Monthly Archives: December 2012

At Night, They Dance

ANTD-poster

Movie Poster

At Night, They Dance (Documentary, Canada)

Directors: Isabelle Lavigne, Stephane Thibault
Sales: Autlook Filmsales, Vienna
Production: Les Films du Tricycle
Producer: Lucie Lambert,
Director of photography: Stephane Thibault
Music: Benoit Charest
Editor: Rene Roberge
No rating: 80 minutes

By Alexandra Kinias —

At Night, They Dance, exposes a slice of the Egyptian society that lives and works in its shadows. The title successfully depicts the essence of the documentary. The belly dancing dynasty, which the documentary brings its story to life, revolves around the profession that its members performed at night. Reda, the 42 years old matriarch mother of seven who was widowed five months before the documentary was filmed, was once a belly dancer herself. After she retired from the business, she passed the torch to three of her daughters and acts now as their manager.

99492340_640

Bossy getting ready for a job

The documentary is culturally shocking and emotionally painful. What makes it intriguing is that it discloses a taboo subject in the Egyptian conservative society, which was never captured before. Reda’s daughters dance in revealing costumes. With gold bracelets jingling around their wrists and cigarettes burning between their lips, they mingle openly with men. A girl returning home at the crack of dawn seems totally acceptable, or so it is portrayed.

at_night_they_dance_a_l

Fifteen years old Hind

The unscripted film floats between a documentary and a reality television show. With its loose structure and no narration, we are introduced to the characters and their stories from conversations between them and the people they interact with. Reda and her brood live in a narrow apartment located in a heavily populated slum of Cairo, a place where residents are protected from the eyes of the outside society and the law enforcement. Through the limited space, the camera wanders between two rooms scarce of furniture, yet crowded with their inhabitants and guests. Not paying much attention to the camera filming them, the women openly talk about their lives and problems. Their words are expressed in vocabulary rarely used in Egyptian cinema.

at-night-they-dance_1

Reda on the phone

Reda conducts business on the cell phone from a plastic rug on the floor while surrounded by her family and her five years old son who parades around the house stark naked, in every scene filmed indoors. The mother of this controversial brood, who is also a divorcee, spends a great deal of her time attacking or defending her daughters. The documentary doesn’t give any explanation about their past lives and nothing is exposed about their present that has no direct relation to their profession. Amira, the eldest daughter doesn’t show up to work because sometimes she is stoned.  After she lost custody of her child to her ex-husband, Amira found comfort in drugs. Bossy, is a sweetheart, but a lazy girl who often misses work even after she gets paid. Hind, the fifteen years old is having a relationship with a married man whose protection she seeks when she is out late at night.

images

The documentary takes place between the walls of their house and the street where they dance. It was mentioned that they dance in weddings, but it looked more like an open air nightclub where men sat around tables set between buildings and watched the show. Reda and her daughters are essential components in an industry that depends heavily on them. Costume designers and rentals, hair dressers, agents and musicians, all depend on Reda’s clan.

The faint traces of another life’s beauty are evident in Reda’s face that is withered beyond her years. Driven by poverty, she is trapped in a cycle where she has to keep going for the sake of her family. The message portrayed in the documentary overshadows any flows in its production. Everything is dwarfed next to the powerful stories of the women’s survival. There are no men in their lives they can depend on. The single phone call not related to a job was to Hind’s father, Reda’s ex-husband. She asks him to bail Hind who was busted on her way back at night, but he declines to do so.

At Night, They Dance, raises a lot of questions and leaves the viewer curious to learn more about these women. There is an interesting paradox about their profession and their place in society. Growing up in a culture where women are viewed to be the reason for men’s sins and thus must be covered up, these girls dance to men in revealing costumes that show more than they cover. These contradictions are not just confusing for them, but also must fill them with guilt about their gender and their whole existence believing that they are source of men’s temptations.

The documentary gave us a glimpse of their lives, without probing into their past or future and what they want out of life. They are living from day to day and may not even have a vision of a future. They seem to accept with their situation and circumstances. They neither complain nor question their existence, yet there is sadness in their eyes. It was sad to see how they never smiled, not even when dancing on stage, which made me wonder if they are even aware that another life exists outside their cheap costumes and under their heavy make-up and wigs.

To watch At Night, They Dance trailer click here.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under General

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy Egypt’s Naked Blogger Joins Femen Protest against Mursi Constitution

330357

Egyptian activist Elmahdy and members of Ukrainian topless women’s rights group Femen (Reuters)

By GIANLUCA MEZZOFIORE for International Business Times

Egypt’s famous naked blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy has staged a nude demonstration along with members of the Femen radical feminist group against the planned Egyptian constitution.

