Weekly Women News from Around the World

– Editorial by: Alexandra Kinias

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Egypt:

Egypt honors mother who dressed as man for 43 years to provide for family

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Left as a widow with no income, while still pregnant with her daughter, Sisa Abu Daooh had to join the workforce to provide for her little family. Restricted by the traditions of her village in the southern governorate of Luxor that opposed to the work of women, Daooh was left with no other choice, but to disguise as a man to be able to find a job, a role she mastered for more than four decades. She wore men’s clothes and worked as a labor carrying bricks and cement bags at construction sites and polishing shoes. In her words she said that she preferred to work such jobs than becoming a street beggar.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2015/03/17/Egypt-honors-mother-who-dressed-as-man-for-43-years-to-provide-for-family.html

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France:

France weighs skinny model ban

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The war on skinny is fought in the heart of the fashion capital, Paris. The French parliament is debating a law that would ban extremely thin models and to punish the agencies that recruits them. In France 30,000 – 40,000 people suffer from anorexia, mainly teenagers. The high pressure on models to stay thin is causing a lot of complications to their health as well as it is promoting an unrealistic body image and normalizing an unachievable physical appearance. Doctors in France are hoping by the end of 2015 to have no more anorexic models on the catwalk.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/17/europe/france-skinny-model-ban/

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Germany:

German court says Muslim teachers can wear headscarf

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Germany, home to the biggest Turkish community outside of Turkey has been witnessing social unrest since France has banned the wear of hijab (head scarves) in schools in 2003. And with the rise of Islamophobia in Europe, Muslim Germans like elsewhere in Europe have been feeling the pressure, especially when it came to their women covering the heads. The ruling of the German courts to allow teachers to wear the hijab in schools, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the school activities or cause disruption in the schools. This ruling was welcomed by the Muslim community.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2015/03/14/German-court-says-Muslim-teachers-can-wear-headscarf-unless-disruptive.html

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India:

Nun, 71, raped during robbery in India, official says

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The violence against women that is spreading across India is leaving no woman safe; neither women’s’ age, social or religious stature protect them. In less than a week after the airing of the BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ about the rape endemic that is wiping the country, the news reported the gang rape of a 74-years old nun. The mother superior was attacked and raped by a gang of robbers in the convent of Mary and Jesus school which is located 80 Kilometers away from Calcutta. Even with their faces captured on camera, the robbers are still at large. This incident is just one in a long chain of events that the BBC documentary shed the light on in a culture that harbors the criminals.
The BBC documentary was banned in India as many excerpts in the documentary encourage violence against women, according to the Indian officials. In an interview for the documentary, the man who was convicted in the gang rape and murder of a girl in 2012, showed no remorse for the crime and put the blame on girls for being raped. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night,” he told the BBC. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal…Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.” He suggested that they [men] “had a right to teach them a lesson.”
But instead of shedding the truth on what is really happening in India and how society views women, the officials decided to cover it up.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/14/asia/nun-raped-in-india/index.html

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Iran:

Women being reduced to ‘baby-making machines’: Amnesty

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To achieve the goal of their spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to double the population of Iran to 150 million in the next 50 years, Iranian women will be facing more setbacks. A law had already been approved in the parliament that restricts accesses to contraceptives will soon be in effect. An amendment to the bill will include the ban on sterilization and end subsidies on contraceptives. And another bill that will go before parliament next month will require employers to give job priority to men and women with children. Amnesty International has raised the concern over these bills that are reducing Iranian women to baby making machines. These laws will also be stripping women the rights of making their own decisions about their bodies and lives. Not to mention that the restriction of the use of contraception will force many women into unsafe backstreets abortion clinics.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2015/03/11/Iran-women-being-reduced-to-baby-making-machines-amnesty-.html

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Ivory Coast:

Ivory Coast’s Simone Gbagbo sentenced to 20 years in prison

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Former first lady of Ivory Coast was sentenced to 20 years in jail on charges of crimes against humanity. Gbagbo was convicted Monday for her role in carrying out crimes against humanity following post-election violence in 2010 which left more than 3,000 people dead.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/10/africa/ivory-coast-first-lady/index.html

