Jordan: “What are Masculinities?”

1. Country context Jordan
Bordering Syria, the West Bank, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Jordan is in the center of the ‘Middle East’ with approximately 10.5 million inhabitants and categorized as a lower-middle income country. In the recent decades, the Hashemite Kingdom showed commitment in improving gender equality on the political level. Nevertheless, remaining inequalities imply that conservative, religious and tribal structures are deeply rooted in most parts of society, which is reflected in the country’s ranking in the 2018 Global Gender Gap Index: 138th out of 149 countries. Social and political systems are built around extended patriarchal family units. Amongst others, this is reflected in a gender discriminatory legal system: The Personal Status Law sets base for unequal rights for women in marriage and divorce, and women’s agency continues to be limited by provisions of wilaya, the male legal guardianship. Violence against women remains insufficiently addressed, and a patriarchal gender paradigm contributes to women’s absence from the labor market and interaction in the public sphere. Traditional norms, values, behavior expectations and definitions of masculinity and femininity leave little space to deviate from and have a big impact on the identity of both women and men. While men are expected to fulfill the role of the breadwinner, women are considered responsible for the well-being of the family. These socio-cultural norms also affect how boys and men deal with the control that their fathers yield in matters of continued education, choice of marriage partner and residency. They also shape how men cope with anger and frustration, how they explain hardships, and how they interpret and express their feelings. When experiencing extreme helplessness, for example due to prolonged uncertainty, unemployment, or illness, men are much less likely to seek out for help than women. Excluding men and boys from interventions which promote gender equality or question traditional gender norms, can contribute to the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes and practices, in addition to discrimination.

2. GIZ Gender Working Group Jordan
GIZ is tackling gender issues in Jordan by considering it in the sectors water, waste, employment and financial services, education, TVET, environment and climate, and MHPSS and peacebuilding. Whilst most of the 43 projects, take gender as a cross-cutting theme into account in their planning, implementation, and evaluation, two regional projects have a GG2 marker (LEAD and Econowin).
Selected and trained gender focal points support the realization of the GIZ Gender Strategy in their respective cluster. These gender focal points meet regularly in the overarching Gender Working Group (GWG) which is part of GIZ Jordan’s organizational structure. Its vision is to support gender equality and women empowerment on all levels within GIZ Jordan as well as among our partner organizations, government institutions and beneficiaries. In order to achieve this vision, tangible activities were defined in an action plan for 2019. This action plan provides the basis to work on structural change, raise awareness and facilitate dialogs through events and communication channels reaching our colleagues, partners and beneficiaries. Therefore, the GWG organized itself in the following subgroups: internal procedures, events, and public relations. For the first time in 2019, the GWG was provided with a budget to realize its activities.

