The women of Dar Amneh
Every time Raghda Al Azzeh's cell phone rings, she gets nervous. It might be a woman in urgent need of help. A woman requesting protection from family members who are trying to kill her.
But this time it's only a lawyer who wants to talk to her about a case. The holder of a PhD in social work, who is clad in a beige headscarf and black trouser suit, flops back down into her armchair in relief. Raghda Al Azzeh, in her mid-thirties and single, is the director of Dar Amneh, a women's shelter on the outskirts of Amman, the capital of Jordan. The Ministry of Social Affairs there opened the facility in July 2018, and the first women seeking protection arrived in September.
Dar Amneh is meant to send a clear message that the government is serious about fighting murders in the name of family honour. According to Human Rights Watch, ten to twenty women in Amman still suffer this fate each year despite all the efforts that have been made. Their own brothers or fathers kill them because they have "besmirched" the family's honour. Their alleged misdeeds aren't really crimes at all: they may have given birth to an illegitimate child, or be a victim of rape, or they may simply want to marry a man whom their parents reject. To this day, parts of this patriarchal society marked by Bedouin tribalism still see women as always bearing the blame. Even when they are in fact victims.
Effective information campaigns
Fortunately, information campaigns organised by women's rights activists and non-governmental organisations are slowly having an effect and the number of such crimes is declining. Society has begun to rethink things. More and more people are rejecting these acts of violence.
And now Dar Amneh is offering women protection. "Finally we can do more to help women," says social worker Al Azzeh. "Dar Amneh is for me a gift from heaven. It's like a dream that has finally come true."
When the first woman arrived in September 2018, it was an emotional moment for Al Azzeh, and it still is today every time a new woman shows up on the doorstep, staring in wonder and instantly sensing that this is a good place. A total of 31 women between the ages of 19 and 44 have been admitted to date, 14 of whom have already left Dar Amneh again at their own request. There are currently 17 women living here.
"Honour killings" not tolerated
Dar is Arabic for "home" and Amneh means "safe". The house, financed by the American organisation USAID, is surrounded by a high fence and is guarded by plainclothes police – you can never be too sure. Three women share a room, and there is a common room with a kitchen as well as medical care and a play corner for children. As Raghda Al Azzeh makes her way through the house, a hairdresser is showing some women how to cut hair, using a model. The women's faces are narrow and haggard, their laughter sounds cautious. For their own protection, they don't talk to journalists.