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.
Enas Dergham, also known as Um Yanal (or Mother of Yanal), is famous for the delicious foods and sweets she prepares, and when she is not busy with her job as a legal and social counselor with the Family Guidance and Awareness Center (FGAC) in Zarqa, Jordan, she is dedicated to her kitchen. Established in 1996, FGAC provides psycho-social, legal, healthcare, and other essential services to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) throughout Zarqa Governorate—an area that includes both large built-up industrial cities and sparsely populated rural communities. Like other areas of Jordan, Zarqa has a long history of welcoming refugees, including Palestinians, Iraqis, and most recently, Syrians. It is a religiously conservative area with strong tribal networks.
As a child, Enas found a role as a mediator among her friends, intervening in conflicts among classmates to find solutions. After graduating with a law degree, Enas was living with her family when a neighbor approached her parents saying that her qualifications and her natural peacemaking qualities would make her a great fit in her organization, FGAC. That was 23 years ago, and Enas has been working with FGAC ever since.
Most women seeking FGAC’s support are experiencing domestic violence at home, usually perpetrated by their husband. Recalling the early days of her career, when she was newly married, Enas said she would carry the stories of violence from work to home. She grew worried that the marital violence she saw every day would take root in her own marriage. These concerns led to noticeable anxiety, and eventually, her mother told her that she needed to have better separation between work and home life by ‘closing a door’ between her two worlds. Not wanting to leave a job she loved, but understanding her mother’s point, Enas tried to build a boundary between her personal and professional life.
Twenty-three years ago, Enas says that violence against women and girls was a taboo and simply never discussed in public. But with a career spanning two decades, Enas has also seen the progress made in Jordan—for example, the government now has a dedicated police unit that responds to incidences of family violence. The police in this unit have received specialized training in working with survivors and/or families affected by domestic violence. Enas has also noted a greater willingness to discuss GBV openly, which is crucial in enabling and encouraging survivors to come forward and seek assistance. Despite some positive advances, Enas says there is still some way to go. Through her work, Enas can quickly point to areas in need of reform, and she highlights the lack of available safe housing as a continued constraint for women, who are in danger or at risk. Speaking on the topic, Enas says the existing shelter resources are akin to prisons. Women entering a shelter in Jordan are not permitted to bring their children and are not able to leave until their case is resolved, usually through reconciliation with the perpetrator—which typically takes at least a few months but can take more than one year.
Enas acknowledges that while she has tried to ‘close the door’ behind her after leaving work each day, the nature of the work means that vicarious trauma and burnout is widespread among GBV service providers. Enas says GBV service providers need tools to manage their mental health and wellbeing, and that these should be provided as a standard by their employers. She highlighted the American Bar Association Rule of Law Intiative’s GBV project in Jordan as the only opportunity she has had in 23 years to participate in psycho-social support sessions that helped her develop practices to help process the vicarious trauma she experiences at work. Enas welcomes this change in attitude towards vicarious trauma and hopes that it will become common practice, especially among organizations that work with clients or others who may be affected by trauma.
Hearing any story of violence is hard, for anyone. It is especially hard when a survivor doesn’t want to address the violence but is looking for economic support as a coping mechanism. That is a painful reality for a caseworker to accept while at the same time striving to help women to lead full, safe, and secure lives free from violence.
But despite the challenges, Enas remains as committed to her work as she was after joining FGAC 23 years ago. Asked what advice she would give to others considering a similar line of work, she responds immediately with ‘patience’ and ‘wisdom.’ Patience to see cases through to their best possible outcome and wisdom to not to make judgments about a person’s situation or their story. The work is hugely rewarding, says Enas, who stays motivated by seeing survivors move from feelings of hopelessness and being out of control to one in which they have autonomy and can think and plan for the future.
Enas has many hopes and dreams for the women and girls of Jordan. She wants them to be free to pursue their education and to strive to enter the job market. In the future, Enas wants to see a more people-centered approach to justice, with a system that protects women and girls, provides solutions and options that are bespoke to the needs of survivors, and offers opportunities for them to leave violent situations and rebuild their lives.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across the Middle East and North Africa.