Yemeni filmmaker uses her tortured past to help women

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Updated 09 April 2013
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Yemeni filmmaker uses her tortured past to help women

Khadija Al-Salami, Yemen's first female filmmaker, had a tough struggle growing up. The 47-year-old had to endure betrayal, torture and other abuses in her formative years.
“I had a very painful childhood. My father was a doctor, but then he became mentally ill because of the war going on at the time, making him extremely violent toward my mother."
When she turned 11, she was forced by her uncle into an early marriage. “At one point, I tried to commit suicide to escape from it. However, with my mother’s support I was able to withstand this appalling phase of my life and get a divorce.”
Putting that dreadful chapter far behind her, she found a job with the only television channel presenting children’s programs. She also went to school in the mornings. “It wasn’t easy for me because I had to work and support my mother at the same time because we were disowned by the family.”
Despite this huge and sudden responsibility on her young shoulders, she managed to get good grades and got a scholarship to study in the United States. “Right after high school I decided to move abroad for higher studies. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make because I already had my goals and what I wanted to do with my life. I knew deep within that I just wanted to go to the United States," Al-Salami says.
She often had to face abuse at school. “When I told my classmates about my plans for the future, they simply laughed and would say ‘keep dreaming’ to my face. It was quite embarrassing.”
She has vivid childhood memories of how her fellow country women were enslaved and beaten. “Life was so unfair for women when I was growing up and sadly it still remains so," she says.
When she was studying in the US pursuing her dreams, she yearned for her homeland. She wanted to shed light on her country's problems with her films. “I chose filmmaking because I wanted to tell stories and maybe raise awareness and bring about change, “she says.
Al-Salami has made 20 influential documentaries so far, but the most touching one has been the heartrending story of Amina Al-Tuhaif, the woman who was falsely imprisoned for her husband's murder. “Amina’s tragedy needed to be told to wake up Yemeni society. When I found out that she was a victim, I couldn’t help but get involved to fight for her life." Her film, entitled "Amina," helped to get the woman released from prison.
Her latest film, “The Scream,” which premiered at the Ninth annual Dubai International Film Festival last year, also garnered a lot of attention. “The film is about thousands of women who fearlessly came out to scream about the pain and oppression they have been carrying with them for centuries. It also showed their anguish against the regime that made them suffer and deprived them of their basic rights as human beings," she says.
She has faced lots of opposition for her work. She has never been physically attacked, but has faced verbal abuse and insults. Some had even threatened to kill her. "However, I have received several compliments from others who admire my films," she says.
She feels strongly about girls being forced to marry. “When I hear about girls being married at an early age, I feel quite devastated because every time it happens, it brings back bad memories and reminds me of my painful experiences when I was their age," she says. “The psychological impact of it all is terrible. They start to feel desperate and hate everything around them.”
Her foundation “My Future.org” is playing an active role by providing education for these youngsters. “We can protect these girls by giving them a good education. That’s why I have dedicated my life to combat these actions against young girls and women in traditional societies. I even helped young girls get divorced and placed them in school. Education is a tool that will help free them.”
“I was very disappointed when the Islamic Party in Yemen blocked the law prohibiting marriage before the age of 17 with the help of some tribal leaders in 2009," she says. "It’s a long battle but I have faith we are going to win it."
“The reform cannot come from male politicians. It will have to come from women who dare to come out and challenge the authorities. It feels good to see that women are finally valiant enough to cry foul over injustices. They just need to keep their fighting spirit alive.”
Asked about her life so far and what she still wants to do, she says: “I am very satisfied with my life when I look back at where I came from. With hard work and determination nothing is impossible."
“It’s hard to predict where Yemen will be in the next five years, but my personal wish is to see Yemen more stable, secure and making progress in solving economic issues. A good quality education is vital because it will expose the new generation to progressive and healthy thinking. They will then view the world differently," she said.
She says the other big challenge facing Yemen is the law and order situation. "Whenever I get a chance, I visit my homeland, I can't stop myself from going there. In terms of security, it's getting worse because the country is going through a lot of changes politically and economically. It will take time to solve all the problems. This is only possible as long as the politicians govern with complete integrity without worrying about personal gain."

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Prince Harry raises Invictus Games flag over Sydney Harbor

Updated 19 October 2018
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Prince Harry raises Invictus Games flag over Sydney Harbor

  • The sporting event, founded by Prince Harry in 2014, starts on Saturday
  • Prince Harry and his wife, American former actress Meghan Markle, will attend the opening and closing games ceremonies.

SYDNEY: Prince Harry scaled the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Friday to raise a flag marking the arrival of the Invictus Games, his brainchild and the focus of his current royal tour of Australia and the South Pacific.
The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, starts on Saturday. It gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball and to find inspiration to recover.
The fact that the Duchess of Sussex never planned to climb the world’s tallest steel arch bridge with her husband had fueled speculation that she is pregnant. The speculation was confirmed on Monday when Harry and the former Meghan Markle announced that their first child is due in the northern spring.
Harry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, four members of the Australian team and the widow of an Australian veteran climbed more than 1,000 steps up the back of an arch to raise the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 flag.
“The Sydney Harbor Bridge is an Australian icon and I can think of no better place to raise the ... flag,” Morrison said in a statement.
During the descent, Harry hugged fellow climber Gwen Cherne, a games ambassador whose husband Peter Cafe, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life in February.
“We were talking about mental health and really working on changing the way that our global community looks at mental health and deals with it,” Cherne said later.
The flag will fly 134 meters (440 feet) above Sydney Harbor until the games close on Oct. 27.
Harry and his American former actress wife will attend the opening and closing games ceremonies. Around 500 athletes from 18 nations will compete in venues around Sydney.
The couple earlier Friday walked barefoot on Bondi Beach to meet a group of surfers focused on mental wellbeing.
The group, OneWave, meet weekly in an “anti-bad vibe circle” on the sand.
While the group dressed in loud and outrageous fluorescent outfits, Harry and Meghan were more subdued, but their message to the group was clear.
“They’re super passionate about mental health. They are showing that mental health does not discriminate,” OneWave co-founder Grant Trebilco said.
Charlotte Connell, a OneWave member, said Harry spoke of his own experiences seeking counselling more than 20 years after his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997 when he was aged 12.
“Harry said it took him not six months, but 18 months to find the right person to speak to. ‘You’re not going to find the right person to speak to straight away,’” Connell said.
Both Harry and Meghan used exercise as a way of keeping well, Connell said.
“Even in her jetlagged state, she got up in the morning and did yoga at 4.30am,” Connell said.
“She said it’s so good for healing her mind,” Connell added.
After Bondi, the couple made an unannounced visit to Macarthur Girls High School in Parramatta in central Sydney.
The shrieking students gave the couple a rock star welcome to a school assembly.
“When they walked in, I felt like my heart stopped. Their presence just made everyone shocked,” 15-year-old student Rhiannon said.
The couple finished their day’s events with formal meetings with Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Harry and Meghan will also visit Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand during their 16-day tour.