Release Date: July 7, 2011
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When Eman Abu Sabbah, a first-year PhD candidate in nursing at the University at Buffalo, discusses domestic violence against women in Jordan her body is still and her voice is steady, but her eyes shine with a laser-like intensity.
A 2011 recipient of a prestigious Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund (MMMF) grant to fund her thesis, "The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Reducing Suffering Among Abused Jordanian Women," Sabbah has been working to help women in her home country for years.
The mission of the MMMF, established in 1981, is to provide "grants to women from developing countries to help further their education and strengthen their leadership skills to improve the lives of women and children in developing countries."
Sabbah's work as a maternal health RN and nursing instructor at Aqaba University College in Aqaba, south of Jordan, and also at the University of Jordan, located in Amman, led her to participate in reproductive primary health projects and health education for Jordanian women and girls before coming to UB.
Her nursing experience also exposed her to the effects of psychological and physical abuse on some of the women under her care.
"In Jordan and in many countries in the Middle East, family reputation is very important, and domestic violence incidents are considered personal, something to keep within the family. A woman who seeks help for abuse fears shaming and stigmatizing her family -- she could be further victimized by her abuser for taking this information to an outside agency. And then because most of the shelters, institutions and NGOs are located in the capital, it leaves many women who live far from the capital with little or no access to resources of any kind," said Sabbah.
The abuse Sabbah has observed is not always from husbands. It can also be from fathers, brothers and mothers-in-law. Mothers-in-law can exert a great deal of psychological control over their sons' wives.
Sabbah tells of a situation in which a patient was hemorrhaging and running a fever after giving birth. Sabbah tried to convince the patient that it was in her best interest to stay in the hospital until these health problems could be resolved, but the patient's mother-in-law refused to pay for an additional night. The patient's husband came in and wanted his wife to stay and receive care, but after an argument with his mother, he was convinced to take her home that day.
Statistics from Demographic and Health Surveys show that a divorced woman in Jordan is more than twice as likely to experience physical violence. In fact, women who are divorced or widowed and currently married women who have been married more than once were the most likely to have experienced either physical or sexual violence from their husbands.
A woman seeking a divorce in Jordan can also bring shame and stigma to her family's reputation, according to Sabbah.
"Women who divorce and don't remarry can retain custody of the children. If they remarry, the custody of the children goes to the children's father. The problem is that women who are not educated don't have the kind of income that educated women have and they may have to remarry to survive."
In general, Sabbah says, the abused wives in Jordan may be dealing with a lack of family support, no financial safety net, fear of divorce and fear of losing their children.
Sabbah described the three-day trip to Washington, D.C., in May to receive her award, to meet other recipients and the experience of a "knowledge exchange" with global experts that the MMMF coordinated for all the attendees as "a surprise and wonderful."
When asked what she sees for the future of her work Sabbah says, "There is no immunization against domestic abuse; any woman regardless of her status could be exposed to any kind of abuse, but education could be a protective factor. We have to educate women. As a nurse, I want to establish a curriculum that teaches students how to assess for domestic violence when women are admitted to the hospital.
"We need to be sensitive to those signs and offer women encouragement to confide in us. We need to determine the effect of our interventions on children and families And I also would like to see more communications aimed at abused women who may live far from urban resources so that they can understand what is happening to them and have the courage to get help."
In addition, she hopes someday to collaborate with organizations like UNICEF and other human rights groups in order to make the law work for Jordanian women.
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