New ideas…

This is my first blog post in a ridiculously long time, so I feel quite sheepish in writing it. I’ve been thinking long and hard about how exactly to carry out the pledge I made last summer: to do my bit in the fight against sexual abuse against women, both in Egypt and around the world. Noble intentions, yes – but some serious planning and refinement of those ambitions is needed to really make that happen.

I hugely enjoyed helping Unreported World with the production of their 20-minute documentary, ‘Egypt: Sex, Mobs, and Revolution’ broadcast in November on Channel 4. As for my own documentary, I’m in regular contact with the producer who I’ll be working with, and progress is indeed being made. As I outlined some months ago, getting it funded, commissioned, and fitting it all in around the producer’s incredibly busy schedule will take time. But it will happen!

Anyway, whilst working on new TV projects has given me invaluable experience, I’m itching to do more for womankind. Particularly after being inspired by coverage of a new documentary, “Brave Miss World” – please DO look it up.

I, along with billions of people worldwide, was deeply shaken and disturbed by the horrific Delhi gang-rape case (and the more recent devastating rape and murder of 3 Indian sisters). My instinct was to blog about it. But then I thought…what can I say? What can I possibly write in a blog post that billions of people around the world aren’t already saying? I started to focus more on what I could do.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what exactly to do. Sexual violence against women is such a truly global phenomenon that it’s difficult to highlight its occurrence in one part of the world without appearing to neglect all those women suffering in the Congo, in Syria, in Pakistan, in America, in France, in the UK…and in every country on Earth.

So, do I make a documentary on every country in the world? Do I gradually work my way through a list of misogynistic global hotspots? And, standing next to the plethora of existing NGOs and charitable organisations designed to fight the sexual abuse of women, what can I bring to the table?

I’ll stop with the (possibly irritating) rhetorical questions now and cut to the chase. As a British young woman, I’ve decided to hit home with this global problem. I want to develop my own documentary that will resonate with young men and women growing up in the UK. I want a UK audience to see that sexual violence and discrimination against women is as relevant at home as it is abroad – just in different ways.

So, my aim is to highlight to a UK audience that sexual abuse is not confined to far-flung countries like India, Syria, or Egypt; nor is it confined to the Jimmy Savile era, the horrors of which are, disgracefully, only now being brought to light; nor is it confined to abuses carried out by priests in the Catholic Church. Sexual abuse plagues the younger generation of Brits in a far quieter, subtler, yet equally deplorable way.

Needless to say, we all know that rape occurs in the UK – it affects nearly 70,000 women every year. But I really don’t think we’re open enough about it. To a degree, I don’t think young men necessarily realise that rape jokes might not count as “banter”, and I don’t think young women necessarily realise that they have a right not to laugh at them without being branded that most unfashionable of things: a “feminist”. I could go on to talk about the widely-discussed controversy over telling women “don’t get raped” rather than telling men not to rape, and the pervasive “blame the victim” culture, but I feel these points have been very widely discussed already on the internet (and I may end up ranting for hours).

I must, though, express my admiration for the Home Office’s anti-rape ad campaign. But what concerns me are the general attitudes of young men and women – towards rape and who is to be held responsible – that necessitate such an ad campaign.

Telling women how they should dress and behave to avoid rape – note Tory MP Richard Graham and Joanna Lumley’s blunderous comments – only serve to further inflame this debate.

To round up, I don’t want to give too much away, and it’s very early days for this project. I’m putting out feelers to see how this documentary could work, so please do get in touch with any feedback or further ideas.

Thanks for reading this delayed and horrendously long post!

Autumn Update

Autumn’s on the horizon and it’s looking all right.

Unreported World was brilliant. Worked with a fantastic, friendly team who integrated me into all the team discussions and welcomed my ideas. I’m itching to give more details of what I got up to while I was there, but that’ll have to wait until the new season is aired in about 6 weeks’ time, I’m afraid! All very hush hush until then.

As for the Egypt documentary, I’m compiling a trailer at the moment from the footage I managed to salvage from my first week in Cairo. I’ll post the trailer on my blog when it’s completed, so stay tuned! The trailer will be used to help pitch the documentary for funding from various organisations. This is going to be a very long-term project, as there’ll be many stages in the development of the documentary. I’m confident it’ll be worth the wait, though! The main thing is that the pre-production process is in motion.

