO Days in Ostrava. 01 December 2015. Web:  http://www.mzv.cz/amman/en/nato_contact_point_embassy/performance_of_female_unit_of_the_jordan.html

[17] Rana Husseini. Role of Jordanian Women in Peacekeeping Missions Lauded. 23 May 2016. Web: http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/role-jordanian-women-peacekeeping-missions-lauded

[18] Peacekeeping Adapts to New Challenges. United Nations Radio: 29 May 2014.  http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2014/05/peacekeeping-adapts-to-new-challenges/#.WZdcmLYrKi4

[19]Dave Overson. Afghan Women May Shape Future. 21 December 2012. Web:  https://www.army.mil/article/93423

[20] Implementation of the UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in the Arab States.  10 December 2015. Web: http://iknowpolitics.org/en/discuss/e-discussions/implementation-unscr-1325-women-peace-and-security-arab-states

[21] Ibid.

[22]Mavic Cabrera-Balleza and Agnieszka Santos. NAP Costing and Budgeting Workshop in Jordan: Bringing the NAP One Step Closer to Effective Implementation. August 2016.  http://peacewomen.org/resource/nap-costing-and-budgeting-workshop-jordan-bringing-nap-one-step-closer-effective

[23] Synthesis Report: A National Dialogue on UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace, and Security in Jordan: A Resolution in Action.  UN Women. 2016.  Web: http://jordan.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/8/a-national-dialogue-on-unscr-1325-women-peace-and-security-in-jordan-a-resolution-in-action

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