Originally posted July 2010
I was 12 years old when I decided to be a journalist. At the same age, I also decided that I was a feminist. I was only a child when my father left home. Thereafter, I lived with my four sisters and my ambitious mother, who was determined to give us the best education so that we could obtain good jobs. Yet, I was surrounded by a patriarchal society in which men are privileged and are in control of the lives of their female relatives. I also consider myself an atheist and a liberal woman living in a religious and conservative community. I believe in personal freedoms and individualism in a collective and tribal society. However, being different has also helped me to be creative. I grew up to face the reality that my last name, which indicates my Palestinian origin, would be an obstacle to my career opportunities in Jordan where Palestinians are looked upon with suspicion. This is a disadvantage when dealing with government departments, particularly in professions such as law and journalism.
Just like young people of previous generations of Jordanians, I was exposed to the collective hegemonic system of public education for 16 years of my life. It was difficult to find support and space in such a system to think critically, not to mention creatively. True, Jordan has achieved remarkable progress in reducing the rate of illiteracy and educating more women. In addition, there are efforts underway to improve the infrastructure and to introduce computers in schools. However, the core issues have yet to be addressed: The current teaching methods are still far from encouraging any creative critical thinking. In fact, if a child dares to think out of the box, s/he is immediately “disciplined” to think like the rest of their group. The best student is usually the one who has memorized the contents of books rather than being the one who questions what the books contain.
Computers and information technology (IT) have been introduced into schools, but this should not be the top priority because such facilities cannot help students break free from collective thinking. Students are still taught to accept traditions, religious, and nationalist ideologies as the only frameworks for leading their lives in the modern era. Curricula still celebrate Islamic victories, creating nostalgia in generation after generation, who feel helpless and frustrated about their current reality.
There have been some initiatives by civil society in Jordan to introduce needed changes, but they usually face two major problems. The first is that they have to accede to donors’ demands, such as introducing computers into schools. Microsoft, for example, decided that this ought to be a priority for Jordan. The second is the rigidity of the Ministry of Education, which has been controlled by Islamists since the 1980s.
Problems such as these urged me to think about how to improve my life and the lives of others. Media and journalism are effective tools in this battle. Although I wanted to be a journalist, it was not easy to find a job. I was fortunate to have been awarded a scholarship to study in the UK. A year there helped me to develop my journalistic skills, deepen my understanding of the profession, encourage critical and new ways of thinking, and earn a Master’s Degree, with distinction, in new media and journalism.
I returned home, armed with new ideas and determined to improve the situation of media in Jordan. AmmanNet was the only organization that embraced my ideas at that time. I created the radio program and website Eye on Media, the first radio program and media watchdog website in the Arab region, where self-criticism is rather non-existent. Eye on Media’s journalists monitor and analyze local media content and discuss with other journalists the problems facing the media in Jordan, such as journalists’ professional standards, ethics, freedom, and independence. My experience in this program has equipped me to function as a trainer consultant for a number of local and international media development programs.
Being a woman has given me additional motivation to improve media in Jordan. Read more than once in my media shows, I have dealt with media coverage of women’s issues. But I had not been satisfied until I produced my own radio show on women’s issues, a vehicle that has enabled me to debate issues that I am passionate about, such as the personal freedoms of young women in Jordan. In a series of 12 radio shows and reportages, I discussed the independence, sexuality, and self-expression of women, among other issues. Gender inequality in the workplace was the topic of another 12 radio shows. They covered different professions, including domestic and factory workers as well and bankers and lawyers. The show presents stories of creative women who have overcome gender inequality and succeeded in their work.
In a short period of time, I have become a leading member of a young team of professionals at AmmanNet who, since 2000, have helped to introduce media initiatives to the Arab region. In order to influence the educational system, we created a media literacy program for students called School Radio. To encourage citizen journalism also among youths, we created the Youth News run by young people addressing their peers. Such initiatives are part of our main goal to establish and to disseminate our experience in community radio and to develop its role in empowering local communities.
Journalism has always been my passion. Every week, I produce and present my radio show Eye on Media. I write news stories for Al-Sijill magazine, which is known to be the most progressive, independent, and high-quality media outlet in Jordan. My stories in Al-Sijill cover taboo subjects such as personal freedoms, homosexuals’ rights, religious restrictions on media freedoms, and the tribal system. A good journalist can write on those topics, but a creative journalist can convince an established outlet to publish them.