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Sweden: Swedish Prostitution Law Targets Buyers, but Some Say It Hurts Sellers
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Sweden has recognized that prostitution is an institution of inequality. And since 2009 and in an effort to combat it, Sweden has criminalized buying sex while decriminalized selling it – putting the criminal burden on the buyer, not the prostitute. As a result, street prostitution dropped to half. The success of this law has encouraged other countries to follow the Swedish model. Criminalizing the purchase of sex has been fully adopted in Norway and Iceland and partially adopted in Korea, Israel, Finland, and the United Kingdom. France may also consider passing this law.
This law also gives supports to the prostitutes. Parallel to criminalizing the buyer, Swedish NGO’s are assisting prostitutes who want to get off the streets. These NGOs have funds that offer these women education and work possibilities.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/world/swedish-prostitution-law-targets-buyers-but-some-say-it-hurts-sellers.html

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Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football .. is More than just a Game ..

An interview with Rashid Ghazi, executive producer and director of Fordson
By: Alexandra Kinias .. article published in Kalimat Magazine.

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At the 7th annual Traverse City Film Festival, Michael Moore recommended that everyone in the country should see the film ‘Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football.’ The feature length documentary tells the inspiring story of a high school football team as it prepares for its big game, played during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, while its players are fasting. As the film follows the preparations for the game, it also peels the layers of this working class community living in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. Through the eyes of the team players, their coaches, fans and families, the movie exposes the lives of the community and how its members are holding to their faith and living the American dream, while struggling for acceptance after 9/11.

‘Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football’ won the U.S Jury Award for best documentary and was described by Academy award winning director Michael Moore as powerful, intelligent and moving. Interestingly enough, the movie was turned down by all television networks in the US, and the film makers failed to secure a television distributor in North America. HBO, TLC, PBS Independent lens and Oprah Network were among the networks that rejected it.

“I am a Muslim myself who grew up playing sports in Ramadan. It was back in 2004 when I heard the story about this high school football team, playing the semifinals in the Michigan playoffs–Ramadan in 2004 was in November–and they were playing football and fasting. These Muslim kids inspired me to tell their story. They had to be of Arab descend, practicing their religion and playing an all American game of football.” Rashid Ghazi, executive producer and director, said in a question and answer segment about what had inspired him to make the movie.

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Fordson High School is located in Dearborn, MI, which has the largest single concentration of Arabs in one city outside the Middle East. The first Arab immigrants landed in Dearborn over one hundred years ago. Arab Americans became an essential part in the tapestry of the city. They started businesses and were highly involved in politics. A century later, Dearborn is the only home to tens of thousands of Arab Americans who constitute the largest ethnic group in the city. Consequently, ninety eight percent of the students in Fordson, the public school built by Henry Ford in 1922, are Arab Americans. However, the safe haven that the community members strived to build for themselves and their families for ten decades was shattered on 9/11. Although the residents of Dearborn were shocked by the events of the horrific attacks, as did everyone else in the country, within hours, Arab Americans were left to feel responsible for the attacks, by mere association to the 19 hijackers. Such accusations shook the foundation on which their community was founded.

“Throughout my life as I growing up, the stories of Islam in the news were either about violence, conflict, war or terrorism. The images we had of Arabs were the ones in the Middle East—screaming or burning the American flags—or the negative stereotypes [of villains] that were portrayed in books and movies.” Ghazi said.

Ghazi, a Muslim of south Asian descent, felt that most Americans neither understood Islam or Arabs, nor had compassion for either the Arabs living in the Middle East or the ones living in America. He concluded that the reason for the lack of empathy and understanding was because Americans didn’t know any Arabs or Muslims. “This was my inspiration to make a documentary, to service as bridge and to provide fellow Americans with more knowledge and information about Muslims and Islam.” Ghazi said.

Despite that ‘Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football’ is a film about an immigrant community of Arabs that tries to confirm their American identity, while struggling to reconcile their Arab heritage, the film was neither accepted in Al Jazeera documentary festival or Dubai International Film festival. In fact, Ghazi explained, the film was rejected by all the festivals in the Middle East.

‘Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football’ was independently produced by Ghazi and his wife Selma and entirely funded by them. “We didn’t want any organizations funding the movie because we wanted it to be a truly independent project. We didn’t want anybody to even think that there is an agenda behind some organizations propping the film out.”

It took him several years to get the rights to make the film. After rejecting the idea for a long time, Fordson board of education and the football coach finally agreed to grant the film makers the approval to shoot inside the school.

“Our persistence finally paid off with the coach, especially that he saw that our intentions were good.” When asked why the idea of filming a documentary about Fordson football team was initially rejected, Ghazi explained that residents of Dearborn are weary of the media. Media get in the community, tape one thing and then provide a completely opposite message. However, after multiple meetings with the board of educators, they gave the production team a green light after seeing that their intentions were not to misrepresent who they are as a community.

Ghazi saw that a documentary would be more truthful in telling the story than a feature movie. Moreover, it is politically incorrect to have a feature movie like ‘Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football.’

“Hilary Clinton honored us at the state department and spoke about the film in celebration for Muslim athletes. Yet, a lot of people don’t want to hear positive stories about Arab Americans. A negative environment exists. On the surface everything seems fine, but underneath it all there are still push backs to our film. Our film doesn’t criticize others to show positive stories of Arabs, but just the fact that we are showing positive stories of Arabs is not what we should be up against right now.”

Domestically, the film is publicly screened around the country in schools, community centers, local theaters and nonprofit and educational institutions. Internationally, the film was aired in Holland, and was bought by television networks in Brazil and Israel, and will air in twenty five more markets, outside the Middle East. “I originally thought that one of the local networks would pick up our film immediately because of what it is and how well it was received by critics. I still think that the biggest disappointment was not to secure wide television distribution in the US,” he said.

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This is Why I am Charlie …..

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— By: Alexandra Kinias —

I stand in solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the officer who lost his life defending them, not particularly because I agree with the contents of the magazine, but because I stand for the freedom of expression. I never read the magazine and I haven’t seen its cartoons prior or post the heinous massacre that took the life of its staff.

The terrorists shouted Islamic slogans as they shot their victims in cold blood, and witnesses heard them saying that they have avenged for the Prophet who was the subject of the magazine’s satirical cartoons a while ago.

And as always, and because Islamic terrorists know the psychologies of Muslims and what strings to pull, Muslims’ sentiments flared when the name of the Prophet was mentioned as the reason behind the attack, ignoring that these same terrorists are the ones whose news of committing crimes in the name of Islam have become the world’s headlines’ news.

Some debated that the freedom of expression ends when Islam is ridiculed, forgetting that some Muslims who have no objections in insulting and criticizing the religious beliefs of the others may go as far as committing atrocious crimes to make their voice heard. And while such actions by some Muslims are done in broad daylight, the world rarely witnesses actions by Christians or Jews who go out and slaughter others for the sole purpose of avenging their faith.

People may disagree, but the truth of the matter is that Islamic terrorists choose to silence the voices of those who criticize them with bullets. For them, violence is the only way to defend their misinterpretation of Islam from those who dare to criticize their misguidance and misrepresentation of the faith.

Charlie is not just the 12 French victims. Charlie is Malala Yousefzadi who was shot by the Taliban for defending the right of girls to go to school in Afghanistan. Charlie is also the Egyptian Nobel prize laureate Nagib Mafouz who was stabbed by an illiterate radical who was told that the author insulted God and his Prophet in one of his novels. It is the Egyptian professor and columnist Farag Foda who was assassinated in 1992 by the hands of the Islamic Jihad group after he wrote a series of articles condemning the growth of radical Islam. And last but not least, Charlie is the Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh who was stabbed to death in broad daylight for producing and directing the short movie Submission which criticized the way women were treated in Islam.

