A Radio Voice Brings Men into the Gender Equality Endeavor

Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Yousef Nassar tells his story about gender equality during a community event. Photo Credit: PCCSharek youth Forum.

Radio waves and theatre stages are now spreading messages of gender equality across Palestine. West Bank organizations Al-Ofoq Organization, Future Youth Arms Forum (SAED), and Fena Al-Kheer Youth group have been cooperating with UN Women to promote gender equality. In concert with the efforts of a team of Palestinian male role models (positive deviants) including Yousef Nassar, an actor and a radio presenter of an evening talk show, progressive ideas challenging restrictive gender roles in the Palestinian community are spreading and taking root.

As a role model of a man who resists gender stereotypes, Yousef shares his own ideas and experiences and the awareness he gained through participating in the UN Women-supported project. On his radio show Mashwar (Journey) he explains his own participation in cooking and other household work, and how he is helping his children with their homework. He invites ordinary Palestinians—from the West Bank to the Negev Desert to Gaza—onto his radio talk show to discuss gender norms and men and women’s work on air, to provide an accessible public forum on the topic.

“I’m a strong believer of recognizing women’s due rights, and in equality between men and women,” Yousef said.

Because of his influential role on the radio and as an actor, and his progressive ideas on gender equality, SAED nominated Yousef to be part of its programme to combat harmful gender stereotypes.

“On the radio, I was often speaking my mind on the need for equality between men and women [in our community]. SAED spoke with me and said, ‘It’s clear you believe in this issue. Come and work with us so we can spread the messages.’”

SAED’s backing and training brought Yousef’s activism to a higher level. “This encouraged me immensely. I used to fear speaking out too directly about gender equality, but with 13 other people [from Future Youth Arms Forum] behind me, and the tremendous knowledge they offered about women’s rights and equality, I became much bolder. My talks also became more organized.”

Yousef not only gained knowledge on gender equality and greater confidence in his advocacy but also fought to keep men engaged in the training because of the value he knew such awareness would hold for them.

On Mashwar, Yousef’s frequent description of sharing the responsibilities of domestic work with his wife— which is often viewed incorrectly as women’s work—brought him some criticism. But it also opened an unexpected conversation. “I used to speak on the radio, saying that I helped my wife with dishes. Men were calling in [to the show] saying what I was doing was harām (forbidden) and ‘aib (shameful).”

Yousef said that he began to publicly challenge his callers on air to give him clear reasons why they thought sharing domestic work with their wives was shameful. “At first, men were shy. [But after I spoke about my own experiences], they started to say, ‘Yes we do housework too, we cook,’” showing that there were men in the Palestinian community who quietly deviated from the prescribed gender roles but may have been too concerned about their reputation to speak out.”

Yousef has continued to stand out as an example of positive change by sharing his personal convictions on gender equality, on housework and child-rearing, and what he’s learned by being an active participant in a gender equality campaign, during in-person presentations across the West Bank.

“UN Women helped us bring our personal stories to the public in a more direct way. They set up talks for us at the University of Bethlehem, the University of Jerusalem, Najah University in Nablus, and the Chamber of Commerce in Toul Karam,” Yousef said. He added that UN Women, in cooperation with the local organizations Sharek Youth Forum and QADER for Community Development, gave training on storytelling to Yousef and other men for their presentations.

By being part of a team of other role models and sharing their experiences in meeting halls and universities across Palestine, their message is reaching audiences in several cities. And by combining their voices and demonstrating their similar experiences, they give legitimacy to their message.

And it’s not just radio and lecture halls where Yousef is putting to use his ideas on gender equality and gender roles. The local cultural heritage organization he founded, Sons of Kan’aan, has a small theatre troupe which performs around the West Bank.

Yousef noted that since his joining Future Youth Arms Forum, his theatre troupe, which includes four female actors, has performed two shows in his home town of Dura, as well as in the town of Toul Karam. The dramas they performed focused directly on unequal gender roles in the community, and the problems these caused. In their plays, Yousef said, his troupe tries to convey the benefits to the entire community when men’s wives, sisters and daughters perform equal work, in equal roles.

Through speaking against harmful gender norms and for more progressive gender roles on a popular radio show—a primary means of communication in Palestine’s public conversations—magnified Yousef’s progressive gender message tremendously. And because of his outspoken role, and his support for domestic duties, even his children’s views on gender roles in the home began to shift.