JEDDAH: In a step toward Arab women’s empowerment, Nike launched on Saturday an inspirational film featuring professional and everyday athletes from the Middle East titled “What Will They Say about You?”
The film takes a common phrase — “What will they say about you” — and flips it to reflect a positive message.
Athletes in the region are excelling in sports more than ever. They’re “the first,” “the best” and “the only.” Nike’s campaign is inspired by the idea that trying something for the first time and pushing beyond a personal boundaries and fears can lead to positive change and, in the instance of sport, lead to a healthier lifestyle.
“We wanted to celebrate the pioneering spirit of women in the Middle East, and we wanted to do it in a way that talks to the culture and athletes here from the region,” Nike spokesperson Hind Rasheed told Arab News.
Nike first talked to many female athletes in the Middle East who were not included in the video to understand their connection to sport and what kind of sport they prefer. In the next step, the company selected five different athletes from different countries in the region: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE to appear in the film.
“What will they say about you?” is a question many young Arab females are challenged with at home. Women are met with this phrase from family and friends when they endeavor to try something unexpected or to push boundaries beyond social norms.
Nike’s campaign to empower women in the region sent an inspirational message through the same phrase. “By that way, we wanted to inspire other girls as well,” Rasheed said.
Nike talked to many female athletes for Saudi Arabia, some who are living in the UAE and some living in Saudi Arabia.
‘What will they say about you?’ This phrase, it’s every little girl’s nightmare growing up,” explains Amal Murad, a parkour athlete from the UAE. “We hear this every time we do something that might be met with criticism. There’s a fear to stand out and do something that’s not part of the norm. But I’ve learned that, if you genuinely want to do something amazing, you can’t be afraid of hearing this phrase. Don’t be afraid of your own greatness.”
Nike’s campaign launches with a new film highlighting five remarkable women who have achieved personal success through competitive and amateur sport. Despite concerns or criticism, these women hope that the world will regard them as pioneers, role models and strong voices for their region.
“Through Nike’s work with athletes in the Middle East, we’ve been incredibly inspired by the pioneering spirit that exists here,” Rasheed said. “In the region, it’s possible to achieve global success. These stories are an inspiration to us at Nike, and we wanted to share them with others, hoping they’ll inspire more women to overcome doubt and seek empowerment through sport.”
The film features both professional and amateur athletes from the Arab region, including Parkour Trainer Amal Mourad (UAE); Ice Skater Zahra Lari (UAE); pop singer Balquees Fathi (UAE/Saudi); fencer Inès Boubakri (Tunisia); and boxer Arifa Bseiso (Jordanian). Narration is done by Fatima Al-Banawi, a Saudi social researcher, artist and actress, who is the Saudi representation in this campaign.
After driving Lari to her first figure skating lesson as a young girl, her father was hesitant to allow her to start competing seriously. Today, Lari is working to qualify for the 2018 Winter Games with the full support of her parents and extended family.
She hopes people will say she is unstoppable. “I’ve had a lot of criticism throughout my journey, but I’ve never let that stop me or bring me down,” Lari said. “People should know that Emirati athletes are strong. We’re confident women who know what we want to do, and we work very hard to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.”
Bseiso was not interested in sport until her early 20s. “I didn’t have an athletic role model to inspire me growing up,” Bseiso said.
Today, she hopes people will say she is an inspiration to both men and women in the ring, and she hopes to encourage others to find a sport they are passionate about.
“I want to inspire people to remove the labels they put on themselves,” she said. “I am not flexible,” “I am not strong,” “I don’t have the conditioning.” “Don’t let this stop you. I love that Nike says ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete.’ My message is find YOUR boxing, and let it change you — allow it to transform you for the better.”
At the start of her career, pop-singer, Balqees Fathi faced many doubts from her family. Someday, she hopes people will say she became an icon. “When my parents were worried about how I would be perceived as a singer, I told them “Be patient and watch — I might just actually change what other people say.”
Growing up in an athletic family, Boubakri began fencing at the age of 4. Despite the support of her family, critics did not understand her commitment to the lesser-understood sport. Today, with three gold medals to her name, Boubakri hopes people will say she triumphed. “I hope they’ll say that, despite the odds, I triumphed. From the podium in Rio, I dedicated my medals to all Arab women, and I hope my success can inspire others to surround themselves with positive people who push you to reach your goals and go for it,” she said.
Amal Murad’s parents did not understand her passion for parkour until they saw the positive response to her sport on social media. Today, her family is proud to say that people see her as a light for others. “At first, you may have to prove to your family that you’re capable by believing in yourself,” said Murad. “Not in the sense that you must go against them, just start with small steps — take classes in an all-female gym. There’s so much joy and freedom that fitness can bring to everyone’s life.”
These strong women are helping to create positive change through sport and fitness, and they all hope that sharing their stories will inspire others, and turn the phrase “What will they say about you?” into a positive question with powerful answers.