Our seminar at the Jordan University for Science and Technology in Irbid was yet again a new and exciting experience. The women here were in their 30's and 40's, and all master students of nursing, many of whom have been practicing maternal health for many years, as well as professors and directors of health programs.
We presented our Woman Warrior program which our audience connected to as they too are breaking boundaries in their own communities by engaging in unconventional careers instead of the traditional choice of being housewives. “I am a doctor because I always insisted.” Said Laila, a director at the School of Nursing. I did not take no for an answer when my family and friends disagreed with my choice of education and profession. Now, they are all very proud of me, but it took a long time.”
The timing issue came up a lot: “You can’t make change over night, but little by little, change can and is happening in Jordan,” a professor offered.
One topic of conversation that surprised us was that of female sexuality. The discussion stemmed from Face, a film that we have not been able to show anywhere else in Jordan. The group was candid about their thoughts, their personal relationships and their work with women in hospitals and clinics. Although we had had some worries about showing the piece, several women chose it as their favorite of the program.
One woman told us about her first experience with a sexuality question: “I was very surprised the first time a woman came to me and asked me if I could help her learn how to please her husband. Sex in our culture is something that is not spoken about openly, not even in the bedroom.” I laughed, “It’s not easy in our culture either unfortunately, but we do focus on educating both boys and girls from a young age so they know how to protect themselves and how to say ‘no’ when they do not want to engage in sexual situations.” Another woman continued: “Yes, here too, we are fighting to start courses on sexual health starting in the 4th grade.”
The group turned to the problems experienced by women with sexual rights in Jordan: (i) how to say no, even to their husbands, so they can decide when and how they have sex, (ii) physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, (iii) the fight for reproductive rights and female health government support, and (iv) the high maternal mortality rate due to the quality of care and distribution of resources between the rural and urban populations.
We did meet some resistance. One woman kept saying how it was not bad for women in Jordan, how they could be free and open like Western women. “Yes, but that is because you have a progressive husband,” another woman in the group responded, “it is not the same for many women here.
Overall, most women agreed that these were cultural and human rights issues, and in order to be effective, activists and NGOs must stay away from religion in their work and discussions.
“The problem is that men here are obsessed with the vagina!” exclaimed one of the woman. “Amen to that sister,” Suzie and I echoed with enthusiasm.
In the end however, the emphasis moved away from sexuality and towards the freedom of the mind. Many of the women explained how it was not about the physical, it was not about their choice of dress; the most important thing was to have a free mind: “I think that if you change your mind, you can change your life. Confidence is important and these films can help provide such confidence.”
We left inspired and hopeful. These were the women of tomorrow, the leaders and mothers who will raise free thinking students and children who will transform Jordanian society into a more tolerant, gender equal and safe place for women.
WVN Executive Director