Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Viewpoint: 'I am a Woman From Palestine' by Julie Holm for MIFTAH

By: Julie Holm for MIFTAH

A week ago I went to a screening of three films during the 7th Women’s Film Festival in Palestine entitled “I am a Woman from Palestine”. The festival, arranged by the cultural NGO Shashat, consists of 10 films of and about young Palestinian women. The project focuses on Palestinian women’s expressions of their own lives and facilitates the training of female students in Gaza to enable them to create films on their own.

I went to the last of six screenings at Birzeit University, and was impressed to see how many students had found their way to the auditorium. The three films on the program for that day – “.com”, “Portrait” and “Madleen” portrayed the diverse and various aspects of women’s lives in Gaza. The first film, “.com”, created by 21-year old Fatema Abu Odeh, shows how young women used social media to raise awareness and engage people to join the March 15 movement in Gaza. I found it especially interesting to see how some young women overcame the prohibition from their families to go out and join the movement by participating from home, using the Internet as their most valuable tool.

The second film portrays Rasha Abu Zayed, a young female artist and her relationship to her art. Created by 20-year-old Rana Mattar, “Portrait”, as the film is titled, deals with the issue of how the artist can overcome the siege of Gaza as a painter. She does this particularly though exploring the architecture of Gaza but also through painting women’s bodies and portraits of Palestinian women.

It was “Madleen” however, which moved me the most; it was also the one that created the most discussion in the Birzeit auditorium afterwards. The film illustrates a day in the life of Madleen Klab, the first female fisher-(wo)man in Gaza. By portraying the life of a woman doing a “man’s job”, 21-year old Reham Al-Ghazali challenges the gender stereotypes found in Palestine today. In the film, Madleen says that she feels like a man when she is at sea and that she goes back to being more “feminine” on land. This became the point of departure for a noisy and sometimes heated discussion after the films had been shown.

I found it very interesting to see that just as many men showed up for the screening as women, given that it is a women’s film festival being shown in a predominantly male-oriented society. That did not seem to put off the male students at Birzeit however, many of whom also took the opportunity to participate in the discussions about gender roles and gender divided labor. Irrespective of their attitudes on the subject, it was great to see the men’s engagement on such matters and the fact that they had no qualms about discussing whether women should do “men’s jobs” or not. That would never have happened where I come from. Still, no matter how loud and confrontational, the arguments from the men could not overshadow the strong willed women attending the screening. They delivered calm, hard-hitting counter arguments and were not afraid to tell the men to be quiet if they made too much noise during the films.

The films, as well as the discussions that followed confirmed the impression I have of young Palestinian women; they are strong, strong-willed and aware of how to go around the restrictions put on them as women and as Palestinians. I highly admire the determination and levels of ambition of my Palestinian girlfriends, something that is also expressed by the women who made the films for the festival as well as the women they portray.

As a collection of films of and about Palestinian women, “I am a Woman from Palestine” illustrates the realities of these women and the obstacles they face as women and as Palestinians. They embrace their roles as women and as Palestinians and use them in different ways to challenge the stereotypes they meet every day. And that, I find, is truly remarkable.

Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

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