To mark 16 Days of Activism, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s Program Manager in Jordan, Nada Heyari, sat down with three women from our partner organizations who are working to end violence against women and girls in their communities.
“Being a psychologist is where I find myself,” says Dr. Malak Saoudi, a 32-year-old psychological and social work expert from Jordan. Dr. Malak’s interest in psychology started young, but she felt family pressure to study English Literature as an undergraduate. She says she ‘endured’ the course of study, and after graduating insisted she follow her true passion. Soon after, she obtained her master’s degree in Psychology before earning a PhD in social counselling. Dr. Malak now works in Jordan for ABA ROLI’s partner, Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI). Established in 1998, SIGI provides psychosocial and legal aid services to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and advocates for legal and policy reform to strengthen women’s rights in Jordan. Through SIGI, Dr. Malak provides vital psychological counselling services to women experiencing GBV.
In 2022, the Global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is continuing its multi-year theme focused on ending violence against women and girls. A component of GBV is femicide, which is broadly defined as the intentional murder of women and girls. Through media monitoring, SIGI identified 14 women who were victims of femicide in Jordan inIn July 2022, women’s rights activists in Amman attended a silent sit-in at the country’s Parliament to bring attention to what they say is an increasing number of femicide cases and to demand accountability for Dr. Malak hopes this year’s Global 16 Days Campaign will lead to an increase in public dialogue on GBV and greater accountability for perpetrators.
Reflecting on the campaign theme, Dr. Malak says when she was younger, she never heard about cases of femicide – they simply weren’t reported or discussed. Today, however, she notes how media stories of femicide are an almost daily occurrence. Dr. Malak credits the increased coverage to raising public awareness on femicide, but at the same time, implores media outlets to think carefully about how cases are reported. Most stories, Dr. Malak explains, tell us a woman has been killed. She argues that we need to reframe the narrative to have a perpetrator focus and must refer to the crime as a homicide, in which a woman or girl has been murdered, and typically by a man or boy, because of her gender.
In addition to changes in media reporting, Dr. Malak hopes that the campaign will strengthen perpetrator accountability. Dr. Malak notes that a strong legislative framework is essential to ending femicide in Jordan, including increased penalties for perpetrators of GBV. Drawing on her experience as a psychologist, she stresses the importance of providing perpetrators with the support they need to address their violence and minimize the likelihood of reoffending. She also argues that ending femicide in Jordan hinges on a stronger protection framework which makes reporting incidents of violence safer and more accessible for the public, and GBV responders such as herself. Dr. Malak’s recommendations are reflected in SIGI’s upcoming advocacy work to mark the Global 16 Days Campaign. Starting this month, SIGI will be documenting and sharing accounts of femicide in Jordan. Each story will examine the role of the law in each case and how it ultimately failed to protect the women concerned and the social ramifications of that failure.
Dr. Malak’s insights and SIGI’s work documenting GBV in Jordan are crucial for development partners such as ABA ROLI; they shape programming, guide technical approaches, and inform advocacy priorities. During this Global 16 Days Campaign, ABA ROLI celebrates the work of its partners and their staff, and honors the depth of their expertise and experience, alongside their tireless dedication to combat gender-based violence.
Working on GBV is physically and mentally taxing. When asked what motivates her to keep going under such difficult circumstances, Dr. Malak is clear that drive comes from the deeply held belief that all people deserve to live free from violence. She highlights a crucial point that anyone who considers a career as a GBV caseworker share the same conviction. Dr. Malak is proud of her work and remains motivated by her clients who often look forward to their sessions that allow them to talk openly in a safe space and get the psychological support they need.
Exploring what could contribute to reducing GBV, Dr. Malak would like to see more public condemnation of violence perpetrated against women and girls. Throughout, she rejects any normalization or acceptance of violence and demands greater reporting and accountability. Her message is unmistakable: “No one should be subjected to violence.” Asked what advice she would give to young women wanting to become GBV case workers, Dr. Malak stressed the need for individuals to hold a strong belief that all forms of violence are equally unacceptable, each demand the same amount of attention and effort to address, and at the core - violence should never become normalized.
Why should a woman be told to go home before dark? Why shouldn’t we as women report harassment and take action against the perpetrators?
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across the Middle East and North Africa.