Rana Husseini and her scooter are a common sight on the streets of Amman.
It is, for the 50-year-old human rights campaigner, the smartest way to negotiate the heaving traffic in Jordan’s capital.
“In the summer, I use the scooter most of the time, but now the traffic is very, very bad,” she says. “The scooter is best at beating the jams, parking and for the environment. It’s crazy here – the traffic is becoming really crazy.”
Husseini has no time for roadblocks – either in her commute or her life.
When she was assigned the crime beat at The Jordan Times 25 years ago, the sport enthusiast soon found herself covering a national taboo.
So-called honour killings – the murder of a relative who is seen to have brought shame on the family name – were then deemed too controversial for public discourse. But armed with her pen, a natural-born curiosity and determination to shed light on this criminal act, Husseini soon took up a cause.
|An archive image of Husseini from her school days at Amman’s National Orthodox School in 1984. She is pictured on the top row at the far right [Courtesy: Rana Husseini]|
As she began to expose these killings and took the lead in citizen awareness drives, Husseini met public hostility and a judicial system that too often handed down lenient sentences to perpetrators. Yet, with her finger firmly on the pulse of public and governmental shifts in attitude, Husseini is optimistic.
“A lot of things have changed since I started,” she says. “There are more people who are against [so-called honour crimes] – and I can see this from when I go and lecture in Jordan and from seeing people’s reactions on social media.”
Husseini also hails the work of the Jordanian justice system, which “is now very thorough when it investigates cases of domestic violence and violence against children,” and “now gives higher sentences for perpetrators of [honour] crimes”.
Husseini’s ability to break barriers and challenge traditions became apparent when she won a place at Oklahoma City University in the US. She studied for six years, worked as a waitress and a security guard at her dorm. She cut her teeth as a journalist on the student newspaper.
The roots of her drive and success can be traced to her time at the university.
She supported herself through her studies and when she returned to her homeland, she felt drawn towards women’s rights.
Husseini’s part autobiography, part expose book – Murder in the Name of Honour – was published in 2009.
She has become a well-known face across Jordan, accumulating well-placed sources that enable her to report and keep up to date with Jordan’s criminal underworld.
The suspicion and outright hostility that she faced at the beginning of her career have largely been replaced by respect.
Championing women in sport
A former Jordanian women’s national basketball captain, she has also championed gender equality in sport. When Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan asked her to head the Jordanian Football Association Women’s Football Committee in 2009, she jumped at the chance “to do something for women in my country”.
She hopes that the team will qualify for next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
“I think part of what I’m doing here has to do with the discrimination I faced when I was younger,” she says.
“Then, the [Jordanian sporting authorities] always favoured men over women, they furnished games for them, they let them travel, they bought them clothes, they had a league. We didn’t have any of that.”
She says her mother and brother have been a great source of support and strength as she has campaigned against honour crimes. She also lectures on the topic at home and abroad.
“I think it’s very important to spread awareness – even in high schools,” she says. “A lot of times, I have had women coming up to me saying they’ve been inspired by me, that I’ve helped them indirectly, that they’ve learned from hearing me speak. It’s good to have a positive influence on your society.”
With typically 15 to 20 cases of women being beaten, burned or stabbed to death each year, Jordan continues to suffer greatly from the scourge of so-called honour killings. But, in practical legal terms, the kingdom has made great strides in advancing women’s rights in recent times, including last year’s repeal of a contentious law that spared rapists punishment if they wed their victims.
Jordan’s near-neighbour Lebanon scrapped its own version of the law following a lengthy campaign by activists.
Husseini says that the Jordanian government is now on-message concerning its country’s cases of honour killings. But with governmental “acknowledgement of the problem” comes great responsibility, she adds.
“When the government acknowledges that there is a problem, then it becomes the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens and their safety.”
A shelter for women “whose lives are seriously threatened by their families” is expected to open this month.
|Rana, left, at a UNICEF event in Jordan last year [Courtesy: Khetam Malkawi/UNICEF Jordan]|
For now, Husseini plans to keep writing for The Jordan Times, promoting women’s rights and pursuing her love of sport, all while scooting around the city.
“Just today someone stopped me and took a photo of me on my scooter,” she says, with a laugh.
People might stop her for selfies, but few will ever come any closer to stopping Husseini in her tracks.