Human rights and human security in the Middle East were subject of debate for so many international organizations, in the words of H.E. Asma Khader “security and dignity are in the heart of human being, there is no dignity without security, and there is no security without dignity!”
Human rights in the Middle East were subject of debate for so many international organizations, journalists or researchers who funded a variety of initiatives to remediate violations. After the wave of uprisings in the Arab World more meaningful human rights engagements are taking shape at the regional level. Many human rights activists consider political participation as being not only a human right but a chance for any probable insecure context to be changed.
The expertise and activism of Dr. Asma Khader are very well known in the Middle East and the motto of this article becomes memorable, as she strengthened: Security and dignity are in the heart of human being, there is no dignity without security, and there is no security without dignity!
Dr. Asma Khader has a consistent experience as a lawyer, advocate and human rights activist, is specialized particularly on issues of women and children rights. She has continuously worked to improve the rights of women and children in Jordan. She is the founder of “The Law Group for Human Rights” that provides free legal counseling and representation to vulnerable individuals and victims of human rights violations. Dr. Asma Khader has been legal advisor of the National Jordanian Campaign to Eliminate Honor Crimes, then, the first woman spokesperson of the Parliament of Jordan and Minister of Culture.
Q: What are Human Rights and how can be Human Security understood through the lenses of Human Rights?
A.K: I think human security is a basic human right! The right to live, the right to be safe, the right to live in dignity, the right to enjoy your different human rights in different areas is human security! I think that we need to adopt kind of concepts or understanding of differences of human security, that are more comprehensive and more relative to different aspects of human rights, as we need human security in terms of economy and finance, in terms of crimes and justice, in anticorruption and environment, so is needed everywhere! Security and dignity are in the heart of human being, there is no dignity without security, and there is no security without dignity!
Q: What do you think about Human Rights concepts in the Arab World, concerning the particularities of this space?
A.K: I think that particularities are not something that should allow or give permission for any human rights violation, as we know, the Human Rights Convention is the minimum, is not the unique we have, is just the minimum requirement of all states, to respect the all nations, all cultures, to make sure that the human being is treated in dignity and respect. We can`t say that this region has specific issues related to the human rights gap. All human beings, despite of being Muslim or Christians, religious or non-religious, men or women, must be respected, because respect is compulsory in human rights. Maybe the particularities are related to the means and ways of this region, to the language or the priorities that put more pressure, otherwise the particularities are not something that gives any excuse to human rights violation.
Q: Considering your experience in human rights activism, can you describe in what way the concept of human rights has been introduced to the political discourse in Jordan?
A.K: This concept was introduced in different aspects; one of them is related to our Constitution, from 1952 with roots in the one in 1946, both have a good text related to human rights issues, as equality, respect for working, men and women issues, and freedom of expression. Human rights were mentioned all the time, in every speech, not only now but even before. I think there are powers in the society that are giving religious interpretations, or they are giving interpretations related to the tribal system and tradition. There are traditions that are transformed into values of human rights, which need to be changed as part of our efforts to raise or to distribute the real human rights values. But, this is not only in Jordan, is everywhere, small religious entities or sects, interfere for individuals especially in situations where the security is not really guaranteed. All the risks of economic security, political security or life security are really pushing individuals to search for an umbrella, a local one, a small one, to be protected. This is one of the main challenges for human rights issues in Jordan. Those who are lacking power, any type of power, being women or being young people, children or poor people, have nothing to say with the existing powers, the view and the practices are sometimes in opposition with the interests of the other. This is the major resource of human rights violations, against vulnerable groups who are majority in number, but they are minority in power.
Q: Do you consider relevant the experiences and beliefs of women when the priorities and the directions of the reforms are established?
A.K: This was one challenge, because the other power is the Islamists and they are conservative, and during negotiations the government is trying to find a deal with parties, then the weakest part of the chain will suffer. This is like a mathematical rule resulted by the confrontation between the regime, the government and the opposition, led by the Islamists. Women are going to lose, they are paying the price now, there are no women in the actual government, in the last one we had one, but with no power at all. Few years ago, we had a cabinet with 21 ministries with four women ministers. Why it is like that, because women didn`t organize themselves politically during the years, they were really involved in the civil society activities but they were weak asking government to give them something. They were not preoccupied with the strategic vision because what comes easily goes easily. Of course there are women in Jordan struggling hard for women movements. But there are two powers, the patriarchy is still there, the men are the majority in the parties, hard to say that will interact with women, it`s still difficult as the society doesn`t want that, they are ready to compromise and the women will pay the price.