Further updates to follow!

One more step in the fight against sexual harassment in Egypt

I have now completed my article and it will soon be published by Fair Observer, once the editors edit it and the web designers format it to look neat and pretty. Woohoo!

I have also been able to complete my MA unexpectedly in the past 2 weeks. I never imagined I’d be able to complete it this year after my attack forced me to abandon the unfinished documentary. I will admit, I am rather proud of myself.

It was quite a challenge to fit so many moving stories and viewpoints into such a tight word count. I soon came to realise that sexual harassment in Egypt needs much more extensive coverage, which has inspired my decision to create some kind of web resource for women to share their experiences of sexual harassment, and their ideas about tackling the problem. This will also provide me with room to share the stories I have already featured in my article in greater depth. The idea is in its infancy at the moment, but I’ll keep you updated.

It’s deeply satisfying to be connected to the cause of fighting sexual harassment. It’s raised my awareness of the plight of women in so many regions of the world who suffer in different ways every single day simply because they are women, which makes them vulnerable. I feel the plight of women in the Congo (who I will be running 10K for on Sunday), Egypt, India, Honduras and many other regions demands much greater media coverage in order to capture the attention of women in Britain and elsewhere. As cliched as it may sound, I have begun to feel a much deeper bond to womankind – a kind of sisterhood that motivates me to do much more to defend women’s rights globally.

I’ve now got a 10K run on Sunday that I am nowhere near physically fit enough to complete with ease; I anticipate that I’ll be crawling across the finish line. But the cause is so incredibly worthwhile and I’m very glad to be part of it.

Then I’m off to Oxford for my 2-week internship with Unreported World. I cannot wait. It’s going to be a fantastic experience – I’m sure of it. I’m so happy to be interning for a programme that I feel so genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about. I hope I can bring oodles of positive energy to the team without being annoying.

Today is a good day!

What happened to our revolution? A documentary on women in Egypt

In exactly three weeks, I’ll be travelling to Cairo to film my documentary on life for women in Egypt since the 2011 revolution. I’m nervous, excited, and wholeheartedly committed to producing a unique insight into this critical issue.

From the outset, I sought to produce a piece that was multidimensional and inclusive rather than focusing exclusively on a small cluster of Egyptian women’s rights activists or victims of discrimination. I wanted to feature an assortment of characters who would reflect the genuine diversity of women in Egypt. By using this strategy, I have secured a wide array of interviews with belly dancers, artists, writers, politicians, campaigners, legal professionals, and more. My only concern at this stage is fitting in so many fascinating people in such a short space of time.

Inspiration

Part of my inspiration for this project was Mona Eltahawy’s piece, ‘Why do they hate us?’, published by Foreign Policy. I found the forthright way she articulated her attitudes to be bold and daring, and it led me to seek different perspectives on the topic. I quickly became confident that this issue, though covered by international media, is certainly worthy of more in-depth analysis, as so many voices remain unheard.

This emphasis on untold stories made specifying my target audience easy: Unreported World felt like a perfect fit. Finding out that my application for a summer internship with Unreported World had been successful sealed the deal, as the internship in July will help shape my editing process in August.

Despite the bitter hatred directed at Mubarak’s regime from women during the protests, female representation in parliament has actually seen a drastic drop from 12% to 2% since his fall from power. This is a far cry from the gender equality and fair representation hoped for as women fought alongside men for change in January 2011. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces repealed a parliamentary quota that designated a minimum of 64 seats to women allegedly due to suspicion that it was manipulated under Mubarak to ensure women of his ruling party would be sworn into power. Sadly, the removal of this quota has led women to sit in only 9 out of 508 seats in parliament.

In terms of physical and sexual abuse, in March 2011, Samira Ibrahim brought a case against Dr Ahmed Adel for carrying out so-called “virginity tests” on women protestors. These tests were invasive, degrading procedures which violated women in order to prove that only unclean, promiscuous women camped out with men during the demonstrations. Although a court ruled these tests to be illegal in December 2011, the charges against Dr. Adel were dropped in March 2012 due to several witnesses retracting their statements at the last minute. This occurred in spite of the confession of a senior general that these procedures definitely took place.

