All in the Family in Madaba

October 19, 2011 

The Sharaka Center is a small community resource located in the predominantly Christian governorate of Madaba. We had an attendance of young and old alike to watch our program "The Warrior and The Slave."

The head of the Center told us the people came today because they like to watch movies, something not common in Madaba which does not have a local cinema. We received strong reactions to Breaking the Silence and warm laughter during Laila and the Garbage Man.

After the 90-minute screening, Layla Hamarneh, Director of Projects for the Arab Woman Organization which is located in several Middle Eastern countries and runs 90 chapters in Jordan alone, urged the audience to express their thoughts about the films they had just watched. One woman in the front row who was attending with her three children ages 5, 7, and 10, started the conversation by firmly stating: “These problems are too big. There is no hope.”

Another person echoed, “Where are the solutions in your films?” Layla and I responded that the solutions have to come from the people, which is the reason for our screening and discussion today.

Another woman supported our argument using Thorns and Silk as her ammunition. She explained, “I was the first woman in my village to work in a shop. I used to sow curtains and other textiles. The people would look at me badly and criticize me.” We came to find out her husband had left her after their daughter had turned three, now 12 and sitting next to her listening intently to the conversation.

The woman continued, “Why shouldn’t I earn my own money to feed me and my daughter? Why put myself in a position where I have to beg my brother to give me two small chickens to feed us? By working, no one can tell me I took bread from them.”

At this point the men in the room started to chime in, pointing out that the problem lies with society. “It is very hard for a woman to drive a taxi or work as a mechanic. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t let my daughter go where she wants, or do anything she wants because the people will talk and cause us problems.” Another man made a counter point that the problem is with the laws in Jordan. The law does not protect women so women need to fight for their rights in the form of better legislation he explained. “The decision makers are the only solution. If they say more rights for women then the women will have more rights. Change won’t happen by us sitting around and talking.”

A man in the back of the room quickly stood up and said in a booming voice: “Who are you kidding? Look at the King of Saudi Arabia. He goes on television and says women are his sisters and highly regarded. Yet, in his country, women don’t even have the basic right to drive and just got the right to vote this month. How is it that in the twenty-first century, his government is still talking about such basic rights?”

A woman who had remained quiet up to this point believed that the Jordanian government did not take women’s rights seriously. She pointed to a law which prohibits women from passing down their Jordanian citizenship to their children. The mention of this issue sparked a long debate. Layla told the audience about a strong campaign currently ongoing in Jordan and about a team of filmmakers who are making films about this problem. Without the ability to pass on her citizenship to her children, if something happens to the mother or there is a divorce, the children take the father’s non-Jordanian citizenship.

A man who had clearly become frustrated with the discussion on the problems facing women spoke up. “You are only showing these films because you’re trying to say men are the center of society and women are having to scrounge for the most basic rights. But why aren’t you highlighting equality? Or the fact that some women work not to survive but some do it to simply to have a life?"

Once we ended the discussion and invited our audience to continue the dialogue among themselves and within their communities, the woman that had first spoke of no hope approached me. She expressed that she’d had a change of heart: “I ask my friend to come to the Sharaka Center with me. I tell her that here we are provided with support, discussions, visits to other parts of the country. She refuses to come. She has given up that there will be any change. But I feel if we just sit back and give in then definitely nothing will happen.” All I could do was smile. Mission accomplished. The director of the Center informed us that the audience was very pleased with our screening and wanted us to come back with more films.

Suzie Abdou
Director of Global Programs

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