Domestic abuse in lockdown: Jordanian woman's video goes viral

A distraught mother who fled abuse from her family shared her story on social media and highlighted an increase in domestic violence during pandemic

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Distraught and dressed in borrowed pyjamas, Eman Alkhateeb wept uncontrollably in a video shared widely on social media as she detailed a torrent of abuse she says her brother and her mother have subjected her to.

It was almost midnight on March 28 when the single mother, 36, from Jordan, posted the heartbreaking video, which has drawn about 500,000 views, explaining she was forced to flee the family home that day with her son, 13, because she feared for her life.

“I call out to everyone, especially in these times, to understand what women have to go through during this curfew,” Ms Alkhateeb said.

"It is not easy for me to do this video and tell people what is happening to me, but I didn’t have a choice.

"I will talk, I won’t be afraid, I want every woman who is like me to come out and say what is really happening to her and not to be scared for any reason."

According to Ms Alkhateeb, a former retail store manager, her family tried to force her to give them money.

Just before the country went into lockdown two weeks ago as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, she was in between jobs.

With the closure of businesses and the curfew put in place as part of coronavirus measures in Jordan, she has not been able to work. But her family continued to press her for money, physically and emotionally abusing her when she didn’t deliver, she said.

“When you look at me, and my pictures, fully dressed and looking normal, you wouldn’t think I get terrorised and beaten up by my family. I almost got killed today,” she said as she broke down in tears.

Speaking to The National from a safe place provided for her and her son by the Jordanian Women's Union, Ms Alkhateeb said: "This time I think my heart couldn't take any more. I want to survive, so I asked for help.

“I never had any idea the video would have this much attention. The huge number of calls and messages, the support, it’s helped me in this awful situation.”

More than 11,000 domestic abuse cases were reported in Jordan in 2018 and 20 women were killed last year in crimes related to family.

The Jordanian government introduced a curfew on March 21 preventing anyone from leaving their homes, but eased it slightly four days later, saying people could travel on foot between 10am and 6pm to buy essential supplies.

With the added stress of confinement and a lack of income caused by the lockdown, women’s rights organisations are concerned cases of domestic violence will increase.

It is not only a concern in Jordan. R rights groups across the world are trying to bring attention to the higher risk of domestic violence during these difficult times.

After weeks of a total lockdown, reports of violence against women in China increased threefold.

In Spain – one of the countries most affected by the outbreak – a mother of two, 35, was murdered by her partner two weeks ago and in Australia, Google searches for help with abuse from a partner have increased by 75 per cent.

Nadia Shamroukh, general manager of the Jordanian Women’s Union, said the lockdown made it difficult to help women who are in danger.

“We usually do field visits but because of the ban on transportation in the city we’re not able to reach these women,” she said.

Salma Al Nemes, secretary general of the Jordanian National Committee for Women's Affairs, said women’s rights groups became worried the moment the country's government announced the closure of schools.

“We were all concerned about the ability to deliver services and the lack of space for women to manoeuvre," she said. "Before the lockdown, they could at least leave the house if they needed to and the men would be out of the house working.

“During this lockdown, having the space even to make calls may be impossible or they may be unable to buy new phone cards.”

Dr Al Nemes said there was an effort to enhance the co-operation between civil society in Jordan, the Ministry of Social Development and the Family Protection Department.

“Different organisations are currently trying to provide information through social media on anger and stress management,” she said.

Asma Khader, a lawyer and founder of women’s group Solidarity Is Global Institute in Jordan, said there had been a sixfold increase in the number of calls from women asking for help.

“There are some initiatives by the government to provide support, but it’s not enough,” she said.

Ms Alkhateeb’s video has received a mixed response – from criticism at bringing “scandal” to her family to an outpouring of support, as well as encouraging women to share their stories of abuse.

“I want my video to spread throughout the world, to give the other women living in the same situation the power to change it,” Ms Alkhateeb said.