Q: Do you think women might agree to get involved and redesign the political architecture?
A.K: This is a must! There is no other way if they want to protect what they achieved already. As an example, education for women in Jordan has the best statistics, there are efforts and new laws adopted for them and have to protect this achievement because they are citizens too, and are affected by all decisions. They will suffer economically, from lack of communication, from corruption, women are in the heart of everything and poverty will stuck them more, the bad conditions, the weak democracy and the famine will lack them more. Women will suffer if they don`t see the necessity of being organized, approaching politics and public life. Usually any change is difficult to be accepted!
Q: You have met in your career many women, victims of human rights violations, can you mention few factors that put them in insecurity?
A.K: Women don`t know their rights, they are affected by lack of resources, lack of financial independency, shame, lack of knowledge, lack of service available for them, but also blaming and shaming of the society. If there is a beaten woman, then the society will question her behavior. There are also traditions, wrong and extreme interpretations of the religion which are responsible for many of the practices committed in the name of God.
Q: The scarcity of education might be an obstacle for tolerance and recognition of women rights?
A.K: To describe it better, it is the type of education, it is a good and strong education, but sometimes is in the wrong direction, the teachers are very conservative, stereotypes are included in the school curricula, the girls are taught to be polite and to obey others or not to negotiate or question anything, keeping a low profile of the society taking care of the house and having only family responsibilities.
Q: How did you personally get involved in women activism?
A.K: All the initiatives, like MIZAN Project or the Parliament of Children, when we started were looking as very strange things, also the Clinique for Women Counseling, in the refugee camps near Amman, where I was the founder. The First Children Parliament Conference was held and organized by the Child Amnesty Group and the Amnesty Teenagers. The teenager was my daughter, she was eleven, was her idea as she knew I was active on behalf of victims of the human rights violations. I asked her to bring me some of her friends, then we organized The Children Conference on the Human Rights Convention, there were 240 young girls and boys, they prepared the working papers as for the Jordanian Legislation. Few years ago, we had a problem, the Minister of Health said there is expired food and medicines, damaging the health of children, so children were very worried and we invited them at the Royal Cultural Centre to speak with the officials. They spoke very loud, the minister was shocked, children wanted always to be heard and we have now their organized entity in every school in Jordan.
Q: One of your initiatives was to introduce the Human Rights Education in the School Curricula. There are organizations supporting your proposals?
A.K: In fact, I started to get involved in human rights with International Organizations, like Amnesty Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurist in Geneva and Arab Organization of Human Rights. After 1993, when Jordan had a delegation to the Vienna Conference, then we worked to put all the conventions to the National Charter for Human Rights.
I was a member of the Royal Committee for Human Rights, but it was considered that this royal entity will not be recognized as a national institution, as it is supposed to be independent. Her Majesty accepted to change the law and the name of the committee, and we drafted the law for the National Centre for Human Rights.
Q: You have been in the board of many human rights organizations and you had many initiatives. How was your work as the Minister of Culture and Media Affairs?
A.K: It is not easy to prove your merits as woman minister; it was difficult and very important. I was also the first woman spokesperson for the government, many of my proposals are not known publicly, like the insurance for employment for both men and women, or the guarantees of freedom of expression and many others. I tried to convince the cabinet it was their idea, I was working in a very low profile, pushing the other ministers to be proud of what they were doing.
Q: Why do you consider Jordanian women discarded to call for their rights during Arab Spring?
A.K: In the beginning there were many women, but then they gave up and now they are suffering because their collective contribution to the new Constitution is weak. They are not organized in the public life and political life. Our role is to open their eyes on the reality, to be more active, to strengthen their position.
Q: There is much support from the international organizations for gender equality reforms?
A.K: To be frankly no, maybe there are discussions about gender equality but gender equality is still weakly implemented everywhere in the world. Of course there are better organized societies because the mentality is more advanced, but we will go in the wrong direction if we adopt the formula given from outside. We need to be connected and rooted in our societies, working with our people in drafting, because our women have to say in their language their sufferings and pains.