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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After shedding Daesh, Mosul embraces makeovers

An Iraqi woman gets a lip injection at an aesthetic clinic in the northern city of Mosul on November 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 54 min 49 sec ago
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After shedding Daesh, Mosul embraces makeovers

  • Mosul, and Iraq more broadly, have been shaken by waves of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and paved the way for a sectarian war
  • The city’s medical services were hit hard by Daesh’s three-year reign and the months-long battle to oust it

MOSUL, Iraq: For three years, Mosul’s women were covered in black from head to toe and its men had to keep their beards long. Salons were shut, and plastic surgery considered a crime.
But more than a year after the Daesh group’s ouster, the Iraqi city is flaunting its more fabulous side.
Need to zap away a scar or a burn? Cover up a bald spot with implants? Whiten teeth for a dazzling smile? Mosul’s plastic surgeons and beauticians are at your service.
Raji Najib, a Syrian living in Mosul, recently made use of the city’s aesthetic offerings.
The 40-year-old had long been self-conscious of his bald spots, until his Iraqi friends told him what had worked for them — hair implants at a new clinic in their hometown.
“They told me the equipment was modern, the nurses competent and the prices good,” Najib said.
In Mosul, the average hair implant procedure costs around $800, including the follow-up after the operation.
Nearly 90 kilometers (50 miles) to the east in Iraq’s Irbil, or even further north in Turkey, the same operation costs at least $1,200.
Plasma injections to prevent hair loss cost around $63 in Mosul, but at least $20 more in Irbil.
In addition to the difference in price, Najib would have had to put up money and time for travel.
“Going to a clinic in Mosul is much easier, as I don’t have time to travel outside Mosul,” he told AFP.

Decades ago, only one department in Mosul’s hospitals offered plastic surgery, and only to those who had a severe accident or were trying to eliminate a physical handicap from birth.
Mosul, and Iraq more broadly, have been shaken by waves of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and paved the way for a sectarian war.
Religious hard-liners forced women to cover up or stay at home, and extremists in particular targeted hairdressers, many of whom closed their shops in fear.
Another shock came in 2014 when the Daesh group swept across much of Iraq’s north, with the militants making Mosul their de facto capital.
The religious police of Daesh enforced ultra-strict rules on dress for all residents, making sure women showed no skin and men wore ankle-length capris and long beards, with no moustache.
The city has since gotten a makeover.
Five beauty clinics have opened since Mosul was recaptured last summer by Iraqi security forces, and they can hardly keep up with the flow of customers, most of them men.
Muhannad Kazem told AFP he was the first to relaunch his city’s beauty business with his clinic, Razan, which offers teeth whitening services and other dental care.
His secret? “The employees came from Lebanon, and the treatments and machines were imported,” said Kazem, 40.

The city’s medical services were hit hard by Daesh’s three-year reign and the months-long battle to oust it.
The available hospital beds in Mosul dropped from 3,657 before 2014 to just 1,622 last year, according to the local human rights commission.
But the city is rebuilding, and one new commercial center houses the Diamond Dental Clinic in the bottom floor, with the Shahrazad beauty center upstairs.
A poster at the entrance advertises what’s on offer: injections of botox and other fillers, slimming surgeries, dermatological operations, and more.
Inside the glossy interior are men and women alike, an unthinkable sight under the iron-fisted rule of Daesh.
A female employee carefully injected serums to prevent hair loss into the scalp of a woman gritting her teeth, one of the dozen customers streaming in per day.
Beautician Alia Adnan said the physical and mental impact of the militants on people in Mosul has been long-lasting.
“They have hair or skin problems because of the stress and the pollution that Mosul’s residents were exposed to, both under Daesh and during the clashes,” she told AFP.