Elmahdy, who last year caused a controversy across the Arab world for posting nude pictures of herself online, posed naked with “Sharia is not a constitution” painted on her body along with other two Femen activists. The protest was held outside the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm.

The blogger, 21, branded an Egyptian flag while her Ukrainian allies held banners stating “No religion” and “Religion is slavery”.

Egypt has been riven by protests over the draft constitution, which President Mohammed Mursi wants enacted.

Rights activists, liberals and Christians fear that the draft will lead to restrictions on the rights of women and minorities. Among the most controversial articles, the draft says that the “principles of Islamic law” will be the basis of national law. However, this does not mean Egypt will adopt sharia law in its entirety, said some observers.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the main group aligned with Mursi, expects a big victory for the ratification of a referendum on the constitution.

Elmahdy, a former student at the American University of Cairo, made a name for herself with her naked blog postings that she said were a “scream against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy”.

The hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary went viral after Ahmed Awadalla, who works in human rights, health, sexuality and gender, tweeted: “@3awadalla: A feminist #Jan25 revolutionary posted her nude photo on the internet to express her freedom. I’m totally taken aback by her bravery.”

In her blog, Elmahdy said she published the pictures to protest against the ban on nude models in Egyptian universities and books.

“Put the models who worked at the Faculty of Fine Arts until the early 1970s on trial,” she told her critics. “Hide art books and smash nude archaeological statues, then take your clothes off and look at yourselves in the mirror. Burn your self-despised bodies in order to get rid of your sexual complexes forever, before directing your sexist insults at me or denying me the freedom of expression,” she said.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Women's Rights

Girl Beheaded

800px-Afghan_women_at_market_2-4-09

Afghan women at a market – Copied from Internet

By: Alexandra Kinias

The astounding news of the beheading of 14 years old Gastina came as a wake-up call to those who believed that the women’s situation in Afghanistan was improving. Despite the progress that has been made over the past decade in terms of girls’ and women’s schooling and increased protections and family rights for women, Afghanistan is still ranked as the world’s most hostile country for women.

According to amnesty international, the aggression and atrocities against women are on the rise, not that it had ever declined. And while women are still struggling for their basic needs and rights for education and healthcare, gruesome stories of the Taliban’s brutality against women are still dominating the headlines. News are continuously reporting stories of rape, stoning, killing, acid throwing on school girls and teachers, setting schools on fire, teenage girls who have had their noses and ears cut off or been attacked with axes for tarnishing a family’s honor, asking for a divorce or running away from a forced marriage. Suicides and suicide attempts, including jumping off buildings, self-immolations, and drinking rat poison, are also increasing among women who are being forced to marry against their will.

Gastina’s beheading was the latest violent crime to be reported, yet it was not an isolated incident, according to news reports. Avenging the refusal of his marriage proposal, Sadeq Massoud and his brother waited for the seventh grader as she fetched fresh water from a well close her house in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. The two men jumped on the girl with a hunting knife, overpowered her and slit her throat to the bone. The 14 years old lost her life in such a brutal way for refusing to marry Massoud.

In a phone interview with the daily beast, Kunduz police spoksman Sayed Sarwar told the Daily Beast that the girl was not even given a chance to cry out for help.

This was the 15th deadly attack on a female victim in Kunduz in 2012, the human rights organization said.”Amnesty International is very concerned about the violations against women in Afghanistan,” said Cristina Finch, director of the organization’s Women’s Human Rights program.

In the ultra-conservative society where men are fueled by a misogynous culture and supported by religious doctrine, violence against women is the norm. Women rights activists are concerned that the increasing numbers of crimes against women are a prediction for a gloomy future that is yet to come.

Both men involved in the beheading of Gastina are in custody, but the charges against them are not clear yet. Local women organizations demand the death penalty for the crimes committed against women, but unfortunately in a country where women are stripped from their basic rights and treated as commodities and baby breeders, most of the perpetrators go unpunished.

In an interview with the daily beast, Nadiya Guyah, director of women’s affairs in the province of Kunduz expressed her worries about the future of the Afghani women and her dismay to the detachment of the world to the realities that are taking place in Afghanistan. “The international community’s claim that life is improving for women in Afghanistan is just a dream. Afghan men are keeping Afghan women in a centuries-old time warp. Unfortunately Gastina’s death is the grim reality.” Guyah said.