Je suis Charlie was created as a symbol to denounce not merely the terrorist attack by Islamists on the staff of the magazine, but specifically the attack on the freedom of expression. And after the dust settled, Charlie became nothing more than yet another brick in the tall wall that separates the East and West.

And while French people and other countries in the west are standing in unity to protect their freedom of speech, the atrocities and crimes that were committed in the name of Islam and the Prophet were again minimized by many Muslims whose faith have been globally insulted in more severe ways, by the hands of Islamists who hijacked their faith, than by stupid cartoons.

It is quite shameful that while many Muslims understand the core reasons that justify the acts of Islamic terrorists, they are still blaming the west for its creation. And the adoption of such attitude merely feeds the division and cultural clash that widens the gap between the East and the West.

Although I have received several death threats and I am still receiving hate mail for what I write, I will not remain silent against attacks targeting freedom of expression.

“Je suis Charlie.”

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Egyptian IDs : A Tribute to my Father

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By: Alexandra Kinias —

I once asked my father, why it is that religion is written on IDs. We were driving back from school along the Alexandria shore, as we did every day for many years. Out of the window I would see the blue Mediterranean extending to the horizon. On warm days its crisp air carried the light scent of iodine that is distinctive of Mediterranean cities.

Without hesitation, my father responded that it was the government’s way to know whether to bury the homeless and those who died in accidents with no families to claim them in Muslim or Christian cemeteries. For a seven-years-old this explanation made perfect sense. My father sounded very convincing that it took me years before I questioned if and why the homeless cared to carry IDs.

My endless questions were always answered by my father. In fact the answers lived between the pages of his books that were piled up around the house. And before my twelfth birthday, we were both reading the same books.

My grandfather was a Moroccan sailor who left his oasis in the southern Moroccan Sahara to travel the world. He met the love of his life in Crete and they settled to Egypt. I met neither of them. My grandfather died at sea, I was told. My father inherited the love of the sea from his father. He also had a heart of a sailor and a soul of a gypsy. His boat was his second home, or maybe the first, depending on whom you asked. Together we sailed some rough seas. And this is not a metaphor.

Driving back from school was our bonding time. He was a great buddy; a child trapped in a man’s body. We spent hours playing with our toys and building projects together, which he genuinely enjoyed. We picked stray puppies from the streets and brought them home to my mother to feed. He taught me target shooting, bird hunting and fishing. But what I loved most about him was that he could stop the clock anytime an idea as important as showing me how to catch fish in a glass jar or flying a kite came to his mind.

I remember a summer afternoon together on the beach. He had a glass jar with a piece of bread inside it. I watched him as he covered the opening of the jar with a cloth, fastened a rubber band around it, and then cut a hole in the middle with his Swiss Knife. He immersed the jar under water between some rocks and we stood few steps away and watched as the little fish swam inside it.

My father was never punctual. But for him there was nothing more important than enjoying an intellectual conversation, experimenting with a new idea or driving for two hours to Cairo to show me the mask of King Tut, obviously because I had asked something about it, and plotting together later how to rob it from the Egyptian museum while eating ice-cream at our favorite place.

My father’s religious affiliation is not of any significance here, but what is important though is that he was born in a cosmopolitan society that was vibrant and tolerant. At the first half of the twentieth century religion was a very personal matter and people practiced their faith within the walls of their homes, mosques, churches and synagogues. My father was a manifestation of this society. Being well read, he could debate any of the religions as if he were a member of that particular faith. He could have easily passed as a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, all of the above, or none of the above; I often wondered.

As years went by, the issue of ID cards became less intriguing. I no longer believed my father’s explanation of course, yet certain issues eventually become accepted as a way of life, even if they don’t make sense. Even Egyptians who view this issue as a form of discrimination and advocate for its removal, they proposed no plausible explanations to support their arguments for why it was written in the first place.
The discrimination against the Copts and Jews started in 641 A.D. shortly after the Islamic Conquest of Egypt. Non-Muslim subjects living in the lands that were conquered by the Muslims paid the jizya, an annual tax, in return for their protection, since they were neither allowed to carry weapons to defend themselves, nor to join the Muslim armies.

