Ihsan: A Film About Gender Roles in Lebanon

January 11, 2021

Ihsan is a young girl who wants to play football. But her parents and everyone around her disapprove. This film, shot in southern Lebanon, depicts the challenges that young girls, and boys, across Lebanon face and the roles they are expected to fill. The film was made by the Tiro Association for Arts. Tiro and PAX have been collaborating since 2014 on creating civic and cultural spaces in the south of Lebanon. Tiro’s collective of young aspiring artists and activists has rehabilitated different abandoned cinemas in the south and turned them into inclusive spaces for youth from all backgrounds. This film was done together with PAX and aims to address issues related to gender equality as experienced by Tiro’s volunteers and community. PAX staff Florence and Pim were involved in the project. They interviewed Tiro’s creative director Kassem and the actors Nadia and Amer, who play the mother and father, about the film, the process of making it, and how it came out.

First of all: well done on the film! We really enjoyed watching it. Let’s dig in: how did you decide on this topic?


Kassem: “We discussed many ideas to address in the film. We play football every week with our group, but we realised that only boys from the association joined in the game. We asked girls to participate as well, but they were reluctant. Not necessarily because they didn’t want to, but because there are social barriers for women and girls to join. So we decided to focus the film on this topic. Also, across Lebanon but particularly in the south, not many girls play football.”

Nadia, you are playing the mother. How was it to be playing that role, and did you recognize these issues in your own life?

Nadia: “It was a beautiful experience. This film speaks about real life, about what is happening in our society and around us, and about the issues that young women face in different fields. Clearly, I am happy that this is not something I personally see in my family. But sure, I see these people around me. Our neighbour is actually quite like my character, very dismissive of girls playing football for example.”

Did the film trigger a discussion with your neighbours?

Nadia: “It’s not easy to have a discussion about this with them, which is another reason why this film is important – to try to break the silence and the taboo around these issues. The girls in my neighbourhood were all married at a young age. This was encouraged by their families. And, this is something very common unfortunately.”

So how did they and other people respond to the screenings of the film?

Amer: “People were positive. They interacted with the film and it seemed they were touched. I don’t know to what extent this will actually change anything in people’s private lives, of course. That is where the challenge lies.”

Kassem: “The good thing about this film is not just the film itself, but mainly the open discussion afterwards. We discussed religious issues related to gender equality, but also political and social issues in general. For example, some girls asked if this team was for real, if they can participate. Some girls said they don’t see other girls playing football, which holds them back. And there were people who mention that girls can play football, but only if they wear long pants.”

And did the film inspire girls and boys who saw it?

Kassem: “The film is positive. It communicates hope. It creates hope for young girls, and it also shows how essential support is, particularly from men and boys, for transforming discriminatory gender norms. We shot the film in Tar Dibba, where there’s been some change around gender norms. The first women’s football team in the south is in Tar Dibba. Some of the girls from the team attended the screening in our cinema. They said they recognised themselves in the movie.”

Amer: “This film speaks about the issues that we are all facing. We need to use these forms of arts and culture to keep addressing social issues and provide inspiration for change. I believe the strength of the film is that it’s not just a relatable story outlining the problems many young girls face. It’s actually envisioning and showing a solution too.”

Jana (Nadia’s daughter, sitting next to her during the interview): “I was so excited to watch it. I feel it can and will inspire a lot of people of my age. People should watch this. It might change something in their hearts and minds. They may give a little bit more space for their kids to explore the things they love. All people should see it. Not just in Lebanon or in Tyre, but all around the world.”

Thanks a lot for this talk! Any final thoughts from your side?

Amer: “To improve our lives, to improve our society, there is only one way: fighting for equality.”

Nadia: “Yes, it is important, and I believe the film shows this; that men and women should be equal and should both be decision makers. That is where the change lies.”

Kassem: “And we should always focus on changing the minds of young people in this regard. It is difficult to shift mentality after a certain age. This is why we will screen the film much more in schools in the coming period.”

Great! Looking forward to continuing working on this! Take care everyone.
The film can be screened (virtually) with some of the actors and makers for your organization or group. Please reach out to gerritsen@paxforpeace.nl in case of any questions.

Watch the trailer of the film here


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