People 09 November 2017
The spotlight on gender inequality has been greatly expanded in recent years in industries like business, sports, and entertainment, but what about those who work behind the lens? Film and media represent some of the professions with the highest levels of inequity, yet they're often still being overlooked when it comes to female empowerment.
For a few sobering statistics on this front, consider that women made up just 28 percent of all speaking roles in theatre-released films in 2014, only 16 percent of directors, writers, editors, and producers who were employed in the top 100 grossing films of 2015 were women, and women were found to only makeup crew membership of 17 percent in music, 5 percent in camera and electrical, and just 9 percent of special effects in an analysis of 2000 of the highest-grossing films between 1994 and 2003.
These massive inequalities are what inspired entrepreneur, photographer, and host Amanda De Cadenet to create #Girlgaze, a digital media company that promotes the work of female photographers and directors, by creating visibility and jobs for girls behind the lens. Founded in 2016, De Cadenet created this collection as a way to respond to this lack of gender inclusivity and give the next generation of women who want to work in the photography and film industries.
Despite the quick success that #Girlgaze has enjoyed, getting the attention media outlets like WWD and Paper Magazine, a partnership with Glamour, and a design collaboration with Warby Parker, De Cadenet never set out to be an entrepreneur. It was after experiencing the frustration for women's stories so often being filtered through the lenses of men and male-owned media platforms that she decided to be the change she wished to see. “I've made it a point to bring as many women as possible with me, whether it's that I hire women to work on The Conversation to work in roles that are traditionally male," De Cadenet told SWAAY about her entrepreneurial philosophy. She looks at this company as a way to pay it forward, women supporting other women, as she wants to stop the good old boys club industry practices that often leave women competing against one another for such little real estate or completely out of the equation to begin with. “We need more examples of women who truly are supporting other women, not just paying lip service to it."
“At #Girlgaze, I hire women and girls that don't necessarily have the experience, but have the passion and enthusiasm." says De Cadenet.[thb_image full_width="true" alignment="center" image="9774" img_size="full"]
Her endeavor led to the creation of the #Girlgaze book, which features a curated collection of photographs that capture how young women perceive the world. Co-authored by English photographer and filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson features a collective of images submitted from female-identifying photographers around the world, that feature raw, candid shots of life as it's being lived: on the streets of the city, hiking in the mountains, laughing with friends, the realities of life in war-torn countries, and beautiful fields.
With this book and company, De Cadenet is addressing the problems female creators face on a daily basis, by using her power and success to put the spotlight on other talented women." If you look at all of the different industries...there's been men at the top of these organizations, 99.9 percent, there have been so few spaces for us," she explains. In fact, she believes this lack of seats at the table is what causes successful women to feel like they are in competition with one another and often tear one another down instead of build each other up. “It's been ingrained in us that “Oh my god, if I don't get that one space, then she is going to get it!" There's been so few opportunities and openings. It's not even our fault- but that's why we compare as opposed to saying “She is doing great!" #Girlgaze is changing this narrative by addressing this paradigm head on and instead of just talking the talk about empowerment and inclusion, is giving talented women opportunities every single day to have their work be showcased in a way that isn't objectifying, sexualizing, or speculative.
Not only is De Cadenet giving women a platform to tell their stories candidly, but has been candid about her own dark past. As a teenager, she found herself in juvie as a consequence of running away from home, was sexually assaulted, and also had an unintended pregnancy, which are experiences that would devastate many young people. Instead, she rose from this experience and went on to become a TV host at the age of 16, which found her success that she's never looked back from nor taken for granted. “You can't live through what I've lived through and not be humbled!" she says. “I've recovered through everything that I've been through over the years, since I've been willing to find things that work. There's a lot...there isn't just one path. What I do know is that it's crucial to remain teachable and to retain the outlook of 'Hey, I'm still learning.' and you know, I am." Her secret sauce of remaining teachable has clearly allowed her to be so resilient, which is a lesson we can all learn from, in the face of adversity.
Photo Courtesy of Red Magazine
Instead of trying to always make our lives look perfect and beautiful, this exposure of the messiness is a curtain she believes needs to be opened now more than ever, especially in a world that is filled with pressure coming at women from all angles to be flawless.
“This is the common experience for a lot of people and I'm just trying to shed light on it and say, Hey, shit happens. Life is messy; let's stop pretending that it's some curated Instagram version of the reality, so that we can all stop feeling that we're not enough," -Amanda De Cadenet
To put it simply, #Girlgaze (the book, that is) shows what it's like to be female in this world, from all angles, emotions, and capacities. You see women and girls running through fields, reflecting on tragedies, smiling, crying, embracing, engaging in the community, friendships, intimacy, and fun. This book runs the gamut on showcasing what humanity really looks like, without any of the fluff or frills. It's naked in a way that isn't sexual, but is completely raw in its delivery. There's no shame, no fear, just girls living and experiencing the world as themselves and showing it to all of us through their art.
Giving women and girls the power to be themselves, without any pressure or backlash, embodies true feminism and De Cadenet is on the forefront of this entirely new conversation about womanhood. Bringing women together instead of tearing them apart is a central part of her mission in the world, which she believes is the key to changing it. “ I don't want to quote my friend Hillary [Clinton] here but, “We are stronger together," she says. “The more that we can create opportunities and spaces for people to connect and identify with one another, the better it is. I've always felt like that and always known that, that I've made it a mission of mine." Look out, sexism- there's a new sheriff in town.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.