No official documents stated that, but presumably for that reason, people were then categorized according to their religion and somehow it was documented on their official papers. Egyptian Copts and Jews paid the jizya to the Muslim rulers from 641 A.D. until Mohamed Ali abolished this law in 1839. It is unclear, though, why religion still appeared on IDs, but most likely it was a decision made to avoid the wrath of the religious scholars who had strong influence over the people. In today’s society it serves nothing but creating prejudices between the various religious camps.

Over dinner at our favorite Pizza place I would have loved to disclose this revelation to my father and ask him if he knew that all along. My father lived large and enjoyed life to the extreme as he must have had a premonition that his life would be short lived. I lost him in a car accident shortly after I graduated from college. He died at a young age before I had time to ask him more questions about matters that I heard over the years, but never made sense to me. I always wanted to know if my disclosure had any relevance to why his family’s name was dropped from officials records after they settled in Egypt. As some lives end abruptly, their stories are left with no closure and it is left to our imagination to improvise and weave the end the way we like them to be.

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Censoring Movies in Egypt

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Written by: Alexandra Kinias

On its journey from birth to screen, Egyptian movies require triple permits before they see the light. The screenplay must first be approved before a shooting permit is issued. Before the movie is shot, the censorship bureau can demand the removal of scenes, tamper with the story or even change the title as happened with Cairo Exit which its initial title was Egypt Exit. Unless producers comply with such requirements, movies will forever remain on paper. Once a movie is shot, a screening permission must be granted. And as a final reminder of who has the upper hand, the bureau reserves the right to revoke the screening permit at any time and for any reason.

Refusing to comply with the requirements to change the faith of the female character, the screenplay Cairo Exit was not approved. In lieu of shooting permits, the movie was shot underground since carrying a film camera on the street of Cairo without a permit is a felony. In spite of the games of hide and seek played between the movie crew and policemen, in civilian clothes roaming the streets, the shooting was completed.

The first censorship law in Egypt was drafted on November 26, 1881 as a reaction to Ahmed Orabi’s revolution against the British occupation. To curb the freedom of press after nationalistic newspapers in support of the revolution flooded the market, control over the media was born. An amendment to the law was made in 1904 that included censorship over movies and theatrical performances. Prior to that date, movies that were screened in Egypt, since 1896, and theatrical performances were under the direct control and discretion of the police chief.

Against the belief of the masses, the censorship bureau was not essentially created to protect family values, but its objective was primary political to safeguard the government and its leaders. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since then. However, with the religious surge in Egypt, those who proclaimed themselves as custodians of morality rode the wave to benefit from the censorship that has assisted them in spreading their ideologies.

To silence the voices and switch off the brains of the people, censorship becomes essential for the existence of totalitarian regimes. With adding a tint of religious and family values to its objectives, no one dares to dispute its motives. It comes as no surprise that movie censorship thrived under the reign of Mubarak’s corrupt regime.

To safeguard moral and family values, countries worldwide have instituted the rating system whose purpose is to alert viewing audiences of the contents which maybe objectionable to some. However, banning movies, to stop people from watching them is a common practice of totalitarian control. It is an insult to assume that people are unable to think for themselves and thus need the guidance from decision makers to tell them what they should watch, or how they should think and behave.

As in other countries, Egypt also has its own inconvenient truths embedded in the society such as female genital mutilation, sex out of wedlock, women who turn to prostitution for a living or interfaith relationships. Banning movies that discuss such issues on the basis that they defame the society is a form of mental manipulation as denial of an existing problem is a delusional approach to solve it. On the contrary such important social issues require people’s awareness rather than wishing them away. Only when addressed, then they may be resolved.

In addition to that, the ban of movies or books resulted in restricting creativity which unfortunately doesn’t come with an operating manual with guidelines to follow. Over the years, censorship has achieved nothing but an overall decline of talents.