3. Event “What are Masculinities?”
Background and objective of the event
The event was born within the GWG following ideas of how to engage men in gender equality. All segments of society must be involved in the change process for it to be accepted rather than felt as an imposed new reality. Since the GWG in Jordan itself mostly consists of women, this event was seen as an effort to more actively engage male GIZ colleagues and sensitize them in their working environment, their interaction with women and men colleagues, as well as in their communication with partners and beneficiaries. Therefore, a topic which addresses men and boys, and their realities of having to live up to a historically and socially defined image of a “real man”, was prepared carefully.
The event aimed to offer a platform to start reflecting on ideas around masculinity and together dismantle toxic and harmful attitudes around it, as well as explore alternative ways of approaching and living manhood. In the preparation process, the GWG organization team outlined the aim and ideas around the event to the facilitator, Kristina Kaghdo. She then independently discussed the potential content and methodology of the sessions with the speakers, identified by GWG in cooperation with her. Thus, the speakers experienced a high flexibility and freedom to design their session in the way most suitable and comfortable to them. The moderator insured the red threat and that no major overlaps occurred during the event but rather that the topic was tackled from different perspectives and approaches, which worked out very nicely. All speakers voiced very positive feedback about this way of open organization, each tackling the topic from a different angle.
The concept of the event was considered a rather informal, interactive dialog between input givers and audience, which consisted of GIZ colleagues from different segments of the organization. Therefore, a culture center like Jadal for Knowledge and Culture in Downtown Amman seemed the right setting.
So, What are Masculinites? – The event
The event taking place on November 6, 2019 hosted the facilitator Kristina Kaghdo, speakers Musa Shadeedi, Suheil Abualsameed, Hassan Jumaa, Sahar Aloul, Shawqi Al Halalmeh, Jakob Ström, Kristin Hagegård (both representatives from the Swedish Embassy), and performer Mustafa Al Shalabi. Addressing GIZ employees and friends, the event started at 5pm with a light introduction: Attendees entering the space were confronted with Arabic proverbs around masculinity and manhood (such as the Jordanian version of “Be a Man” – khalek zalameh) that were placed in the yard of Jadal. To further introduce the topic, the event started off by Kristina giving a general input and raising first questions. This opening was followed by four 45 min participatory discussion rounds held in parallel by the above-mentioned speakers. Inspired by the discussions, participants then enjoyed a performance by Mustafa al-Shalabi, a Jordanian contemporary dancer, who contextualized the topic from an artistic point of view. So did two postcard illustrations that were designed around concepts of “boys do(n’t) cry” and “men not sharing inner feelings” (see attachment). In dialog with the audience, Kristina facilitated a brief closing session, which summarized the concepts and discussion points raised during the event. The end with finger food and music gave the right setting to close the day with chances for further engagement among the crowd: the audience, facilitators, and organizers.

Following an outline of the inputs given:
Suhail Abualsameed engaged his audience in a talking circle around the topic of “Toxic masculinity and its effects on men”, asking whether toxic masculinity is the root of the problem of gender injustice, or whether it is a symptom of complex historical, social, cultural, economic and political structures? He has been working in the field of gender justice and SGBV (prevention) through engaging boys and men in Jordan among other countries. His session was held in English, and worked around what it means to “be a man” in Jordan and how the ideas of manhood do not only harm women, but also society as a whole. The question arose on what is particularly “toxic” about certain ideas around masculinity in Jordan. The participants shared their opinions on the toxic nature of entrenched gender norms and also provided insights from their living contexts apart from Jordan.
The second session in English was held by Hassan Jomaa in his position as senior masculinities program officer at ABAAD, a resource center for gender equality in Lebanon. Hassan facilitated a transfer “from the personal to political: gendered personal stories and linkages to patriarchal gender socialization”. In his session, participants were invited to brainstorm on the traits, (physical) characteristics, and duties of men and women. He asked the audience in how far the collected aspects were interchangeable. Building on the result that most aspects could be assigned to both males and females, he referred to the experiences of each person in the session. Hassan summarized these personal stories and made the transfer to the wider societal and political context and illustrated the relevance of engaging men in preventing violence on all levels of society. He also shed light on the topic of sexualized violence against men and boys and the stigma for men to seek help and support. In the discussion, Hassan explained how traditional norms of masculinity contribute to violence and a lack of support for those affected. Additionally, he stressed the importance of talking about such issues and using settings like the present discussion to exchange and promote change.
A look at “Fatherhoods in Jordan” was facilitated by the Jordanian non-profit organization SADAQA and the Embassy of Sweden in English and Arabic. Through a cooperation between them, a photo exhibition had been developed and exhibited early 2019. At the session Sahar Aloul and Nadia Naffaa from SADAQA, Jakob Ström and Kristin Hagegård from the Swedish Embassy and one of the portrayed fathers, Shawqi Alhalalmeh with his spouse, highlighted the positive impact of men sharing parenthood and participating in care and domestic work in Jordan and Sweden. Wanting to build on previous efforts done in Jordan around the topic of manhood, SADAQA was invited to present the exhibition, its underlying messages and efforts as local NGO to push towards gender equality. In Jordan, such in most countries, care work is seen as a core task of female family members. This idea is often institutionalized and sustained by legal regulations. Until recently for example, the legal framework in Jordan only allowed women to take parental leave of 70 days. Since 2019, parental leave for men is also anchored in the Labour Law, but restricted to a total of three days. The representatives of SADAQA and the Embassy of Sweden in this session therefore focused on the importance of sharing parenthood and domestic work to strengthen families – and grow the national economy. This approach is also based on the idea that fathers have a right to be present and actively engaged in their children’s lives. Musa Shadeedi held his session “heels and mustache: a review of the concept of manhood through time and space” in Arabic and challenged today’s gender stereotypes by shedding light on the historical consideration of “male” and “female” traits and objects. Musa is an Arab writer and critic specialized in body and sexuality politics. He writes in different platforms, such as My.Kali, Kohl Magazine, and is the author of three books. He started his session by presented stereotypically loaded pictures (e.g. high heels, mustaches, makeup etc.), asking people if they consider the photo content as “female” or “male”. Musa took the audience’s inputs up and discussed the origin of the items he had shown, revealing that they
were all used by the opposite gender than previously expected (e.g. high heels by Louis XIV.) at different points in time or other cultures. Thus, highlighting the fluid nature of gender and how the social, political and economic context we live in shape our perception of what is considered “female” or “male”. Furthermore, he addressed the excluding and inconsiderate character of this contextual influence, which often leads to strong, individual persuasions. Finally, he showed a short video around the gendered concept of pink&blue, reinforcing his point of rigid and stiff attitudes towards gender nowadays in Jordan and how they can be challenged in the future.

