TOGETHER WITH WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

“I am grateful for your help and encouragement which really lifts my spirits. I believe the Lord is showing me, through you, that I am not alone and even in the most difficult circumstances there is help and guidance for me. I hope for healing for Iran in the name of the Lord Jesus”. Pariyah, SAT-7 viewer in Iran.

SAT-7 is supporting and encouraging Pariyah from Iran – and the many millions like her across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – as they face oppression and injustice. Through our programming, projects and partnerships, SAT-7 shares Christian teaching, provides a platform to discuss challenging topics, and walks alongside women in their everyday challenges. Content is shared 24/7 via satellite TV and digital media, and our Viewer Support teams are on hand to respond to questions, comments and prayer requests.

While there are regional differences and some signs of progress in some countries, the challenges facing women and girls in the MENA region continue to be numerous, severe and interrelated. In many places, they are compounded by political upheaval and conflict. [1] Male-dominated societies obstruct progress in gender equality, and access to education and employment for girls and women respectively is limited. Early marriage, domestic violence, and confinement to the home are common experiences. Millions of women and girls are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the name of culture, religion and tradition.

Afghanistan stands out as the worst example, where women suffer on every level. Since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, the country has, according to the United Nations (UN), [2] become the most oppressive nation in the world for women and girls, who are forbidden from pursuing education beyond the sixth grade and banned from working, studying, or travelling without a male companion. [3] “Since the Taliban takeover, girls in my homeland have been deprived of the most basic freedoms such as education,” shares Mariam*, a SAT-7 PARS viewer from Afghanistan.

PROTESTS

In neighbouring Iran, nationwide protests broke out in September 2022 following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the country’s morality police for not wearing the hijab properly. The “Woman. Life. Freedom.” movement swept across the country, with Iranian men joining the women-led protests. But in the harsh crackdown that ensued, hundreds of women and girls were killed by the Iranian security forces and a series of raids were launched on girls’ schools. The protests have not led to any positive changes for women and girls in the country. On the contrary, protesters, especially women who refuse to wear the hijab, are being harshly suppressed, with the UN expressing deep concerns about the authorities’ violence against women.[4]

Insiders is a long-running and popular program on SAT-7’s Persian channel, SAT-7 PARS, that gives a voice to women from Iran and Afghanistan. As well as providing a platform for the discussion of topics that are widely treated as taboo in their culture, the program also focuses on in-depth topics that address human rights, in particular gender equality and the right to Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Presenters Hengameh (left) and Sally (right) on the set of SAT-7 PARS live program Insiders

VIOLENCE

Women in Türkiye also face significant challenges, most notably gender-based violence. Over the last decade, over 3,100 women have been killed – almost one per day [5] – and four out of 10 women have been subjected to physical violence by their husbands or partners[6]. In July 2021, Türkiye withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, a European Council treaty that commits its signatories to protecting women against all forms of violence and eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Türkiye’s withdrawal, which the authorities attributed to the convention’s incompatibility with Turkish culture, has been seen by the international community as a backward step in protecting  women.

SAT-7 is reaching out to Turkish women through, among other programs, Homemade, which provides expert support for viewers on topics including domestic violence, depression, and family matters.  The show also introduces viewers to successful Turkish women from various professions to raise their aspirations through positive role models. Homemade presenter Şemsa Deniz Bakır shows viewers her faith in action, sharing Bible readings and prayers at the start of each episode. “I share my love for the Lord, my mistakes, and my joys,” she said. “The viewers see me as one of their sisters and daughters, and a sincere relationship has formed between them and me.”

Presenter Şemsa Deniz on the set of SAT-7 TÜRK live show Homemade

Despite advancements in other MENA countries, the region exhibits the slowest progress globally in gender equality across various indicators and indices.[7]. Seven out of 10 of the lowest-ranked countries are from the MENA region, with Yemen last, closely followed by Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia[8].

FREEDOM

SAT-7 programs such as Today Not Tomorrow, filmed among communities in Egyptare challenging accepted cultural and religious practices that perpetuate inequalities, as well as raising the aspirations of girls and women. The program features the stories of Middle Eastern women who are challenging the status quo. Lamia Sayed is one of them; she tells how she broke with the normal practice in her community and allowed her daughter to continue her studies. She explains how an encounter with God on Mount Sinai made her realise that the creator of such beauty could not be one who oppresses women.

Today Not Tomorrow is part of a major five-year Gender Equality and Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) project [9] that aims to help women and girls in the Arab world enjoy the freedom and dignity they deserve as people made equally with men by God. The project recognises, sadly, that religious beliefs – in church and mosque – can play into the restrictions women face. Launched in 2022, this project seeks to promote a culture of constructive discussion and critical thinking across the Arab World about gender and freedom of thought.

Gender Equality and Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) Project Lead Maggie Morgan (right) interviewing in Morocco for the SAT-7 program Today Not Tomorrow

Through our programs on satellite TV and social media, SAT-7 is equipping women in the MENA to realise and exercise the freedom to make their own choices in life and faith. And as they are empowered to fulfil their God-given potential and bring transformation to their families and communities, other women are inspired to do likewise.

[1] Situational Analysis of Women and Girls in the Middle East and North Africa ( 2010 – 2020). Unicef
[2] UNSF Afghanistan_formatted_20230629.pdf
[3] ibid
[4] Iran: UN experts shocked by new wave of attacks on girls and women | OHCHR
[5] https://www.asianews.it/news-en/At-least-289-femicides-in-Turkey-in-2023,-over-3,100-in-a-decade-59625.html
[6] https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/4-out-of-10-women-subjected-to-physical-violence-178842
[7] Situational Analysis of Women and Girls in the Middle East and North Africa | UNICEF Middle East and North Africa
[8] World Economic Forum, “Global Gender Gap Report”, 2020
[9] Changing the story for Arab women | SAT-7 (sat7.org)

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