It s still a man s world. These words may appear incongruous in modern society, but there is truth in them. A report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on International Women s Day reveals that men continue to earn more, and that women in dual-earning marriages are still expected to be the primary homemaker.
The issue came under the spotlight during the Arab Women Documentary Film Series, hosted on Sunday at the new AUC campus by the Cynthia Nelson Institute for Gender and Women s Studies (IGWS). The organization “researches ways in which cultural gate-keeping concepts determine the lens through which gender issues are identified, investigated and explored. The academic research institute is part of the American University in Cairo.
“Thorns and Silk, the first documentary shown, was produced by Finnish filmmaker Paulina Tervo. Composed of four segments of three minutes each, it offered a snapshot view of the working lives of four Palestinian women working in conventionally male jobs.
Tervo was commissioned under the Real World scheme – jointly organized between Pathways and Screen South – as part of the International Women s Film Festival. With women s empowerment as the theme, Tervo chose to travel to Palestine. She chose four women from different cities; a filmmaker from Hebron, taxi-driver from Jerusalem, policewoman from Jericho, and a mechanic from Nablus.
Hanan, the filmmaker, videos female-only weddings, previously not documented. Majda wears a Jewish headscarf, as her passengers are predominantly Israeli. Niveen loves the police training, but finds it hard to meet men who are open-minded enough to accept her masculine job. Yusra fixes the heavy machinery of the family factory, and also drives a truck to deliver the goods produced.
Each woman is supported by her husband and family, and each woman faces criticism by some in their communities. The husband of the taxi driver, Majda, is proud of his wife. I encourage women to work if they are confident and believe in themselves, he says.
Yusra, the mechanic is accepting of her role. Let people talk. What can we do? I m happy to contribute. My husband is old and has done his share. This is our livelihood.
Speaking via Skype, Tervo said the film drew diverse reactions across Palestine. Some didn t see it as special, while others said these images aren t seen and are therefore important, she explained.
The taxi-driver elicited the strongest responses, with people not being happy with Majda for being friendly with her Israeli passengers. They also felt it didn t touch on the conflict around which their lives are centered.
Hanan was particularly upset upon viewing the film. In an on-screen map, Tervo wrote West Bank, which Hanan felt should have read Palestine. In a later interview, Hanan cried, This film is being screened around the world. Some people don t know about Palestine.
Jeanette Rizk s “Cairo Conversations presents an intimate look into the lives of four Coptic women; three of whom are related, one is a family friend. Filmed in Masarra, a poor Cairo neighborhood, it candidly portrays the hardships of gender inequality. Um Hani is the matriarch. Everyone has their talents. Mine is to care for my family , she remarks.
Proposed to by her paternal cousin, she was married at 16, despite her reluctance to leave her parents safe cocoon. She describes her husband as a good, but lazy man and says if they weren t related, there would probably be more problems in the marriage.
The women talk of marriage as an exchange of goods, commenting on how girls are regarded as used goods if not married by 20. Intermarriage within families is common, with women often marrying paternal cousins. There s a perception that if their own cousins don t propose, there s something wrong with them.
Research has shown that women in low income areas are disproportionately more affected by domestic violence. Um Hani s daughter, Jihan, was at first emotionally abused by her husband, and then physically abused. In seven years of marriage, he never once told me I love you , she says. Her parents sent her back to him when she went to them asking for help. So did her pastor who told her parents, He s her husband. She must go back to him.
It was only when her father saw the tangible bruises and scars of the abuse did he relent. Jihan s pain is an indictment on society; As an abused woman, everybody tries to control you and your opinions. I feel I have no voice for myself, she says
Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch, the remainder of the film could not be screened. IGWS will show the next documentary, “Marriage Egyptian Style, on May 2. IGWS will also re-screen “Cairo Conversations, and has chosen the old AUC campus in Tahrir as the venue.