This interview is part of IPI’s series profiling our 10 new Executive Board members. 

Etaf Roudan is a radio journalist and the first Jordanian woman to run a community radio station, Radio al-Balad. A recipient of the WIN Editorial Leadership Award in 2020, she also edits a community newspaper and organizes resources to build capacity and support women-led community media. She has advocated for women’s empowerment and press freedom throughout her career in her writing and many projects, breaking political, gender and social barriers in her work.

And now, Etaf Roudan has joined IPI’s global Executive Board. We spoke with her recently about Jordan’s press freedom challenges and how she’s working to ease the path for female colleagues in the media.

IPI: What are the big challenges for independent journalism today in Jordan?

The first challenge journalism faces in Jordan is that the laws are very strict, with several new laws coming into force over the past few years. The second challenge is the practice of journalism, because you must be gentle in criticism of those in power or they prefer not to be criticized at all. The third challenge, which is a huge one for us and for journalism in the third world, is the money – the funds for independent media stations like us.

Once past this, some people who work in the media can’t find a media association to work with because it’s unusual in Jordan to work part-time, though it’s also hard for a fresh graduate to find a full-time job immediately. Add to this the challenge of gender bias, because women struggle greatly in Jordan because of our gender. The number of female journalists is a lot lower than men, especially in decision-making roles. That’s why we can’t raise that high a voice for women in the media. We’re a tribal, conservative religious community, though it might not seem so. And sometimes women are told they can’t work in journalism because it’s not how things are done in our community or our heritage. I am from a small village. I faced this problem. So it is difficult for women to be taken seriously as journalists. 

And so how might IPI make a difference in facing all of these different challenges?

IPI can help by encouraging Jordanian independent journalism, whether by men or women, and act to support independent media, and women in media decision-making, and the availability of professional tools for the media. I think the Jordanian government hears what is being said internationally, and they pay attention to it, which I think plays a huge role in this.

What makes you feel optimistic about journalism today?

Because I’ve been there. Journalism changed my life in that personal aspect. I am helping young women outside the capital to have the chance that I had, to change their lives, make them independent, to make them stronger. They have their own ideas. They can speak freely about their opinion, identity, religion, their hopes, their thoughts. It is the role of the media to express what the people said, but for women, and young women, especially in the conservative community, it means a lot.

And finally, what, what do you hope to achieve yourself in your time on the IPI Executive Board?

I hope that I can help journalists in Jordan, female and male, to feel confident that if I make it in IPI – it seems that I’m the first Arab woman in this role – then they can, too. It’s not just for me or Jordan, but for Arab countries as a whole. I’ve received congratulations from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine. Because they think that if one Arab woman can make it in this important place, then people in the Arab world pay attention to the importance of being a female journalist in the Arab world.