WOMEN’S PROGRAM HELPS VIEWERS “CHOOSE LIFE”
With an innovative social media campaign, women’s program Needle and New Thread challenged viewers to “choose life” each day for 30 days. Since then, a group of strong Middle Eastern women have continued life-changing journeys, finding growth and fulfilment despite oppression and proving that over time, small changes really do become big ones.
“Your program encourages me to seek help and to make my life better. You made me believe that maybe my life can change. Maybe I really can achieve something that my daughter will one day see,” writes a viewer from Upper Egypt who took part in “Choose life”.
The 2019 challenge encouraged women to make one small, positive change each day, ranging from “Speak up for your needs,” to “Drink more water” or “Plant a flower.” The initial response surpassed all expectations, with 865 women signing up to receive daily videos. However, it was in a special Facebook group, which more than 1,000 more women joined to interact in depth, that it became clear lives were changing in lasting, meaningful ways.
“I used to be afraid to face harassers,” says a participant who was inspired by the challenge to speak up. “But now I’ve learned to stand up for myself and raise my voice to them. If they insult me, I approach them boldly, without fear.” In the group, viewers could find further resources and ask follow-up questions, which the team responded to with personalised videos, produced in consultation with counselling experts. Women could also choose to speak to counsellor themselves.
One woman says, “My husband always criticises me and puts me down. After the challenge, I told him, ‘I don’t like how you speak to me in front of the kids.’ My objection took him by surprise. He was silent. When we were alone, he told me never to talk back to him again. But I saw your video response when the counsellor said that, even if the other person continues, you should still object every time. I hope I can keep it up.”
Others shared that even the simplest challenges, such as refraining from multitasking or spending time in silence, made a big difference. In another challenge, women were prompted to spend time thinking about who they really want to be, which is an especially radical idea for Middle Eastern mothers who are often encouraged to put themselves last.
The campaign was inspired in part by an Perception Survey on Human Rights and the Rights of Women in MENA carried out for SAT-7 in early 2019. Of the Middle Eastern women surveyed, 73 percent wanted societal change so they could have more freedom, but this desire for progress did not match up with women’s views on common real-life situations. Two-thirds, for example, believed women should endure domestic violence without making a report and risking their families’ honour.
“Every woman wants to change their life for the better, but most are clueless about how. They continue living as they always have, not knowing how to start living an empowered, fulfilled life,” says Maggie Morgan, who produces the SAT-7 ARABIC women’s show in Egypt. But, Morgan says, the campaign has shown her that, “There are no voiceless people. They are simply silenced or not heard.”
As the social media campaign ran, episodes of Needle and New Thread addressed human rights, including freedom of religion, freedom of movement, the right to work, and the right to non-discrimination. Several segments were filmed in Algeria and Lebanon as well as in Egypt, and many NGOs were represented on the show, including counselling, addiction, and parenting organizations.