Personal Status Law Reform in Jordan: State Bargains and Women's Rights in the Law
Despite numerous attempts at reform over the past decade and a half, the Jordanian government has failed to permanently amend its Personal Status Law (PSL). One of the most controversial issues standing in the way of reform is women's right to divorce. In 2001, Jordan introduced a new PSL that included the khul' clause, which gave women the right to dissolve a marriage by waiving their marital rights and offering financial compensation to the husband. Under the modified law, the judge could grant a divorce, even if the husband did not agree--a law that broke from the traditional legal application of khul'. After the lower house of parliament rejected the law twice, Jordan revised its PSL again in 2010 by repealing the controversial judicial khul' law and introducing a new type of divorce, iftida', that guaranteed women the same rights in a way that was deemed more culturally appropriate. This suggests that the government sought to expand women's rights in a way that adheres to cultural norms, yet despite this, the law has not been ratified and remains as a temporary law.This paper explores the reasons for Jordan's failure to enact permanent, more progressive rights for women in the law, as well as the contours of the debate over reform. PSL reform represents a departure from cultural and religious tradition and thus has become an arena for contestation over competing notions of cultural authenticity. The case of khul' and PSL reform in Jordan highlights tensions that exist regarding such competing claims of cultural authenticity, questions of political and religious legitimacy, and the authority of the state. Family law reform provides a lens through which one can examine the complex relationship between the state and women's rights in Jordan, as the state's interests are invariably represented in the reforms, but such interests do not always support expanded rights for women in the law. This study examines the ways in which the various actors involved in reform--the monarchy, parliamentary representatives, women's rights activists, Islamists, the international community, and the religious courts--interact and bargain with one another over issues pertaining to women and the family. Focusing specifically on the issue of divorce for women and taking a closer look at how PSL reform in Jordan has been facilitated or obstructed at different times by the actors involved demonstrates how and why the relationship between these groups and their competing claims of cultural authenticity ultimately result in decreased gender justice for women in the law.
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