As we turn on our televisions or leaf through the morning newspaper, we cannot but wince at the alarming rate at which phenomena such as domestic violence, femicide and sexual harassment are growing worldwide.
Particularly ubiquitous in the media limelight, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring, have been the seemingly declining conditions of women in the Middle East, often attributed to the conservative bend that many countries in the region have undertaken over the last two years.
Amal El-Nakeeb, a postgraduate student in TV and Digital Journalism at the American University in Cairo, points out that the problem of domestic violence is of a more complicated nature.
“It is hard to track its roots, as they are cultural, economic, and social,” she says. “And it is also at the core of some other major issues that affect our society, such as that of street children.”
This is one of the reasons that led Amal and her fellow students Zaina Rawabdeh and Inas Hamad to embark on the challenging project of producing a public service announcement (PSA) addressing the issue.
"Abusers might have witnessed or experienced violence themselves within their families or communities"
“We want people to become aware of this problem, and to realize that everyone has a role to play in the fight to solve it,” explains Inas. “We were surprised to find that such an important issue was not addressed well by any PSA in the region.”
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Just a couple of weeks before the online release of the campaign, posters featuring a veiled woman with a black eye peeking from beneath her niqab made their debut on the streets of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, cogently stating that “some things can't be covered.” The two campaigns were completely unaware of each other, and were undertaken independently in each country, maybe revealing a deeper need for awareness and political engagement of the problem in the region.
To be fair then, these three audacious students deserve some more credit: though one of the three videos constituting the PSA, titled Itkallimi (Arabic for “speak up”), might resemble the Saudi advertisement, as it shows a severely bruised woman trying to hide her wounds under a thick layer of make up, they moved quite a few steps farther from simply acknowledging that domestic violence represents a serious problem within Egyptian society, and tried to provide a broader picture of the phenomenon, its roots, and its implications.
“Based on the focus groups we conducted with some victims of domestic violence, we came to the understanding that at the root of this problem is often the traditional belief of men that they have a right to control women, and that women are not equal to men,” Zaina points out.
“This domination, then, is not only physical, and can sometimes take the form of emotional or verbal abuse. It is also generational: abusers might have witnessed or experienced violence themselves within their families or communities.”
Both of these complications are addressed by the campaign. One of the videos reveals the different facets of violence and abuse: a young woman roughly told off by her husband and mother in law, and a wife repeatedly ignored and hushed should not be overlooked just because physical violence is not involved. As cleverly shown by the video, Kullu Da ʿUnf – It's All Violence.
In the last video, we can see how “we are all part of the cycle.” Battery and abuse are routinized and passed on through generations, triggering a cycle of violence that needs to be broken.
The campaign, which had its unofficial premiere May 15 at AUC, immediately received a lot of positive feedback on the web and throughout social media. Despite the initial concern shared by the three producers, who expected to meet resistance from the Egyptian television channels, the PSA was showcased by the popular women-oriented TV show Al Setat, aired on CBC.
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