Posted by on March 08, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

Spring 2013 Intern

As we mark the 100th International Women’s Day, it is important to reflect on the past and potential shifts in society to liberate spaces for Arab and Arab American women. The media is one of the platforms where women have demonstrated some progress, but which is still haunted by a “visible-but-silenced” phenomenon. This means that women may be visible, but are not fairly represented nor empowered in decision-making positions. Likewise, most political and economic issues are still covered and directed by men.

The emancipation of women is a universal issue and dialogue needs to be encouraged across organizations worldwide.

On Thursday, February 28, the Arab Student Association at George Washington University hosted a panel discussion called “Arab Women in the Media.” The conversation featured three successful women and a diverse audience who discussed the changing role of Arab women in the media. They shared insights gained from professional endeavors, and spoke on issues including Arab women’s position in stereotypes, perceptions in the fields of journalism and the public sphere and Arab Spring evolutions. The speakers included Amal David, Chairwoman of the ADC Women’s Initiative, Sali Osman, Founder and Owner of Nubian Village LLC, and Executive Producer at Alhurra TV Iraq, Shameem Rassam. 

The participants discussed central matters which have marked barriers and turning points for Arab woman in media. The conversation also echoed the idea of perspective; it stressed on raising awareness about the ways perspective is altering the public’s declaration and perception of women. Media outlets take different angles every day to represent people, each serving a political statement and message to the public. Most of these angles are dictated by the gatekeepers of interest, power and money.

Unfortunately, in line with the interest of the media, Arab women journalists’ contributions are still overlooked. Women who have chosen to wear the hijab or niqab are invisible and powerless in the media. Yet, it is the women who we most need to speak up for women’s rights in the context of Islam, for example.

Stereotypes familiar to Arab women were reflected upon during the panel. Historically, the Arab woman has often been portrayed as a member of a harem, belly dancer, dependent housewife, and uneducated.

These images often placed women in a helpless and dominated position. Like then, contemporary media often emphasizes the oppressed women and their situation around the world. The women in the panel agreed that we need to focus on the women who are educated and entering the labor force.

The future of public media is transnational and global. This means that it will be imperative to consider global context when reporting news to the world. For now, women have established a niche in the social media sphere where blogs can facilitate dialogue.

Finally, we need more Arab women to communicate the message about their own lives. Self-representation is central to the discussions that will follow about Arab women’s role in the media. 

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