These are just two examples of the whole-scale discrimination that faces women in Egypt and is provoking a tidal wave of resentment that is continually gaining momentum. If the new government fails to satisfy increasing demands for gender equality, renewed violent protests could well be on the horizon.

Progress

Virtually everyone I have contacted has offered been supportive, and has responded positively to my relentless pursuit of further contacts; I appreciate it must be a little annoying to be incessantly asked: “do you know anyone else who may be interested in participating in my project? Do you know how I may get in touch with X?”

As interviews began piling up, I realised I faced a new concern: narrowing the focus of my piece. In how much depth should I explore the role of Islam, and the different attitudes of women towards Islam as a liberating or oppressive force in their lives? (Check out this piece on MP Azza al-Garf for a fascinating insight into this debate.) How deeply should I analyse the historical context of women’s rights in Egypt? Should I focus more on women in Egyptian politics or victims of physical and sexual abuse?

Given the contemporaneity of the presidential elections, I’ve decided to place emphasis in my piece on what implications the newly elected government could have for women in Egypt. This does also encompass the issue of physical and sexual abuse, since this problem of systematic misogyny reaches far back into the Mubarak era and is still a political issue, given the fact that it is Egyptian police who have carried out abuse against women protestors since the revolution.

I received some great news a couple of days ago. Deb Bergeron of Rainlake Productions, based in New York, has asked to hire me to film shots for the company’s upcoming documentary on transitioning democracies in the Middle East while I’m in Cairo. Furthermore, I’ll be working with Fair Observer on my documentary, writing articles for the platform to log my experiences and observations.

Every day new developments prompt new observations and responses in blogs, features, and analyses across the web. I’ve offered a small sample of some fantastic links below – do check them out if you have a spare couple of minutes.

I’ll be posting regular updates about the progress of my documentary on this blog, so stay tuned.

Sri Lanka

After meaning to watch it for almost 9 months, I’ve finally watched Channel 4’s shocking investigative documentary: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

I’ll be honest: my understanding of the conflict in Sri Lanka – and of the country as a whole, for that matter – was very limited beforehand. So I won’t pretend to be an expert after watching one documentary and doing a little speed-reading.

Watching it did, however, bring me to ask some very uncomfortable questions. How has the international community let this one slide? How did it allow tens of thousands of civilians to be caught up in a conflict not their own in the first place? How, and why? Why, why, why?

I’m not a cynic by nature. In fact, I’ve recognised for a while now that in many ways, I’m really quite naive about the world. I grew up with a vague idea that at the end of the day, there were enough good people in power to counterbalance all the bad ones, and make sure things turned out all right in the end. But gradually, I grew up. And I continue to grow up. And that process has involved recognising that most things in life come in shades of grey.

Simplicity is golden. It is a luxury, it can be elusive. Simplicity can be misleading. Crude simplifications of complex situations can justify extreme behaviour, if one side represents right, and the other, wrong. Simplicity breeds ignorance: a polarised view of the world.

Yet without simplification – a clear idea of right, wrong, good, bad – everything blurs and runs. Order becomes chaos, courage and conviction dissolve, morals seem pointless, and people lose hope. Alliances are formed and battles fought around the simple principle of good versus bad, despite the fact that there is always a history to any battle of alliance which tells a much hazier, more convoluted, story.

Now, all this is nothing new. But it’s a trail of philosophical thought that taps into everything we think, and everything we do. It’s easy to simplify, and it’s awkward to empathise. It’s harder still to draw the line between simplifying and oversimplifying, to know when to pass definitive judgement and when to empathise. I have always kept my convictions quite fluid, purely because the more that I learn, the more slippery those convictions become in my hands. History teaches so many sides to so many stories. Yet we also see simple cycles repeating themselves over and over.

The idea of simplicity is a fascinating paradox. We base our lives (and our religions) around simple principles, without which we’d be lost. That’s one of the reasons atheism is scary: it centres around the idea that there is a vast unknown that cannot and may never be explained. That there’s no point to life, beyond the little goals and milestones we set up in our own universes. But this is also quite liberating, isn’t it? That there are no real limits, and that we were all just lucky enough to evolve and survive? It’s scary, and brilliant. Just like life is simple, but complicated. Full of paradoxes.

…Anyway, that’s quite enough from me.