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TED2014

Eman Mohammed: The courage to tell a hidden story

March 14, 2014

Eman Mohammed is one of the few female photojournalists in the Gaza Strip. Though openly shunned by many of her male colleagues, she is given unprecedented access to areas denied to men. In this short, visual talk, the TED Fellow critiques gender norms in her community by bringing light to hidden stories.

Eman Mohammed - Photojournalist
Saudi-born Eman Mohammed is a photojournalist in Gaza. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
When I turned 19, I started my career
00:12
as the first female photojournalist
00:15
in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.
00:17
My work as a woman photographer
00:21
was considered a serious insult
00:23
to local traditions,
00:25
and created a lasting stigma
00:27
for me and my family.
00:29
The male-dominated field made my presence
00:32
unwelcome by all possible means.
00:35
They made clear that a woman
00:38
must not do a man's job.
00:39
Photo agencies in Gaza refused to train me
00:42
because of my gender.
00:44
The "No" sign was pretty clear.
00:47
Three of my colleagues
00:49
went as far as to drive me to an open air strike area
00:51
where the explosion sounds
00:56
were the only thing I could hear.
00:58
Dust was flying in the air,
01:00
and the ground was shaking like a swing beneath me.
01:02
I only realized we weren't
there to document the event
01:06
when the three of them got back into the armored Jeep
01:09
and drove away, waving and laughing,
01:12
leaving me behind in the open air strike zone.
01:15
For a moment, I felt terrified,
01:20
humiliated, and sorry for myself.
01:23
My colleagues' action was not
01:27
the only death threat I have received,
01:29
but it was the most dangerous one.
01:32
The perception of women's life in Gaza
01:36
is passive.
01:39
Until a recent time, a lot of
women were not allowed
01:41
to work or pursue education.
01:44
At times of such doubled war including
01:47
both social restrictions on women
01:50
and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
01:52
women's dark and bright stories were fading away.
01:55
To men, women's stories were seen
01:59
as inconsequential.
02:02
I started paying closer attention
02:04
to women's lives in Gaza.
02:07
Because of my gender, I had access
02:09
to worlds where my colleagues were forbidden.
02:12
Beyond the obvious pain and struggle,
02:16
there was a healthy dose
02:19
of laughter and accomplishments.
02:20
In front of a police compound in Gaza City
02:23
during the first war in Gaza,
02:27
an Israeli air raid managed to destroy the compound
02:30
and break my nose.
02:33
For a moment, all I saw was white, bright white,
02:35
like these lights.
02:40
I thought to myself I either got blind
02:42
or I was in heaven.
02:46
By the time I managed to open my eyes,
02:49
I had documented this moment.
02:52
Mohammed Khader, a Palestinian worker
02:56
who spent two decades in Israel,
02:58
as his retirement plan,
03:02
he decided to build a four-floor house,
03:03
only by the first field operation at his neighborhood,
03:07
the house was flattened to the ground.
03:11
Nothing was left but the pigeons he raised
03:14
and a jacuzzi, a bathtub
03:18
that he got from Tel Aviv.
03:21
Mohammed got the bathtub
03:23
on the top of the rubble
03:25
and started giving his kids
03:27
an every morning bubble bath.
03:30
My work is not meant to hide the scars of war,
03:34
but to show the full frame
03:37
of unseen stories of Gazans.
03:39
As a Palestinian female photographer,
03:42
the journey of struggle, survival and everyday life
03:46
has inspired me to overcome the community taboo
03:50
and see a different side of war and its aftermath.
03:54
I became a witness with a choice:
03:59
to run away or stand still.
04:03
Thank you.
04:07
(Applause)
04:09

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Eman Mohammed - Photojournalist
Saudi-born Eman Mohammed is a photojournalist in Gaza.

Why you should listen
Eman Mohammed has worked as a reporter and photojournalist in Gaza since the age of nineteen. Since she began reporting in 2006, the Saudi-born TED Fellow has shifted her focus from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to women's issues in the Gaza Strip. As one of the few female photojournalists based in the region, Mohammed regularly faces discrimination, sexual harassment and open spite for what's seen as her audacity to join a men's field. Mohammed believes this can change for future generations of Gazan women. She says of raising her daughters, "Everything comes with a reason. They have the right to ask questions and do with whatever they wish or like, as long as it’s not hurting them or others."
The original video is available on TED.com
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