DUBAI, 13 January 2022 – Clips of media showcasing diversity, inclusion and conversation starters created by leading women in the Arab world powerfully introduced the subject of how Arab and Muslim women use media to connect with, and shatter, stereotypes during a panel discussion held at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Women’s Pavilion on Thursday.
Speaking virtually about her time at MBC TV social programme Kalam Nawaem, which she founded and co-hosted, Arab media icon Muna AbuSulayman revealed: “We really had this idea of diversity and inclusion from the very beginning: the idea of putting people who have different lifestyles, different ways of thinking together and discussing what – at the time – were very taboo issues that nobody talked about.
“We wanted people to solve real problems that they were facing. The show was really about helping empower families to develop a way of life that is modern and in line with their personal values.”
Referring to a scene in which one character stands up for another in Netflix limited series AlRawabi School for Girls, which she directed, Arab director, producer, writer, and comedy actor Tima Shomali said: “I wanted to show how nice it is when two women forget the politics between them and are there together in the moment, sticking up for each other… We are all responsible for the stories we share and the content we are creating – because it makes so much impact.”
Expanding on one of her TikTok videos, researcher and content creator Nicole Al Rais said: “One of the most frequent questions I get asked is whether I converted [to Islam] for my husband, and it’s a bit painful, as I say in the video, because it minimises my personal experience with God and attributes it to another person. And on top of that, it builds into the narrative that Islam itself is oppressive; not how people manipulate it. I talk about these things and I also just talk about my daily life.
“TikTok is a very direct platform: I show my personality, I open up about my life because I want people to be able to connect with me and I also connect with the people in my comments, and we have really, really good conversations.”
All three panellists underlined the significance of connecting with their audiences to spark conversations. Shomali revealed that she has received messages from parents, saying AlRawabi School for Girls has initiated conversations between them and their children, adding: “This is exactly what we want. This is the impact we want… I would call it a conversation and some controversy because it’s good controversy and good conversation that the series has sparked.”
AbuSulayman’s show Kalam Nawaem received a backlash, of which she said: “The majority of the feedback was always about how we showed people a different way of looking at things.”
When the discussion opened up to questions from the audience, Maher Nasser, Director of Outreach in the United Nations Department of Global Communications and the Commissioner-General of the United Nations at Expo 2020 in Dubai, addressed the panel: “Whether it’s through religion, economy or culture – it’s a tool. We live in a paternalistic society, not just in the Arab world – the world itself is a paternalistic society, and power is not given. It is taken. Today, communications and media are the tools that we can use – and you have excelled in that. And I think this is the area where women need to really focus on: don’t wait for men to give you the power. You have to fight for it. You have to take it, and we men, who believe in you, have to stand with you.”
‘Women in Arabia and Islam – Super Sheroes: How Arab and Muslim women use media to connect and shatter stereotypes’ was moderated by Hind Alowais, Senior Vice President, Participants Management, Expo 2020 Dubai.
The event formed part of the Women’s Pavilion Programme, in collaboration with Cartier, and Expo 2020 Dubai’s Travel and Connectivity Week from 9-15 January, which is convening leading industry figures, innovators and policymakers around digitalisation and connectivity as a universal human right and force for good in a changed world.