Rana Husseini broke the conspiracy of silence surrounding a very sensitive social issue in Jordan. Her book, “Murder in the Name of Honour,” united women in a country where they account for around 49 percent of the total population of more than 10 million.
Husseini, an award-winning veteran journalist, and activist, exposed crimes against women in the semi-conservative Jordanian society, and specifically honor killing, which took the lives of 26 women in 2019 and so far seven in 2020.
In late 1993, the Jordanian people were shocked to read in The Jordan Times – the country’s only English daily newspaper – about a heinous murder that happened in the name of honor.
“Back then, people turned a blind eye on this critical issue because they considered it a family matter that no one should interfere with,” Husseini told Inside Arabia.
“In early 1994, I covered a story about a 16-year-old schoolgirl who was killed by one of her brothers because she was raped by another brother.”
“In early 1994, I covered a story about a 16-year-old schoolgirl who was killed by one of her brothers because she was raped by another brother. I believe that was the turning point as society took note of what is called honor killing.”
“The story impacted the whole society, and while some blamed the girl for seducing her brother, others felt angry and shocked. Her story was truly sad, so I wrote about it in my book,” Husseini explained.
“Today, even as things have changed a little regarding laws in the country, we still witness women being killed by their brothers, fathers, cousins, and even their current or former husbands,” Husseini, added.
In fact just last week, on July 17, another horrific murder took place in the el-Balqa governorate where a father killed his daughter Ahlam, by repeatedly hitting her head with a brick. The killing sparked widespread outrage and hundreds of Jordanians staged a sit-in near the parliament building in Amman requesting an end to violence against women. Social media were inundated with angry hashtags that went viral “AhlamScreams” and “AhlamWasBetrayed” (translated from Arabic) on Twitter, while a video of her screaming for help circulated.
Over the years, in the course of her investigations, Husseini told Inside Arabia: “Many times, I was asked to leave the crime scene, officials and family members refrained from saying a word to me, but I never gave up and placed all my effort on finding the truth behind such murders,” she said. “We live in a very traditional society where anything that happens to a woman dishonors the whole family.”
In 2017, human rights activists and civil society commended the move by Jordanian lawmakers to approve amendments to Article 98, which addressed “mitigating circumstances” for “honor crimes,” resulting in increased sentences for perpetrators.
The original text of Article 98 stipulated that the perpetrator could argue there were “mitigating circumstances” in their crime, such as a “severe rage tantrum” caused by the “actions of the victim.” A blatant case of putting the blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator.
In the same year, Jordan abolished Article 308 of the Penal Code that allowed rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims for a minimum period of five years; the decision was hailed as a great victory for women in the country.
“As a woman living in a traditional society, I look at Rana’s coverage as a beacon in a world full of injustice. How sad it is to see women killed in the name of honor by their own father or brother. Who could do such a thing to his own family?” Ibtisam Awadat, a concerned citizen, told Inside Arabia.
“We need tougher laws to curb this phenomenon; we lost 20 women last year and maybe more as some crimes remain under investigation.”
“We need tougher laws to curb this phenomenon; we lost 20 women last year and maybe more as some crimes remain under investigation and therefore cannot be dubbed as ‘honor killings.’ And that is why journalists and society members should focus more on fighting honor killing and putting an end to the murders by introducing harsher punishments,” Awadat added.
The motive behind an “honor killing” could be something as simple as a woman opening a Facebook account. The reason may even be based on a lie told by a close friend.
In May 2020, a Jordanian man in his twenties stabbed his sister once in the back with a kitchen knife after they entered into an argument over her “demonic” act of creating an account on Facebook.
“Many times, women are killed because a male member of the family made assumptions about their actions. Or someone informed the family about something she did which could be unacceptable and could tarnish the family honor,” Husseini said. “In my opinion, women in all societies should be valued and cherished and not killed.”
Husseini’s book “Murder in the Name of Honour” published in 2009, was a huge bestseller because it covered social matters surrounding this type of murders, which are hard to understand or grasp, according to Husseini.
“I wrote my book to tell the truth and shed light on this issue and also to make it a reference for anyone who is interested in knowing more about this subject,” she said. “This book is a rendition of all the effort it took to write about honor killings in Jordan; and although it is an international problem, I believe that Jordan has done a lot to protect women.”
Covering an issue that is considered a daunting taboo was not a walk in the park for Husseini. Fortunately, she received much needed moral support and social appreciation and, most importantly, official recognition from the Jordanian Royal family.
In 2007, the veteran journalist was conferred the Al Hussein Decoration for Distinguished Contribution, Second Order bestowed on her by King Abdullah II of Jordan for her activism in the human rights field and for defending women’s causes in the Kingdom.
Last year, Husseini was presented with the Arab Women of the Year Award 2019 for Social Impact.
Last year, Husseini was presented with the Arab Women of the Year Award 2019 for Social Impact, in recognition of inspiring women who stand against violence and give hope that injustice can be challenged and overcome.
Husseini has also been recognized globally and was granted several more awards, including: the Distinguished Alumna award from the Oklahoma City University Alumna Association; the Spanish Ciutat de L’Hospitalet award for the Defence of Human Rights and Peaceful Coexistence for work on championing women’s right issues in Jordan; the Ida B. Wells award for Bravery in Journalism; and the Marie Claire Top Ten Women of the World award for bringing attention to honor crimes against women in Jordan.
Rana Husseini is to be commanded universally for her bravery and perseverance. Her work is essential to our understanding of this issue and the ongoing effort to eradicate the practice. Women’s lives, according to Husseini, are still at risk today and the work will not be done until honor killing is a thing of the past all over the world.