LIFESTYLE

How Women Are Combating Oppression In Egypt And Afghanistan By Speaking Out Through Social Media

19/09/2014 14:37 BST | Updated 19/09/2014 15:59 BST
This is Kabul

In the last month, two incredible short films have found their way onto our radars (and our Twitter feeds) - This is Kabul and Creepers on the Bridge.

This is Kabul follows three young women, Sadaf, Sahar and Nargis, as they go about their everyday lives in war-torn Afghanistan. In Creepers on the Bridge, we see Colette Ghunim and Tinne Van Loon being subjected to intimidating stares from men as they walk across the Qasr al-Nil bridge in Cairo, Egypt.

Both films give a fascinating, yet shocking insight into gender inequality across the globe.

But the most remarkable thing about these short documentaries is that they were created by the female victims themselves, then uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo for the world to see.

This is Kabul

Social media appears to be empowering women living in oppressive societies. For the first time in history they are able to directly tell the Western world about their circumstances without censorship.

Speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle, Brita Fernandez Schmidt, executive director of Women for Women International said: “By filming the everyday aggressions they face as young girls going about their lives, these women are able to give those of us privileged enough to live life free of such discrimination a true insight into their struggle. “

Brita explains that women, like those starring in This is Kabul, overwhelmingly bear the brunt of conflict. Women and children often become refugees as a result of conflict and end up in refugee camps, which can easily become unsafe environments.

Or if women in war-torn countries remain in their hometowns, they are often specifically targeted for abuse, not only as a result of general lawlessness, but also as part of deliberate tactics: rape as a weapon of war.

So why are women risking their lives to share their traumatic stories online?

“Social media allows the girls to ensure their voices are heard," Brita says. "It is striking that men who hassle the girls in the street become very uncomfortable when they realise they are being filmed, and the footage may be posted on Facebook or Youtube.”

Creepers on the Bridge

Lecturer in literature and public engagement B.J. Epstein told us she's not surprised women are using social media as a way to combat oppression.

"I think it makes sense that women are using social media – women traditionally haven’t had voices in other media, in large part because men are in control of what gets said and who says it, so we have to try to get ourselves heard however we can.

"Social media also tends to be cheaper and more accessible than older formats (newspapers, TV, films, books, etc.), so for groups that don’t have as much power or money and that are more oppressed, it is ideal," she says.

In This is Kabul, Nargis poignantly says: "Girls have to convince people that they are actually entitled to these rights."

Through their honesty, the five women remind us that women in the UK are not all that different to women in Egypt or Afghanistan - and if we in the UK are able to work alongside men, speak freely and walk where we want, when we want, then they should be "entitled" to these rights too.

As B.J. says: "Social media helps to shrink the world. We can easily follow someone in, say, Egypt on Twitter, and get real-time updates on the situation there.

"I think this is part of the reason why the West is taking more notice of what is happening in other places – it’s easier for us to now, and it has also become more obvious how interconnected we all are, and how much we all have in common."

SEE ALSO:

Girl Summit 2014: Instagram Documentary Shows How You Can Pledge Against FGM And Forced Marriage

Can You Really Meet Prince Charming at Muslim Marriage Events?

Brita agrees that social media makes us to feel connected to those abroad, and is inspiring many to join the fight for equality.

"The moment that most affected me in This is Kabul was when Nargis said: 'A girl has to fight for her rights from the day she’s born until the day she dies.'

"My daughters are lucky enough to grow up in a world where they can take drum lessons, learn to drive or attend university without first having to fight for the right to do so.

"Films like this serve to remind me that other girls do not have that opportunity. We must all stand together and support them in their fight – until all women and girls have these rights, the struggle for equality has not been won," she says.

More than anything, these films raise awareness about gender discrimination abroad.

In July, David Cameron held the UK's first Girl Summit which discussed topics like forced marriage, FGM and violence against women in other countries. It seems like people in the UK (including politicians) are at last starting to pay attention to these issues, and films like This is Kabul and Creepers on the Bridge help to keep the conversation alive.

Having said that, Brita believes the UK government could do far more to help those suffering.

“The UK government can and should be doing more to support women abroad. As constituents, we need to be pushing our government to ensure that women’s rights are a priority in both domestic and foreign policy.

"In particular, the UK government should be meeting rhetoric with increased funding allocation and taking bigger steps in listening to and working with local women’s organisations," she says.

LIKE HUFFPOST UK LIFESTYLE ON FACEBOOK | FOLLOW US ON TWITTER | WE'RE ALSO ON INSTAGRAM

Brita adds that not everything has to go through the government, and just as these women have reached out on social media, people in the UK can reach out too.

“Letting a woman know that you support her is one of the most powerful gestures you can make,” she says.

B.J. agrees, saying: "The UK and Afghanistan are not so far apart, or so different. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to watch the films or read online articles and so on, and then to try to do something about the situations and issues they raise. One response could be for us to make our own films."

We truly admire Sadaf, Sahar, Nargis, Colette and Tinne for the bravery they've shown in creating these films, but it must also be noted that many women living in oppressive societies do not have access to smartphones or the internet.

This is why Women For Women International continue to campaign to amplify their voices.

You can sponsor a woman through Women For Women International's year-long programme by providing both practical and emotional support to a woman survivor of war. Visit womenforwomen.org.uk/sponsor-a-sister for more details.

The Multiple Facets Of Modern Feminism