It is ironic to see the books that were published in Egypt in the early twentieth century are being banned in the twenty first century. No wonder that when the dispels of the cultural renaissance of the twenties and thirties in Egypt, like Abbas Mahmoud Al- Akkad and Nagub Mahfouz, two of Egypt’s notable writers, took responsibility of the censorship bureau, Egypt’s cinema witnessed its golden age. The set back of the Egyptian movie industry happened with the revolution of 1952 when the industry was nationalized and censorship escalated to protect the revolution.

Today’s censorship officials in Egypt are the sons of the era that witnessed the cultural decline. Their qualifications are not important anymore because the job description nor longer requires creativity and talent, but total submission to the regime’s doctrine.

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Black Tulips from Screenplay to Novel

Fullscreen capture 10302013 112011 PM.bmp While I was organizing my computer files, I came across this article that I had written in 2011 for the Arizona Authors Association and where I had talked about the adjustments I had made in  my writing career.

Black Tulips from  Screenplay to Novel (original article)

“The decision to adapt one of my screenplays to a novel was as unpredictable as the characters I create. Novels are usually adapted to screenplays not the other way around. I had already gone through a mid-course adjustment when I dumped my engineering career and picked up screenplay writing.

The culmination of the classes and workshops I had attended equipped me with enough knowledge to create my first project. Tens of drafts later, my first screenplay ‘Lonely Hearts’, which I wrote clandestinely while still working to spare the engineer inside me the embarrassment of getting caught, was ready. It was sold to a production company in Egypt, but due to financial difficulties, it was never produced. My second screenplay ‘Cairo Exist’–which I co-wrote–did see the light and received international recognition, but was banned in Egypt because of its controversial story. A woman getting pregnant out of wedlock after having an affair with an out of faith boyfriend is not an issue that receives nods from the censorship bureau. ‘Leila’s World’, one of my favorite screenplays, was short-listed in Rawi Screenwriter’s Lab in 2010. The Jordanian screen writing development workshop is modeled around the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and differs only in that it focuses solely on Arab screenplay writers. ‘Leila’s World’ discusses religious tolerance, yet another subject not well received in that part of the world.

More than a handful other screenplays were written between ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘Leila’s World’. The files in my computer looked impressive, I have to admit. Unfortunately, I knew that if no action was taken, they would be forever buried there along with hundreds of characters and plots.

Growing up in Egypt had influenced me to write ‘Black Tulips,’ a screenplay about women. It tells the story of four women from various social standards but who share the same hardships of living in a male dominant society. Another controversial story that was doomed to the same fate as the others. After several uneventful attempts to convince producers, it became obvious that my characters would spend the rest of their lives in my hard disk. Screenplay writing was indeed a labor of passion that I had invested a lot of time and money into it, but another readjustment to my career, even as it sounded insane, was necessary. And since I perpetually surprise myself, my curiosity to witness the outcome overshadowed any hesitation born out of reason.

Black Tulips, the movie, was vivid in my mind. I realized that getting a movie produced is like chasing rainbows, yet publishing a book can be less complicated. The women in Egypt deserved to have their stories told. That was the decisive factor to adapt the screenplay to a novel, but I needed to know how to put it down on paper for people to read. Intimidated by the task, I needed the assistance of a writing coach to properly present it to the world. My quest to save the characters from the inevitable fate that awaited them inside my hard drive led me to the doorstep of the writing coach, Pamella’s Goodfellow’s.

Writing a novel required different skills than writing a screenplay and the process to rewire my brain was challenging and grinding. After years of writing scenes in four lines, it wasn’t easy to expand them into one thousand words. The worst challenge was that some characters were not cooperative. They needed time and space, they said.

While still negotiating with the characters, I created my blog, silenced voices, wasted lives, which reflected the challenges that my female characters encountered in their daily lives. Black Tulips is fiction, but the stories in the blog are real. Because gender is their adversary, Egyptian women from all walks of life are subjected to the same abuse and challenges. No one is spared because of her status or wealth.