2 Comments

Filed under Violence against women

Beyond Labels…..

women-stereotyping_aw

Photo copied from the Internet

Written By Noha Hassan, Egyptian Canadian Political Activist and Women’s Rights Advocate

What’s your label? Are you single, married, divorced or widowed? Are you childless, overweight, ugly, beautiful, tall or short? Are you easy to get, open- minded, conservative, veiled, unveiled, wealthy or poor? Throughout our lives, we as women are labelled, pigeon-holed and corralled. Why does it happen and what should we do about it?

This constant classification of women is a means of controlling our lives, limiting our potential and banishing us to secondary roles. It may not be pre-meditated, but the casual manner in which society labels women reveals a great deal about its regard for females. What is even more devastating is that most of these labels relate to our relationship with men and that we are labelled far more frequently than men.

My intention in this article is to discuss some of these labels and to challenge the perception that a woman’s worthiness is primarily derived from males and her association with them. This perception is unhealthy and it erodes a woman’s self-esteem, her sense of individuality and completeness.

People make assumptions about us based upon our age, our physical appearance or whether we are single mothers or childless. Unfortunately, Egyptian culture is not very kind to women. It blatantly promotes the idea that a woman’s worth stems from her association with men. In Egypt, we are immediately labelled by our marital status and the image we project.

I will choose a few labels to discuss in detail. Are you labelled “single?” This is the moment when you are transformed from a human being into a big question mark. “Why aren`t you married?” you are asked suspiciously. “You look good. You are educated and you have a pleasant personality.” In essence, you are being asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

You may feel obliged to defend yourself because no matter how intelligent your answers are or how well you highlight your accomplishments, these are of little significance to the person questioning you. You may have a decent job and financial independence but your achievements are overshadowed by your marital status. Your interrogators will invariably end the conversation with the hope that you will get married, as if nothing else mattered.

Are you a divorcee? This label transforms you into a “conversation piece” and everyone is curious about what went wrong and why you couldn’t handle it. Divorced women are cajoled into relating their often painful personal stories in order to justify their divorce. They must be redeemed so that they can maintain their worthiness or their option to remarry. Not only are they trying to heal from a divorce, but they are sometimes forced to explain what went wrong when they may be trying to figure it out themselves!

Are you classified by physical appearance? Labels such as “ugly” and “fat” are used to remind us that our core worth is defined by a specific definition of beauty, a definition conceived and promoted by society and the media. To deviate from that definition is to find ourselves devalued, our accomplishments and concerns of little recognition.

Then, of course, there is the age factor. Successful women over 35 seem to come with an expiry date. They are identified as “the good friend,” “confidante” or ‘the other woman.” Although they provide a comfort zone, they are not necessarily “the partner” or “the wife.”

When we allow others to define our worth, we lose our own perspective and a part of ourselves. Sadly, we become subjected to perceptions of ourselves that are not necessarily our own but of family, friends and community. We are left to follow an artificial script which requires us to meet others’ expectations of whom we should be. The results can be painful, leading us to lose our sense of individuality, worthiness and freedom. Thus, our aspirations become limited and controlled.

We women need to be reminded how strong and influential we really are. We are the movers and shakers. We are the artists of our society. We are the workers, the thinkers, the lawyers, the athletes and the politicians. We are doctors, scientists, teachers and journalists as well as wives, sisters, daughters and mothers. We contribute. We get things done and we do them well!

So what is the path to a better future for Egyptian women and all women? How can we avoid the distraction of being labelled? The answer is to stop thinking about an “opposite” sex and to appreciate what individuals have to offer when they are perceived as full-fledged human beings. This means looking beyond labels and viewing ourselves in a different light. It means moving past conventional expectations by empowering ourselves politically, economically and socially.

Women need to be politically active and aware. We need to run for public office and vote. We ought to participate in decisions that affect our social and economic standing. We ought to involve ourselves in education and public policy. We should stand together and spread the message that we can make a difference. We should reach out to women in the hinterland, to those outside of the major cities. The way to do this is through increased literacy, general education and gainful employment. This is the key to independence for these women and it leads to increased awareness of their rights.

There is power in numbers and we have the numbers. In May 2012, Egypt’s Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics reported that Egypt’s population had reached 82 million. 49.3 per cent of that population is female and, according to UN Women, 23 million of those females were eligible to vote in last spring’s election. So, yes, we make up half the population. All we require is a sense of solidarity, a stronger and more unified approach. This is the message of empowerment that I am keen to impart in my fellow women, particularly those in the Middle East. It’s time to extricate ourselves from labels.

Written by: Noha Hassan

Edited by: Joanne Madden

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized