Not Preaching to the Choir at Hashemite University

October 13, 2011

Our screening at Hashemite University was in many ways different than the seminar we ran at the University of Jordan. Hashemite is a much more conservative campus where most students are Jordanian and on average, significantly more religious and more conservative than the those found on the University of Jordan campus.

We screened Girls In The Muslim World for a room of about 70 students, 15% of whom were male students. During the first discussion, after playing Laila And The Garbage Man, Niger: Djamila’s Story, and The Path To Follow, there was significant push back from a boy in the back wearing ripped jeans and a loud colored tee shirt. “I don’t understand what these films have to do with women’s issues.”

In a nut shell, I answered: “'Laila And The Garbage Man' is about girls flourishing when they are encouraged and noticed. It is about girls doing better in school and in society if their family and culture lets them know they are valued and appreciated. 'Niger: Djamila’s Story' raises awareness about an important issues faced by impoverished Nigerian girls and emphasizes how much education can nurture children’s hearts and minds. 'The Path To Follow' provides an example of girls being allowed to do something typically not allowed by their societies which empowers them, gives them community and confidence, nurtures an independent spirit, and consequently also provides a method of defense if they are attacked on the street - all things important to raising women who can be equal and significant members of society.”

“Oh,” the male student said. Later in the session he provided the following comment which has not been an uncommon question here: “Are we trying achieve the women rights or are we trying to create copies of liberal America?” Ironically, his American garb stood in stark in comparison to the heavy raincoats, closed toed show and full head or face coverings his female counterparts were wearing.

Now to the good stuff: the students brought up a lot of ethnic issues. “We talk one way among ourselves at school; about division of gender roles, progress and independence, but in our communities, things are more rigid. How do we deal with this?” One female student in the front asked. Another student commented: “Ok, so let’s say my mind is changed, how do I change my culture to fit my new mind?” These were hard questions and Suzie and I, along with Dr. Dajani, who brought WVN to Hashemite University, tried our best to answer and more importantly to encourage the students to share their own views of how change could be made in their families, communities and in Jordan as a whole.

Later in the day, Dr. Dajani gave us one example of how she changes the minds of her students: she teaches the power of conditioning of one’s perspective using the old/young woman optical illusion in her biology class. She takes two examples of the illustration, one that looks more like the old woman and one that looks more like the young woman. She gives half the class one, and the other half the other. After two minutes, she projects the actual illustration and almost without exception, the students who had been staring at the old woman variation see the old woman and the students who were staring at the young woman variation see the young woman. “Sometimes it takes students ten minutes or more to see the other woman in the image. So I say to them: If you are conditioned like this after two minutes, imagine what happens with a whole life time of being told something.”

There were many girls who did not speak during the session, but it meant the world to us, and hopefully to them as well, that they were there watching the films and listening to the dialogue. While at the University of Jordan, Dr. Quawas is raising the next generation of feminists, at Hashemite University, Dr. Dajani is taking huge chances in order to work within ethnic restrictions and effect change. “It takes time to change minds.” Dr. Dajani said to us. “Everyone always asks me: Why don’t you go teach at the University of Jordan? I say, well, if all the good professors went to UJ, who would teach here where it is needed most?” It is important to point out that it was within this atmosphere that Dr. Dajani made comments like: “We are not saying that women are trying to usurp men’s roles, but that each gender should share in their roles equally.” The girls in the room, as well as some of the boys eagerly agreed and contributed their own careful and sensitive thoughts on the ability of women to both cook and clean as well as be educated and work.

We are so incredibly humbled by the amazing scholars who have taken a leap of faith and brought to their schools. Thank you, and may we all continue joining hands in our common struggle for equality and expansion of civil, economic and political rights.

Regardless of a willingness to speak, many of the students wrote down their comments on our polls. Our favorite: “Thank you very much for these films. We want you to give us more and more ideas to achieve an excellent population here in Jordan. Good luck in your work.”


Catinca Tabacaru
WVN Executive Director

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