October 20, 2011
Tuesday was our first of two nights screening with the Royal Film Commission in Amman, Jordan. Under an umbrella of stars and a scenic view of the city, a full house laughed generously during Male and Female, and applauded Spring ’89 and Somaye. On the flipside, we had an exodus of attendees after the showing of Her Man given the film’s portrayal of the taboo subject of homosexuality.
The Royal Film Commission was not opposed to pushing the line with our program Love, Sex and Other Dangerous Pursuits. For the lively discussion to follow we were joined by Mousa Naffa, Director of the Women’s Empowerment Project at the Queen Zein al Sharaf Institute for Development; and film director Abdelsalaam Al Hajj who had made a controversial short film exposing the condition of women in his small town of Umm Qais, an area notorious for its ultra conservative and rigid traditions.
When discussion Male and Female, one man in the audience pointed out that originally people used to keep having children until a boy was born to help with the hard work in the fields. Now that the problem no longer exists, people like having girls, the man assured us. A woman firmly responded, “How can you say that? People still prefer boys. Mostly they want more men to carry the family name. While their girls are the ones capable of doing so much more. We work and we take care of our families and homes. Women do twice the work that men do.“
It was validating to have RAWI - a storytelling news program - attend the event and interview both me and Catinca. We spoke about the purpose of the Festival, our goals for the Jordanian Tour and our incredible experiences while we’ve been here. The journalists loved the concept and were excited about the bi-lingual aspect of both the event and the interview. “Jordan is changing quickly, half the time we’re just trying to keep up,” one of the journalists said.
Another younger man in the front row voiced his opinion that that the issues in the films are just about a select few cases but that overall there are no problems in Jordan. His sister quickly grabbed the microphone and said, “No, we have problems. Many problems!” Panelist Abdelsalaam responded by pointing out that in Amman maybe we don’t see many of these problems but we shouldn’t forget to look out for our brothers and sisters living in other parts of the country that don’t have the same privileges.
“Women’s rights are an extension of society. They are an ongoing issue. In some places there are more rights than others and the problems are easier to manage, while in other parts life is all but impossible for women! But, all of this is reflective of our society and our people.”
A woman hidden in the shadow of the bright lights softly responded that women have convinced themselves that all they need is basic rights and there is a ceiling, they can’t go much higher. She continued by saying that women should equip themselves with the knowledge and power to create the change for more than just the basics. “The basics aren’t enough,” she asserted.
Again, the issue of the lack of protection from the lawmakers came up. One woman spoke of domestic violence. “If a woman is beaten repeatedly, there is no recourse for her.” Panelist Mousa informed her of the new domestic abuse hotline and shelters that have been established under Queen Rania.
The issue is that women feel ashamed to speak of the abuse because society reprimands them for speaking ill of their husbands and they are accused of tarnishing their family’s reputation.
A man argued that some issues such as honor killings are made to be such a big deal but really no one ever hears too much about them so it must all be hype. To the audience’s shock, Mousa cited that 14 honor killings were reported last year in Jordan. Catinca pointed out that during our Hashemite University event, the nurses told us that every week there is an honor killing case that comes in.
One young man responded that he proudly feels Islam gives many rights to women. The problem is that society skews religious teachings to justify hateful acts like honor killings. I told him this was an excellent point because in religious countries such as Jordan, the line between religion, culture and state is too often blurred and the privileges abused.
We were impressed an inspired by the level and diversity of dialogue taking place between all these different people in Jordan’s capital. It is important that the dialogue on women’s rights continue, Mousa pointed out, so that we don’t forget our problems as a people and that we need to always be improving and changing our society.