Jordanian Armed Forces Making Great Strides in Gender Equality
New Military Women’s Training Center means increased opportunities in nontraditional posts
The successful inclusion of women in the military is not something one normally thinks of when talking about an Arab country. But in Jordan, a monarchy ruled by successive liberal kings, the presence and achievements of women in the army are impressive. The success of women in a conservative society is largely due to the role models provided by female members of the Hashemite royal family.
When the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was declared in April 1949, women were not allowed to join the armed forces or participate in society, even though the top military commander was the British Lt. Gen. John Bagot Glubb, known as Glubb Pasha.
When women first participated in the armed forces in 1950, eight women educators were hired, and the number of females in the military remained very modest.
Things started to change after the very young King Hussein was propelled to power in 1952 after the unexpected assassination of his grandfather Abdullah I in 1951 and his own father Talal’s removal from power, reportedly due to mental health issues.
The presence of women in the army grew much more when Princess Muna (the former Antoinette Gardiner), King Hussein’s British second wife and the mother of King Abdullah II, established a military nursing college in 1962, with the first group of eight military nurses graduating in 1965.
Royal women were regularly seen in their army uniforms attending national occasions. This was not a made-for-TV image; they were actually part of the armed forces and were treated exactly like their comrades at arms.
Princess Aisha, a lieutenant colonel and the sister of the current king, is the head of the Jordanian Armed Forces’ Directorate of Women’s Affairs, which was established in 1995. The idea was to expand women’s involvement from the traditional administrative, educational and medical sectors to the military sector.
Perhaps the most recent example of a female royal’s involvement has been the role played by Princess Salma, the daughter of King Abdullah. Salma wore her air force uniform as the Military Women’s Training Center was launched on June 6. The center, located in the Ghabawi area in the Zarqa Governorate, north of the capital, was established in collaboration by the Jordanian military and NATO.
While women who wanted to join the military were once limited to educational roles, today one can find them in all branches.
Lt. Col. Omar Al Baqour, the director of the training center for women, said in a press statement that it “contains training fields, halls, computer labs and virtual training rooms where all the training of military women takes place.”
The facility also includes childcare centers and other facilities to accommodate the female inductees.
Many Jordanians proudly recall when a female member of the air force wrote threatening messages on rockets that were being loaded on fighter planes bound to attack ISIS extremists. This sent a double message of pride in the air force and confidence in the women of the armed forces.
The military has been working with the Directorate of Women’s Affairs to incorporate gender sensitivity training and with the new facility, the armed forces will be able to do much more in this direction.
At the opening of the training facility, Col. Maha Al Nasser, the head of the directorate, told The Media Line, “The importance of the new center lies in empowering military women and preparing them professionally to meet current challenges.”
According to the army’s official website, “Jordanian women work in all military departments except field operations. This includes general leadership, the air force, military education, field units, trainers, military police, royal guard, navy, military intelligence, air control and air police.”
Falak Jamaany, a retired colonel, was part of the first generation of top female military leaders and was the first woman to direct a major medical facility, the Princess Aisha Military Medical Complex (Marka) in East Amman. Jamaany spoke to The Media Line about the challenges she faced during her military career, which began in the 1970s and continued until the 1990s.
“The biggest obstacle was that people were not used to seeing women in military uniform even after the many accomplishments by women in the army,” she said, adding that a lack of support had an effect on the army’s decision-making process.
She was short-listed for a senior position as the head of military dentistry services. “A military official told one of his colleagues that I didn’t qualify because I was a woman,” she said.
In the end, she did get the post, and a number of other women have also been appointed to the highest military posts. Over the years “the fact that the military hewed closely to the concept of gender equality has made the Jordanian military an example for others of a serious commitment to professionalism regardless of gender,” she said.
Gen. Mohammad Badarin told The Media Line that women have also joined the police. In 1972, the first group of six women became the nucleus of a women’s police unit. They have been working since in community policing, traffic, family police, and general community reform projects. They have been involved in all levels of policing and are now active in the UN’s police forces around the world.
Jordanian women first became UN peacekeepers in 2007. “A contingent of 146 women has participated in peacekeeping efforts in Congo, Cyprus, South Sudan and Fiji. They have also carried out duties with refugees and were involved in training local police forces in various countries,” he said.
Military engineer Najwa Najdawi spoke about her experience in Cyprus on a special radio program on “Women and Peace,” which was broadcast in Amman on Radio Al-Balad.
“It was a successful mission, and we gained a lot of self-confidence and gained new experiences and professional insights while working with international officers,” she said.
The challenges also were personal in nature as the women had to leave home for an extended period, many for the first time, Najdawi said.
“The coronavirus pandemic made the work even more difficult but the fact that all education was virtual” meant her eight-year-old son was able to follow his classes from Cyprus while she was posted there.
Etaf Roudan provided field research.