Seven Arab media professionals: Challenging existing perceptions of women in the media
© Rasmus Steen
Seven Arab media professionals: Challenging existing perceptions of women in the media
International Media Support (IMS)
Last updated: June 15, 2015

“Women in the Arab world are also heroes”

Banner Icon “You can choose to portray a woman as a victim, or you can choose to focus on the fact that she once was a victim, but was able to overcome it. Then she becomes a heroine. Most media portray Arab women as victims. We want to portray them as heroes,” says Nadine Nimri at a public debate at the Danish Women’s Museum.

Nadine Nimri is one of seven Arab media professionals who visited Denmark as part of a road trip aiming at establishing meetings between media professionals engaged in gender issues in the Middle East and Denmark. The road trip Challenging male dominance in the media was organised by International Media Support (IMS), with support from the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme.

ims34.jpgAla Latif, Nadine Nimri and Hala Bejjani in the bus on the highway to Odense, Denmark

The opinions were many when IMS and the Danish Women’s Museum in Aarhus invited for a public debate on how to challenge male dominance in the media. Part of the panel was Nafisa Al-Sabagh from Egypt, editor-in-chief of the women-oriented website, Masreiat. She also has experience from several Egyptian media outlets and as media expert and trainer for international NGOs. She believes change in the Arab world has just gotten started.

“After 2011, women in Egypt started speaking out against rights violations. After they felt empowered by the revolution, they started rebelling against sexual harassment, which had grown in Egypt since 2005. They took to the streets and demonstrated,” she said. “Change in the Middle East will not go away. People have changed.”

Doaa El Adl, Egyptian cartoonist, presents her work in the bus

The group of media professionals included Sara Alzawqari from Yemen, radio host with one of the country’s most popular programmes called ‘Tea with Milk’. Her sarcasm-filled take on Yemen’s crisis builds bridges between people and communities from all walks of life.

Sara Alzawqari being portrayed for Danish newspaper Politiken

“There was a barrier between different communities and I realised that slang and sarcasm is a good method to establish common ground. Sarcasm is already integrated into Yemeni society. It brings people together.”

She is impressed by the media environment in Denmark.

“What shocks me the most in Denmark was the level of objectivity in the media. There is so much responsibility in the media on what is provided to the public,” she said.

Hala Bejjani, the Lebanese founder of a children’s newspaper in Beirut and the Planet News Business in Qatar, criticised the general opinion of the Arab spring.

Amal Ramsis and Hala Bejjani prepare for debate at the Women's Museum in Denmark with moderator Lene Juul Bruun from DR P1

“People say the Arab spring has not lived up to their expectations, but I believe it is too early to judge. Even if there are no political results yet, the changes have grown strong into our DNAs.”

Hala is also the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. She emphasises the strength of Arab women.

“We currently see a lot of new companies being founded by women, with 300 new companies on a yearly basis just in Lebanon.”

She further criticises the Western way of portraying the Arab world.

“I do not like the way we are often portrayed in the media, with religion being decisive. We have just as many ‘crazy Muhammad’s’ as Christians have ‘crazy Pauls’.”

Nadine Nimri, political reporter from Al-Ghad in Jordan, discusses the use of sources with media researcher Rikke Andreasen

In these crucial times of conflict and upheaval in the Arab world, it is important to create some sense and understanding of what remains of the Arab uprisings that started in spring 2011. It is clear from the perspectives of the visiting female media workers that change has taken place in the minds of both men and women and that this change despite violence and the return of authoritarian regimes is irreversable. And that it is the responsibility of western media to also seek out and portray this change whenever possible in their coverage of the Arab world.

Meeting at Danish newspaper Information

All photos: Rasmus Steen. This article originally appeared on the IMS website. 
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