Every week, millions of young people across the Arab region and Europe tune in to an interactive talk show to watch discussions on political and social topics often considered taboo by the government-run media in the Arab world. In Egypt alone, ShababTalk, which first aired in 2011, reaches more than 4 million weekly viewers.
Produced by Germany’s foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle, ShababTalk (“shabab” means “youth” in Arabic) repeatedly angers conservative forces and government officials in the Arab region as it tackles issues like homosexuality and premarital sex. And leading the debate is the show’s moderator, Jaafar Abdul Karim, 34, who describes himself as a “typical tri-media reporter who tweets, posts, films and interviews at the same time.”
Abdul Karim, who is of Lebanese descent, covered the Arab Spring on the ground in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and often travels to the Middle East and the Gulf region to cover the stories that matter to his audience. He talks about the young generation as the driver of change in Arab world. And as part of that change, he publicly pushes for gender equality, encouraging women to be vocal in all spheres of life and supporting the UN Women’s HeForShe solidarity campaign, all the while calling on other men to follow suit.
Women & Girls Hub spoke with Abdul Karim about gender-sensitive reporting and how media can help to prevent violence against women and girls.
Women & Girls Hub: Why should the media advocate more for gender justice and women’s rights?
Jaafar Abdul Karim: Men dominate media fields everywhere, and this affects the type of messages they convey. As a journalist and a man, I think media should give more coverage to topics concerning women. If you are a part of masculine society, you have to understand that giving more rights to women doesn’t mean that you will have less. A lot of men think that way. If we advocate for women’s rights and work together, we’ll have a better future and environment for all. Every human being would simply feel better. That’s why we should open the door for education and discussion. As a HeForShe [supporter], I’m trying to do it wherever I can.
Women & Girls Hub: Being an ambassador for UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, what does this mean for you?
Abdul Karim: Officially, I’m a HeForShe ambassador for Germany, but I’m also a face in the Arab world. As a HeForShe supporter you stand for a campaign. On the practical side, you have to make it real in your everyday life. I’m always trying my best to be 50-50 in my team. If I have guests on the show, I try to have a 50-50 lineup. When addressing different topics, I try to include women’s rights and look at it from a gender perspective in order to raise awareness and discuss the role of women in society.
Women & Girls Hub: You’ve said TV series and filmmakers must also be blamed for reinforcing stereotypes and disseminating the unequal image. Why?
Abdul Karim: If you looked at TV dramas during Ramadan, you found a lot of trailers and stories showing women being beaten and portrayed as victims or weak. Some of them even justify the violence against women and make them appear sorry and guilty if they do something the man doesn’t like.
Instead of underestimating women, producers and directors must say no – stop domestic violence and sexual violence and stop letting women feeling humiliated. If you keep promoting this kind of image, it will keep harming our society.
Women & Girls Hub: When you discuss gender-based violence and other sensitive topics, such as premarital sex, how does this resonate with your audience?
Abdul Karim: The feedback is totally varied. You usually have one side saying they support us and stand up for women’s rights. In Arab countries, we already have great women activists who are doing a lot. On the other hand, you’ll get criticism from people who are saying, according to tradition women are not allowed to do this. We address controversial topics to give voice to women and enable them to discuss their issues freely.
Women & Girls Hub: What kind of violence and discrimination are young women facing in Arab societies today?
Abdul Karim: They are facing a variety of different issues. You have violence against women, sexual harassment and domestic violence. Often they’re being blamed for sexual violence they experience. Many women are not accepted in the workplace. The moment a woman can’t do what she wants, it’s already oppressive. Every woman should have the right to do what she wants. Even a small thing concerning this matter, is a big thing. That’s why we as media should talk more about women’s rights, not only on Women’s Day, not only when something big happens, but every day.
Women & Girls Hub: What should to be done to achieve more female representation and gender equality in the media?
Abdul Karim: I believe changing the general attitude towards women will lead to a more open society where women can show their talents and capabilities. Women can travel, cover protests, hold cameras and do their job just like the men. Having female bosses in media organizations will help change this perspective. I’ve traveled to many different countries in the Arab world and talked to women everywhere, and I know they have great potential, but they are still waiting for a chance and space.