Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch
This event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.
Join us Tuesday, August 7, 7pm at UnionDocs for an evening with Egyptian filmmaker Aida ElKashef, in conversation with Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. The evening will feature a sneak preview of Aida ElKashef’s The Day I Ate The Fish, the feature documentary in-progress revisits stories of women behind bars in Egypt’s infamous women’s prison, Al Qanater, convicted of murdering their husbands. The evening will include a screening of ElKashef’s activist video work with Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH), active in Egypt during the revolution to combat sexual harrassment and sexual assaults of female protestors in Tahrir Square.
This program is part of ArteHub 2018
Beer lovingly provided for the reception by Brooklyn Brewery
In Aida’s words:
“I was never much of a reader. My father would constantly urge me to read, proclaiming: “Those who don’t at least pick up the newspaper every morning are ignorant” – he said. In trying to keep the peace at home, I decided to read the newspaper with my father every morning. I always found myself drawn to the crime section. The more I read of it, the more I found myself fascinated with stories of women who had murdered their husbands. Eventually, they became all I wanted to read. These women were always represented as cold blooded murderers, their tales of murder amplified by the provoking detail of how they killed their husbands, those who sliced their victims or dissolved them in acid, and so on. I could count on the newspapers to bring me at least one new story a day, and one always seemed more fascinating and more hateful than the previous one. I, too, always thought of these women as cold-blooded murderers, probably because this is the way the society needed me to think and function. When I grew up and went to film school I found myself still attached to these women and their stories, consistently reading the daily murder episode.
In 2012 we faced an epidemic of mass sexual assault in Tahrir Square. We started a civilian initiative to intervene and try and save women from the clutches of these assaults. And at the center of the initiative was a question that was never resolved: after saving the girl, do we hand the attackers to the police? Or do we make an example of them: beat them, shame them? In the end, we couldn’t do either. We could only try and save the women.
I was angry. We all felt helpless. By sidelining women’s issues at the start of the revolution, by trying to uphold a media image of Tahrir as a pure and equitable space, we removed our rights from the fight.
The reactions of some of our male progressive friends and of fellow activists made me realize that violence against women is not limited to the street. It can happen within closed circles. It can be met with silence, even by those you trust the most. Some of the most horrific stories happen at home.
I returned to a subject I was fascinated by when younger: women who killed their husbands. Women who took the ultimate step, made the decision from which there’s no return.
What is it that pushes some women to the edge? And does counter-violence always spur on more violence? Where does self-defense fit into this equation? They are angry, they must be: but are they cured, now, of their anger?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I know we need to be asking them. Even if people don’t want to listen. So I’m hoping this film will do that and that maybe I, and other women might be able to resolve our anger through it.”
– Aida ElKashef
Aida ElKashef is an independent film director and producer based in Cairo. She is the cofounder and Executive Director of Ganoub Film for production and distribution. As a director, her first short film, Rhapsody in Autumn, her graduation project from her alma mater the High Cinema Institute in Cairo, received the Dubai Muhr Silver Award. The films also received several other international awards. She has since then directed and produced A Tin Tale, a short fiction based on a true story of a young Egyptian sex-worker,that was premiered in the Dubai Film festival in 2011. She has also worked on several other productions for different directors as “Journalism Passage” by Basel Ramsis. ElKashef has been active in several political campaigns during the Egyptian revolution, including Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault and No Military Trials of Civilians. She is also a co-founder of the Cairo-based, independent media collective Mosireen.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, oversees the work of the division in 19 countries, with staff located in 10 countries. She has led dozens of advocacy and investigative missions throughout the region, focusing on issues of armed conflict, accountability, legal reform, migrant workers, and political rights. She has published widely on human rights issues in the Middle East in international and regional media, including The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, and CNN. She appears regularly on Al-Jazeera, BBC, NPR, and CNN. Before joining Human Rights Watch, Whitson worked in New York for Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Whitson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She speaks Armenian and Arabic.