Breaking the Silence

Ammar Basha | Yemen | 2009 | 12 mins



Racial injustice defines the lives of the “Akhdam” women, or servant women, in Yemen. Of African descent, these women face violence, sexual assaults, and abuse without any legal or social consequences for the crimes committed against them.

Directed by Ammar Basha in conjunction with Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) and WITNESS. Breaking the Silence was an official selection of the 2011 WVN Online Film Festival and was the recipient of an award in the Documentary Shorts category.

About the Filmmaker

Ammar Basha is a Yemeni filmmaker. His documentary films include Breaking the Silence and a series called Days in the Heart of the Revolution, about the 2011 Yemeni uprising. The latter series was screened at the International Yemeni Film and Arts Festival in Berkeley, Washington, London and Sanaa. Basha also makes feature films. His short The Last Hour (for which he was also sound designer) won awards from Zayid University in Abu Dhabi and at the Tehran International Short Film Festival. He also runs the YouTube channel, Thawrat Shabab, where the Days series can be found. He occasionally tweets @ammar_basha.

More from the Filmmaker

This video features the stories and voices of three Akhdam women, Haddah, Qobol, and Om Ali. Al-Akhdam is derived from the singular Arabic word Khadem, meaning “servant.” The Al-Akhdam are also called the Al-Muhamasheen, or “the marginalized ones.” Although the Akhdams are Arabic-speaking Muslims, they are considered to be an inferior social group at the bottom of a supposedly abolished caste ladder. They are socially segregated and are mostly confined to physical labor. The Akhdam are estimated in number to be between 500,000 and 3,500,000 individuals.

The Al-Akhdam community suffers from extreme discrimination from mainstream Yemeni society. The contempt for the Akhdam people is expressed by a traditional Yemeni proverb: “Clean your plate if it is touched by a dog, but break it if it’s touched by a Khadem.″

They are stereotyped by mainstream Yemeni society as lowly, dirty and immoral. Intermarriages between conventional Yemeni society with the Akhdam community are taboo and virtually prohibited because the Al-Akhdam are deemed as “untouchables.”

About the Collaborators

The Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) works to create legal awareness for women, provides training seminars and workshops, hosts intellectual seminars, and produces reports and publications concerning violence against women and civil rights in Yemen. Amal Basha is Chairperson of the Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) and was an Executive Producer for this film. She has been called “Yemen’s most famous feminist” As the chair of SAF, she “defends the rights of women, prisoners and refugees, and fights for more political freedoms.” Read her 2011 interview on the conditions in Yemen. She occasionally tweets @AmalBasha.

WITNESS trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically, and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for human rights change.

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