THE BLOG

Nima Habashneh: A Woman Who Fought for Equal Rights in Jordan

02/10/2015 01:13 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015

"It's easier to fight cancer than to fight an archaic mindset." Those were Nima Habashneh's last words on camera before she passed away this week. The 55-year-old Jordanian spent her last decade fighting for the rights of Jordanian women to pass on their citizenship to their spouses and children.

Around 84,000 Jordanian women are married to foreign citizens in Jordan with some 340,000 children from these marriages unable, until recently, to access the same basic rights of children with Jordanian nationality. Nima's campaign achieved victory in November last year when the government finally approved to grant certain rights to children of Jordanian women married to foreigners.

In 2011, I began following her activism work, saw her at protests and read her petitions. When I began researching more about the struggle of children who felt Jordanian but were alienated legally because their father was a foreigner, I decided to meet Nima and learn about her story.

We met on a cold November evening. She was a few minutes late to the interview and when I called her, I suddenly saw her hurrying up the escalator carrying a black bag with her two daughters walking behind her. She wore a beige sweater and a brown hijab and when she saw me, she quickly embraced me even though I had never met her.

I remember how she often walked in a hurry and spoke quickly, as if time was never on her side. She was excitable and optimistic even when she spoke about so many obstacles and failures. She told me about her family, how she fell in love with a Moroccan man, and how she refused to move to any other country other than her own. When she had her six children, she never thought that her struggle for their basic rights would become her life-long cause.

Like the majority of Jordanian women, she didn't work. All her children began attending school but she found herself having opinions and ideas but not knowing where to express them. She began posting comments in an online chat forum, and then she created a blog.

In 2011, when the Arab Spring fever spread across the region and protests were a more common sight, Nima took her online opinions offline and into the streets.

She reached out to many women to encourage them to join her in her first protest. She spoke to women like her, who were living in Jordan and also struggling because they were married to foreigners and their children lacked basic rights as non-citizens. None of the women showed up. When she called them, some turned off their cellphones, she told me during the interview. Her Facebook Page called 'My Mother is Jordanian and Her Citizenship is My Right" was hacked. She received threatening messages.

Still it didn't take others much time to understand that her campaign was, as she called it, "a national cause". More women began showing up at protests, signed petitions and met regularly. Almost 10,000 people joined her new Facebook page. Nima began appearing on radio stations, demanding she meet with politicians and decision-makers until she eventually found herself at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland speaking about her cause and representing a nation.

Nima shared with her online followers the story I wrote about the struggle for gender equality in Jordan. She would call me often to invite me to press conferences or events or she would ask me if I listened to her interview on the radio or her appearance on a television show. As always, she was excitable, warm and busy.

Nima was bigger than her cause. For ordinary Jordanian women, they could identify with her -- she did not have a long career, she was not famous or rich. What made her succeed were her acts every single day. It was her focus and determination that became an inspiration and why cartoonists and columnists have eulogized her in newspapers here this week.

In some ways she didn't choose her cause, it chose her. It's often said it's a struggle that actually ends up defining a person. Nima took that struggle and she owned it, she squeezed it and carried it proudly on the streets and online where her followers posted today that if one thing is for sure, it is that Nima began this campaign and it will live on.