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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star has written a piece on Egyptian website bikyamasr.com, focusing on its coverage of women’s issues in Egypt.  The article even mentions AIC’s own Dalia Ziada! Check out the original posting here.

By Joseph Mayton
January 4, 2010

All too often, it seems that we are living in a man’s world, especially when it comes to the countries of the Middle East.

And even in the world of media, men continue to push the agenda in the directions that they see fit. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. The advent of new independent media has shown that smaller operations can, in fact, make an immediate impact on the globe.

Take Bikyamasr.com, which I started in October 2009 as an independent source where writers would report local news for a global audience. Bikya means re-sellable clutter in Arabic, and the Web site sorts through this clutter to gauge the inner workings of Egypt. In one year, we have risen to the edges of mainstream media – in other words respected publications such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Guardian – with over 100,000 people visiting our Web site on a monthly basis.

Our main supporters and the vast majority of our writers have been women. The women who have contacted us want to write about what they believe are the “real” news stories – stories dealing with the local news or their personal lives – which have largely gone missing in other mainstream outlets.

One article, “Why I Wear the Hijab,” written by the Egyptian commentator Deena Khalil, is still one of the most read articles on the Web site. And Dalia Ziada, a leading female blogger in Egypt, has also written a number of articles for Bikya Masr, offering a nuanced perspective on women’s rights in the Muslim world. She won the Anna Lindh Foundation award for online journalism in October 2010, showing that even organizations that make little money can still help journalists to have a major impact on the outside world.

Being able to provide a platform for women’s voices like those of Khalil and Ziada is one of the proudest achievements in our time online.

New online platforms have created a market for those who often don’t have the credentials allowing them to get their articles published in other news outlets, but who do have an equal, if not a better, understanding about the region that they are writing about when compared to journalists from outside the region. And for the first time, an outlet is encouraging women to fill this gap. Women now have a platform to air their views and to tell the world about the realities that women in the Middle East are being made to face.

Sherifa Ghanem, an Emirati woman who just began writing for Bikya Masr, told me recently that she wanted to write for news outlets that were not tied to large investors, and which are local by nature. The reason for this, she went on, was that such outlets “understand that local news by local people, especially women, can go a long way.”

These kinds of smaller, emerging news outlets are able to give an international audience a better perspective of the issues in the Middle East. While they are understandable to a foreign reader, these stories written by smart Middle Eastern women are still local in content.

As the world continues to turn to online media for coverage and dialogue on certain issues, women in the Middle East should consider this medium to ensure that their voices are better heard. Through online media, women can create a niche that takes the discussion away from stereotypes and shed light and real understanding on the nuanced issues – whether issues related to women’s empowerment, harassment, or societal norms – that so often lack substantial coverage in the more mainstream outlets.

This new online media are a force to be reckoned with and can be a place where true understanding of and dialogue over the issues at hand occur. Middle Eastern women’s involvement in blogging and online reporting should not be underestimated. They have shown a willingness to be heard and have their writing read by the world. Their empowerment through writing cannot be ignored. We must support these independent women writers and the independent, unencumbered media sites where they have found their calling.

Read more:http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=5&article_id=123202#ixzz1A6HLjc4U
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

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