Jordan's female attorney general challenges tradition
AMMAN// Ihssan Barakat knows she juggles many responsibilities.
She is the mother of two daughters, aged 14 and 12. She chairs a non-governmental organisation that promotes the status of women in the legal profession in more than a dozen Arab countries.
Three years ago, she became the first woman chosen as president of a Jordanian court.
And, as chief of the Court of First Instance in West Amman for two years, Mrs Barakat was in charge of 22 judges and 81 employees.
She sleeps only four hours a night.
Now, at 46, she most likely will not be getting any additional rest following her latest appointment.
This month, she became the country's first female attorney general. As Amman's top legal officer, she will supervise 60 public prosecutors and represent the government in front of the court of appeals.
Calling her appointment "good news for women, not only in Jordan but across the Arab world", Mrs Barakat said she was surprised to have been chosen.
"I have never imagined becoming an attorney general. I thought I would be transferred to head a different court," she said in a recent interview.
In her new post, she said her work will include monitoring the state of the country's prisons, prosecuting money-laundering crimes and ensuring administrative detentions comply with the laws.
Noting that not everyone is in favour of a woman being the attorney general, Mrs Barakat said: "The position will put to a test women's capabilities ... Some of my peers were angered by my appointment.
"They told me, 'Aren't there enough men to assume the post?' But the judicial council and the ministry of justice have vested their confidence in me, and I am up to the challenge."
She said her appointment is a boost for women's status in a country in which there are only 70 women among the 810 judges.
"It is a qualitative leap for women decision-makers in Jordan. This is a major development," she said.
Khadejeh Audeh, a lawyer and a member of Jordanian Women's Union, a non-governmental organisation based in Amman, said Mrs Barakat's appointment is a "recognition of women's abilities, but there is a long way for them to obtain their [equal] rights".
Hussein al Khozahe, a sociologist at the Al Balqa Applied University in Alsat, north-east of Amman, echoed those sentiments in an interview last week.
"There is a huge gender gap, but women in leading positions have proved to be remarkable," he said.
"But the biggest challenge they face is a traditional mindset that men are considered more capable than women, particularly in senior state positions."
When Mrs Barakat was appointed to head the West Amman court in 2007, she said that her top priority would be to provide an efficient judicial system.
"The constitutional law gives every Jordanian citizen the right to obtain justice.
"My goal is to make it as hassle free, fast and fair as possible. Going to court should not be a punishment," Mrs Barakat told the Jordan Times in 2007.