Challenges and Successes
Talking about masculinities in Jordan, it was wonderful that all stakeholders of the event, except for the postcard illustrator and the Swedish Embassy, were from the local scene. Aiming to walk the thin line of talking about this topic in Arabic so to add to the national discourse and English as a working language of GIZ, the event was generally held in English. However, two discussion rounds took place in Arabic with whisper translation provided. All sessions had similar numbers in audience, consisting of people with various background (local – international, Arabic speaker – non-Arabic speaker, women – men etc.), and overall exceeding the expected number of attendees reaching 50 instead of 40 persons.
In the organization process the organizing team faced two major challenges. The biggest challenge during the preparation process was to effectively organize the event in between business trips and other absences of the organizers and to closely cooperate with the moderator who herself had a full-time job and was only available for meetings after working hours. Another challenge was around the question on how to best reach and encourage male (national) GIZ personnel. Additionally, the security risk for the speakers was to some extent underestimated in the preparation process. Some of the input-givers and participants were members of the LGBTQI+-community. Due to the (legal) discrimination in Jordan, and as some of the inputs questioned definitions of manhood promoted by the Kingdom which refers to the military as means of education, their contribution was not only perceived as valuable but also as bearing the risk of investigation.

4. What’s next?
The event served as a pilot to assess whether there is an interest of GIZ colleagues and potential speakers in topics related to masculinity and manhood in Jordan, which would allow similar events to follow. Additionally, further engagement with the topic of masculinity and engagement of men, may positively influence GIZ project design and implementation on a daily live basis. Thus, the organization team closely followed-up with the speakers, artists and activist in a de-briefing session that was held one week after the event with all participants of the event. Since the event was seen by speakers, performer and moderator as a good success, engaging the audience, questioning established concepts, and triggering questions, potential event formats, designs, and thematical focuses for future events were discussed. The attendees highly recommended to understand the event as a starting point for a series of events evolving around concepts and ideas of masculinities and related topics (e.g. intersectionality, gender-based violence). On the basis of the positive feedback by the audience and speakers, the de-briefing session and internally prepared lessons-learnt, the GWG will outline possibilities to continue the discussion on concepts and forms of masculinities in the upcoming year. This will further strengthen the GWG’s contribution to internal gender mainstreaming within GIZ Jordan and realizing the GWG vision and mission. In addition, it will play a crucial role in tackling gender stereotypes within the company and the idea of understanding the GWG as solely focusing on topics related to the empowerment of women.

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