As a Jordanian woman journalist writing for The Jordan Times, Rana Husseini focused on social issues with a special emphasis on violence against women, as well as the brutal crimes that are committed against Jordanian women in the name of family honor. Her complete bio is available at www.ranahusseini.com.
You have an extensive, and extremely impressive, career in journalism – both in your native country of Jordan, and internationally. When did you first decide to become journalist? What inspired you?
In 1987, I was studying PR and advertising at Oklahoma City University. Shortly afterwards, an American student approached me wanting to know why Israelis were killing Palestinians and Palestinians throwing rocks at the Israelis since I am originally Palestinian. I started to explain the political situation to him so he asked me to write an article about it and once I did he asked me to work for the university’s newspaper, the Campus. And ever since then, I loved the newspaper work and I switched my major and worked for my university’s newspaper for the next five years focusing on women’s sports at the university. During my last semester of graduation, I had to do an internship with a newspaper and I did for the Oklahoma Gazette. I focused on social issues and was inspired by the community’s dedication towards its members and how people are willing to help others become better people. Of course when I returned to Jordan, my aim was to work for the only English newspaper, The Jordan Times, and I did because of the portfolio I gathered when I was in the US.
What was it like growing up in Jordan?
I had a very good life (I was born in 1967 so my teenage life was in the 1980s) because I come from an open-minded family. I studied in a co-ed private school and lived my life to the maximum. I had so much fun with my friends—we used to out to the movies, play cards and mostly I played a lot of sports, including basketball and team handball. I played for my high school, club and national teams and also for my Jordan University team from 1985-87 and then I left for the US. My mother and father (now deceased) were very supportive and decided to send me to the US but before going to the US they really gave me their full support for the many activities I wished to do. They also focused on having me travel around the world to get exposed to other cultures and get more knowledge of life.
You have reported on violence against women for many years. You have focused on many different areas, but in particular, “so-called honour killings.” For our readers who are not familiar with this brutal cultural practise, please tell us what it is and where it is practised.
A so-called honour crime occurs when the family of a female relative decides that she sullied their honour and reputation. This could be by being a victim of rumour, rape, incest, suspicion, or for becoming pregnant and going out with men outside the family and marrying a man and against their family’s wishes. Sometimes women are killed for financial or inheritance reasons and the family claim it is family honour. These crimes happen in many societies and in all religions and social classes.
When you first began reporting on these “so-called honour crimes” in 1994, you had many critics. People told you to leave this taboo subject alone. But you persevered. Tell us about how you broke through these taboos.
Basically people were indeed telling me to leave this topic alone because of the taboos and because people at that time thought that “I was wasting my time because nothing could or would be changed in Jordan and that I was preaching the believers since I was reporting in English only and the majority of the public read Arabic.” Others thought that I was tarnishing the country’s image by reporting about these murders. Many believed that “I should have focused on more important issues such as politics because it is more important than social problems.” Of course this was the opposite of what I always believed and aimed for in my reporting, which was mainly focusing on social issues because I strongly believed that I could make a difference in that domain. But I did not listen to anyone. I only listened to my heart and mind that were telling me that I needed to focus on this issue. So the repeated reporting grabbed The Jordan Times readers’ attention and they started writing letters criticizing the situation and urging the government to take action to protect women’s lives and to amend the laws that offers leniency to killers.
Your reporting of this crime not only broke through barriers of prejudice, but also led to a huge grass roots movement to end the practise of “so called honour killings”, and eventually the law was changed in Jordan. Please tell us about this huge achievement.
Well it was really exciting times during the late 1990s because we were able to do many activities that were done for the first time in Jordan and we managed to break taboos on that front as well, such as distributing pamphlets, collecting signatures on petitions, going around in the country to talk about this taboo issue. So basically we felt that we were able to express our needs and desires as citizens with our activities. The law that the campaign targeted did not pass through the Parliament but I believe we were able to achieve a much more important goal, which is breaking the silence around this issue forever and raising awareness. I think the many changes we see now including the increasing number of voices that are opposing these murders and the lenient sentences that were given to perpetrators of these murders in the past are two important changes. This means that people’s awareness about this topic and the injustices being done to women has increased. Also, the judiciary’s handling of such issues has increased and now investigators are taking the issue of a women’s murder much more seriously. In court, perpetrators of such murders are now receiving a minimum 10 years in prison instead of the 3-6 month prison term that was handed to them. So all in all these were great achievements that proved that our efforts did not go in vain and that true efforts will make a difference in the end.
Part Two of our interview with Rana Husseini will appear tomorrow, Monday September 12.