Moreover, injecting emotions into the scenes of Black Tulips didn’t come as easy as I had anticipated. Most characters were just comfortable the way they were and resisted the emotional exposure. After begging, warning, threatening, encouraging and often bribing them with chocolate cakes, ice creams and free movies tickets, they finally opened up and allowed me to probe deeper into their souls.”

Writing my first novel has been among the most interesting experiences in my life, indeed a journey to remember.

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He killed his Wife for Being Pregnant with a Baby Girl, and the Birth of the Crown Price

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By: Alexandra Kinias

A Palestinian man in the West Bank was arrested on May 13, 2010 for killing his 27 years old pregnant wife. [1] He choked her to death. The wife’s crime was that her ultrasound’s results showed that she was pregnant with a baby girl. Even though the couple had already three boys and a girl, the husband, who evidently was ignorant that the man’s sperm decided the gender of the fetus, admitted that he was jealous of his brother who had nine sons.

“According to police, abrasions were found on the man’s body, indicating that the wife struggled as he was choking her to death.” [2]
As explained to the police, the husband committed this heinous crime to terminate his wife’s pregnancy because she didn’t comply with his demands, of giving birth to another son. It was as if she cooked hummus for him instead of shish kebabs.

This horrific news was another illustration of the cruel reality of how women are still viewed and treated in many parts of the world. In cultures where Stone Age mentalities dominate, females are believed to be inferior to males. It is believed that daughters bring shame to their families. Not to mention that they are viewed as financial burdens and that in the process of growing up, girls deplete their families’ resources that could be spent on rising up their male siblings. They are considered bad investments since they eventually leave the family when they get married and serve their grooms’ families. Girls in some of these cultures are as beneficial as their value when sold at a young age into marriages.

The first thing that came to mind when I read about the slain of this woman was her surviving children. How would the daughter who had witnessed the killing of her mother, for being pregnant with a baby girl, feel about her gender? What about the message that was given to the three boys?

The woman, according to news reports, had been previously attacked and abused by her husband. But growing up in a culture where violence against women is the norm and is encouraged by religious scholars, she accepted her fate and became submissive to her abuser. Even her family knew about it, but no one stood up in her defense. The social illnesses in such cultures are overwhelming that it becomes hard to point fingers at who is to blame. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the women in her family are as abused as she was, and most likely her male relatives behaved no different than her husband.

What is more horrific than the crimes committed against these women is how the law deals with such crimes. The authorities in these cultures, represented in law makers and police officers, view and accept the abusive behaviors against women as a family dispute that not only ddoesn’trequire their intervention, but that it may be misinterpreted by the society as a breach of the families’ private affairs.

And while this crime was committed in a land where the culture is stigmatized as misogynist, let us not forget that women in other cultures have suffered throughout history the consequences of their gender; and they still are. In China, female infanticide was a common practice in ancient times. It dates back to 2000 years ago. The early missionaries that arrived to China in the sixth centuries recorded that they had witnessed female infants dumped into the garbage and others thrown into the rivers and left to drown. [3] And until the 19th century this horrific crime was widely practiced in China. The two main reasons for that were poverty and the dowry system. Poor families either couldn’t afford the dowries or preferred not to lose the money to a stranger. [4] And the solution was to simply murder the female infant. The dowry system was also the reason that females’ infanticides were spread in India.

In the seventh century in pre-Islamic Arabia female infanticide was also widely practiced by the fathers who did not value their daughters as much as they valued their sons. In the years of famine, born girls were to be buried alive in fear of poverty. To poor families, girls were a burden and killing them was a way of survival. Young boys may have also been killed if there were no girls born to the family. Eventually the killing of daughters ceased once the fathers discovered that selling the daughter was more profitable than just burying her, and hence the marriage by purchasing the wives was introduced into these societies. After the rise of Islam, female infanticide was banned and hence it ceased, yet, in a culture that leans towards misogyny, females’ worth were and will always be negligible in comparison to males’.

