Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Sunday, November 10, 2013

100 women

In October 2013, the entire BBC apparatus kept running stories about women. The BBC Arabic did the same, culminating in an hour-long call in show in which both Arab men and women shared their opinions of women's standing in the Arab world today.

I did not think it was a great program, because sometimes when the men called in, they said ridiculous things, and no one gave them a comeuppance for it. I wanted a fight and a showdown! But it was mostly congenial, as you see here:

The discussion was moderated by the BBC Arabic's Rasha Qandeel, dressed in lemon and gray:

She started off by saying: I am honored to be the moderator for this discussion.

Then a Tunisian guy called in to say: "Tunisian women are strong!"

Saha Tariq from Egypt called in: "The condition for Egyptian women is getting worse."

The discussion turned to Syria. Hasaar al Harak, a Syrian lady, called in to say that the experience of women in Syria has for some time been about the same as a man's experience. They have the same positions in society, they are both involved in politics, and it is not a very patriarchal mindset.

Rasha the moderator said: but right now we know there is a war in Syria, and that during the vacuum in security many girls have been raped and subjected to horrible crimes.

Hasaar: yes, but men have suffered as well, with horrible crimes. During wars, women and children are always the weaker parts, so it's expected that they get more of the suffering.

Rasha had a guest with her in the studio for a while, an Arab lady called Bahia.

This lady is an artist, and she is pretty famous. She came up with the artwork theme of "No to dictatorship!", "No to [insert any injustice you want]!" with which some parts of Egypt have been plastered, and which became a symbol of the Egyptian Revolution.

Rasha asked Bahia: is the Arab woman the way she is because of society, because of the lack of education, or because of her intrinsic qualities?

Bahia: Because of education. I've met lots of Arab mothers who cannot read or write.

Rasha: well, then, what can educated Arab women do to help? If educated Arab women are only 30% of the total population (is that statistic true?!), then how can such a small sliver change the world?

Bahia: we can use the media as a way to educate and reach a lot of people at once. That makes is less of a formidable challenge.

Now, changing topics, Rasha asks: there's an idea that strong women end up with neither kids nor husbands. This is a stereotype that is quite distasteful. What does the audience say?

Abd Al Salam Mohamed from the UAE via phone: I agree that this stereotype is not nice. He said lots more, but I lost track of what he was saying.

Rasha asks: if you have an Arab girl and an Arab boy with the exact same qualifications, why does the girl end up with the stereotype of being 'aggressive', while the boy does not?

Mohamed Al Qasar from Morocco answered to that by phone, but I could not understand his Moroccan accent. But Rasha replied back to him, "so education can change stereotypes."

Mohamed: yes, education is important for everything. Education has let women grow and develop. And she has rights to participate socially, politically, artistically, ....

Rasha moves on: we know that things have changed for women. Have the laws made things better?

Bahia: there's still laws that hold us back. For example, I have citizenship of Lebanon which I cannot pass on to my daughter, just because I'm female! This is how it is in many Arab countries. In Egypt, just recently, they changed that law.

Rasha: right now, with the Arab spring and many countries re-writing their constitutions, should they include strong rights for women?

Bahia: laughs.

Rasha, also laughs: you laugh because the answer is, of course!

Bahia: of course those rights should be guaranteed, but that is not always the case.

Next, they read out some comments from twitter and Facebook.

Facebook comment: biggest problem in Egypt is sexual harassment (ah, those wonderful, flawless, saintly, virtuous Muslim men!)

Comment from a man: the worst thing is women not getting enough education.

Comment: Nothing will change until society and its attitudes towards women changes.

Comment: we need less of a patriarchal society.

Other comments mentioned domestic violence, lack of opportunities, and more harassment.

Comment from Abu Sufyan: women are not suffering today, and I don't want them to suffer. If women stay at home, they will not suffer.

Comment from a man: today, women are professors, government officials, etc, so they don't have anything left to achieve.

Comment from Rita: the revolutions have made things worse for women.

