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Critics of Ramadan TV say violence against women not entertainment

Some of this year's Ramadan TV series in Egypt are being called out over gratuitous scenes of violence against women.
Billboards for TV Ramadan series are seen in the streets of the Egyptian capital Cairo on May 15, 2018. - Soaps and dramas normally united binge-watching Arab audiences during Ramadan but this year an Egyptian series has been caught up in a bitter dispute with Saudi Arabia over one of its star actors.

“Violence, beatings, extortion and rape” are the main plots of most of the drama works in the month of Ramadan, according to the governmental National Council for Women.

Suzan al-Qalini, a member of the council and rapporteur for the media committee, said in an April 19 statement, “While it is a positive step to shed light on this issue that hinders the progress and evolvement of society, … showing graphic scenes of violence against women harms the cause more than it serves it.”

She explained that the imagery could lead to emulation of violence and that women are portrayed as vulnerable individuals that are constantly being abused. She said that image is not in line with the recent political, economic and social achievements of Egyptian women.

“This also violates the ethical code for women’s affairs that was issued by the council’s media committee, which seeks and encourages the presentation of true, non-stereotypical images of Egyptian women in their families and society,” Qalini added. 

Qalini called on all those involved in the Egyptian drama industry not to include graphic scenes of violence, which can be alluded to and not shown, stressing that everyone has a social responsibility to empower women.

Parliament member Maysa Atwa said that while some Ramadan series this year try to have a positive influence, many drama works include scenes of violence against women.

In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Atwa said, “Although it is important to shed light on these issues to combat and uproot them, as they hinder the development of society, showing these scenes increases the suffering of women. This is not to mention that these scenes are not truly reflective of women’s reality under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has done a lot to ensure women's rights and empower them in various capacities.”

Atwa added that violence against women in all its forms is an issue with a very long history. She said that the Egyptian state has been working to fight the problem, and it is the responsibility of all Egyptians to work together to put an end to all forms of violence and abuse.

In the series “Elle Maloush Kbeer” (“Without a Master”), which addresses violence against women, the lead character Ghazal, played by actress Yasmin Abdel Aziz, is forced by her parents to marry a man 20 years her senior who abuses her.

Dall Ragol” (“Remain a Man”), features an array of actors and actresses including Yasser Galal, Nermin al-Faki and Nour, includes two types of violence. One scene takes on forced abortion and shows the daughter of Yasser Galal’s character lying injured in the street.

There is also a scene where the doctor, played by actress Nour, has a flashback to being abused by her husband, prompting her to ask for a divorce to avoid reliving her own mother’s life of abuse.

In “Nasl al-Aghrab” (“The Strangers”), a character named Ghufran, played by Amir Karara, slaps his wife Galila, played by actress May Omar. The series also shows violence by women against other women, as when Galila repeatedly slaps her sister-in-law and insults her.

In “Mussa,” starring actor Mohamed Ramadan, the plot takes place in 1942 during World War II and the British occupation of Egypt in a village in Sohag.

In the first episodes, Ramadan’s sister, Shafiqa, played by actress Heba Magdy, whose older husband Hamdy al-Wazir, returns home drunk every day and abuses her. She doesn't dare tell him of her pregnancy for fear that he would doubt the baby is his and would throw her out.

Parliament member Ahmed Mhenni denounced how women are portrayed in the Ramadan series, especially in “Elle Maloush Kbeer.” He criticized the first episodes, saying that the show encourages violence against women.

In a statement, Mhenni wrote that “Elle Maloush Kbeer” showed a very negative image of women, especially their actions while their husbands are not around. But at the same time, he added, it's good that the series address the issue of domestic abuse.

“No one can deny the scale of marginalization and suffering that women have seen over the years, but things have been completely different under the era of President Sisi, who sought to empower women in all state institutions and in various fields,” he said.

Mhenni went on to say that the media and TV series can play a major role in combating violence against women and that is “it is very important to address the issue cautiously and avoid encouraging men to be abusive.”

He called on the government monitor Ramadan series more closely.

Gawaher al-Taher, a human rights lawyer and director of the Access to Justice Program at the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance, said that violence against women is a daily occurrence in Egypt, where women are often left injured or abandoned.

Taher said any woman who is subjected to domestic violence, whether by her family or husband, must report abuse, especially if she was badly wounded and has a medical report from a government hospital.

She added that it is imperative for women to know their rights not be afraid to take matters to court.

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