Where the Women Are Strong…

Mshairfeh, Jerash, Jordan

Wijdan: I have to tell you something, Maryah. I’m pregnant again. … Sometimes I hate myself.

It’s sad, because despite circumstances that make lesser women bitter and mean, Wijdan’s a great mother. Her eldest daughter, Ghadeer, is one of the brightest students in the village, and Wijdan’s doing her best to make sure that Ghadeer gets at least one university degree, even if it means no new Eid clothes for the rest of the family, and that she get it honestly. At the end of last semester, Wijdan went to meet one of Ghadeer’s professors. “Did she get good marks? Did she deserve her good marks? Because if I hear that you’ve given my daughter a mark she didn’t deserve, I’ll go all the way to the Minister about it!” Her other children may not be particularly apt pupils, but she does her best to insure that they work their very hardest. Kids will be kids and complain about homework and housework and responsibility, but ultimately her children are good people.

That alone can’t have been easy, given the influence of their uncle and cousins, who have the respect of almost no one, and are outright despised by many. As my father said when he visited, “I knew that was Wijdan’s brother-in-law the moment he appeared, because everyone got stiff and angry. And I do not like that man at all.” They didn’t even have a common language.

And yet, when Wijdan’s eldest son was accused during my visit of giving his female cousin’s number to a young man who was making inappropriate phone calls, the family was outraged, and it was righteous outrage. We all know full well that he would no more give out his cousin’s number than he would his sister’s! He puts on a good facade of rebellious independence, but at his core he’s fiercely loyal with strong moral convictions. He is what the Arabs call “ibn al-halaal,” a kosher son.

It’s easy to see where the children get this from. Wijdan is a one-woman contradiction of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which says that if basic needs are not met, an individual will not be driven to pursue personal growth or societal development. Here’s a woman who can barely put food on the table for her 7 children, but dedicates enormous amounts of time and energy to her position as the chair of the village’s social welfare society. Not only that, but she’s become involved through the local LDS Volunteers in helping other welfare societies in the area. As she was peeling the last of her potatoes for breakfast, she said to me, “If I could, I would take care of everyone. I would make sure that every girl could afford to go to university. I would help everyone.”

Quote of the Day:
Abu Tareq: Umm Tareq never teaches me any English!
Hadeel (6 y.o.): What do you want with English? You’re a man!

It was the most I’d laughed all week. But it reflects a definite phenomenon in many Jordanian communities, whereby women are pushing their daughters to learn English and get higher degrees because it’s their only way out of poverty and misery, but putting far less emphasis on the education of their sons, who have many other options that don’t require a university degree.

One comment

  1. Interesting. The 'education for girls' phenomenom was certainly present in my (northern, rural) hometown as well, where boys could work in the oilfield or on the farms, but girls were encouraged to acheive to avoid being housewifes or hairdressers. I wonder if it's a common thing for economically peripheral, resource-based centres? (As developing economies would be in some respects occupying a similar role as rural areas, developing areas within a developed economy.)

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