Mohamed al-Sayid's comment: it got better for lots of women during the Arab Spring, but in Syria, it got worse.

Comment from Akram (pretty sure this is a male name):  there is not true participation by women, and this is women's fault, because they don't want it.

Comment: it is women's silence that has led her to this position. If you want something, you will work hard enough to get it.

[I thought comments like that deserved some comeuppance. I was talking to a Libyan lady the other day. She said how when she was little, she could bike around. But as soon as she and all her friends turned 13 or so, it became a matter of, "don't you know that girls don't do things like that, and isn't it best if you stay at home?" Now, how can you claim it is all women's fault and women's silence, when you can't do something as peaceful and freeing as ride a bike????]

Rasha asks an open question: is there truly a problem that women are scared of being on the streets because of societal pressures, or is this an exaggeration?

She was answered by Mabrook Aqila, a lady who called in: she said the real problem with Arab women is their lack of confidence.

Rasha: I know strong Arab women who have worked as journalists in wars, who have served in armies (Arab women????), and clearly they are all confident. So why do you think some other Arab women are so different and lack confidence?

Mabrook: They think that if they succeed outside, they will fail in their house; and then, if on top of everything they also fail outside, everyone will know it, and they'll know they're failing inside as well. They will have failed everywhere.

Rasha said: this is really unfair, sometimes people succeed, sometimes they fail, both men and women. How unfair that for a man it is okay for him to fail publicly, yet for a woman, attached to the spectacle of failure will be a lot of commentary about her choices and lots of I-told-you-so's.

Bahia left the studio, and Rasha had two new female guests, a politician (in pink) and a journalist (in black) from Yemen. Here they are:

Because of the politician, it was a good time for the program to mention that in 2011, Yemen got a new law that really opened up opportunities for women in politics. The law was supported by both liberals and Islamists. One female caller from Yemen made a point of saying this shows Yemen is not like other Arab countries, where the liberals and Islamists are often at loggerheads.

Rasha asked of her new guests: what is it like for female journalists?

The journalist in black: it can be hard because of societal attitudes, because of the expectations of your boss or director, and you always get stuck reporting purely about women and children. On the other hand, women journalists can do stories, sensitive stories, that male journalists cannot do.

The politician in pink: in the past in Yemen, whenever you opened a newspaper or the TV, you never saw any women. Now it's getting better, and it's even better than in many other places, because we don't have pressures about news presenters being beautiful. You don't have to be blond and skinny.

Rasha: I agree with that. When you talk of a female news reporter, the first thing said about her is, oh, she's so beautiful!

[I have done that exact same thing on this blog, yikes!]

The politician in pink: it's not like that in Yemen. A woman of any looks can be on the news, no problem.

 Rasha: lots of people say that we women are our own worst enemies.

The politician in pink: That is true, but there's also a lot of men that are our worst enemies, so let's not stereotype. People of any category can be the factor that tries to set us back. And if you don't have support, then search for it. There's many women who do want to help.

Now for opinions from random people on the Arab street:

This man, wearing an NY baseball cap, says that after the revolutions, women are fine, they have all their rights.

 This lady is happily talking about how now there are women in all the government ministries and legislative bodies.

 This man says, inshallah one day there will be an Arab woman president! (or prime minister or what have you!)

This man says he hopes there will be more women well-educated and in politics. 

This man says, an Arab woman will not get to be president, because there's no laws to help her get there.

This Tunisian lady echoes a previous caller to say, Tunisian women are strong!

This man says, there will be an Arab woman president because fifty years ago we did not have female government ministers, and now we do; so it's just a matter of time. 

This man says, sure there will be an Arab woman president one day, why not? Because they are already lawyers now. 

This lady says, when you are a girl, you are told you can't do this and you can't do that. All that hurts girls.

One other man whose picture I did not get said: sure, there should be a woman president. After all, they are one half of society.

So, ladies and gentlemen, that was the program on women at the BBC Arabic. Really, I had wished there would be some arguments, some fireworks, a fiery debate in which the women shot down all the men! But that did not happen. It was pretty tame.

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