In modern times, though, the preference of having a son over a daughter is incomprehensible. No other reason sounds plausible other than it demonstrates that the remnants of the medieval culture that has been embedded in the minds since it was practiced in ancient times are still alive. In cultures like India and China, the detection of the child’s gender before birth resulted in the soaring rate of abortion of female unborn children. And in China, where the one-child policy often collides with the traditional preference for a son in the family, the use of ultrasound to determine the gender of a fetus is banned, except for medical reasons. As a result, of course, underground illegal ultrasound services were created. [5] And when abortion fails, female babies are dumped at birth in orphanages where the lucky ones are given away for adoption. [6]

The Birth of the crown price

In Alexandria, Egypt, where I grew up, I knew of a family of nine girls and a boy. Of course the boy was the youngest of the herd. In their parental journey for having a son, two sets of twins were born. The family lived close to where I lived, but never once during the twenty years that I lived there had I ever saw the mother. With her hands full of ten children, she had no time to ever be spotted outside. At the time I was growing up, it was not uncommon that families would have a large number of kids, but this was the largest by far, especially to city dwellers. Also, most big families had an assortment of genders. With this particular family, it was obvious that they kept breeding to have a son.

And while the mother had no time for life, the nine girls were visible running errands for her. I remember the father vividly. We never exchanged words, but often greeted each other when we crossed path. He was a high school teacher who was always dressed in a brown suit and a tie. He was skinny, wore dark prescription glasses at all times and gave private lessons to supplement his income, and never gave up on having a son. In Egypt men conceal their misogynist mentalities with the rationalization that a son would carry the family name.

The journey traveled until the son was conceived and born was long and financially painful. But it wasn’t  just the financial dilemma that intrigued me, but the emotional one as well. The father was an educated man, yet his university degree was meaningless. It was baffling to see how the medieval culture was deeply engraved in the subconscious of an educated man and it left me wondering what others with less fortunate fates would do. Reading the news about the Palestinian husband who killed his wife was an eye opener to how some men dealt with the issue.

The teacher’s wife in Alexandria was nothing but a reproductive machine. As the house got crammed with girls, their share of care and food was obviously diminishing with every addition to the family. And eventually their existence was overshadowed by the birth of one son. The older siblings cared for the younger ones and they all cared for the crown prince.

The high school teacher might have been either reasonable enough to understand that it was not his wife’s fault to keep breeding girls or he had no means to marry another woman. With his meager resources, it didn’t matter to the father that the girls were deprived from basic needs. What mattered was that he felt accomplished after the birth of the son. Finally, and in spite of the high expense that was paid along the way, the proud father succeeded in keeping the family’s name alive.

In many similar cases, men would simply take another wife if the first wife failed to give birth to a son. It is quite disgraceful that a man’s accomplishment in life is measured by having a son to succeed him. And it doesn’t matter if the son turns out to be a spoiled loser, which exactly what happened to the teacher’s son, since the boy was treated like a crown prince. Just imagine ten women looking after one child.

Under that roof, the message that was engraved in the minds of these girls was that their worth value was negligible in comparison to the boy. And vice versa, the boy was fed from birth that he was the most important member of this household. And most likely, these beliefs will be passed over to their children.
Quite saddening that in this time and age a person’s worth is judged according to their gender…

References:
1- Suspicion: Palestinian killed wife because she was carrying girl, by: Ali Waked, Israel New, May 13, 2010, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3889131,00.html
2- Killed for being pregnant with a baby girl, by: Phyllis Chesler, May 13, 2010, Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/05/13/phyllis-chesler-palestinian-husband-wife-ultrasound-girl-honor-killing/
3- Mungello, D.E. (2008). Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650. Rowman & Littlefield.
4- Mungello, D.E. (2009). The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (3rd edition) Rowman & Littlefield.
5- Murky fetal clinics in illegal ultrasound service, Shanghai Daily, June 4, 2012, China.org.cn, http://www.china.org.cn/china/2012-06/04/content_25557578.htm
6- China’s Unwanted Babies Once Mostly Girls, Now Mostly Sick, Disabled, By Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, Tianjin, China Sun Feb 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/02/us-china-babies-idUSBREA110M120140202

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