By Arab News
By Eman Al-Nafjan
Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Change.org and Amnesty International play a powerful role for the sake of good in the world.
What they do is heroic and noble beyond description. That’s why last week I was surprised to come upon a video produced by a new branch of Amnesty International, Amnesty TV, titled, “How not to get punished for being a woman.” The video is a satirical dark comedy in which a middle-aged Asian actor plays a Saudi man giving instructions to a woman on how to avoid punishments in Saudi Arabia. In the implied “or else” parts he strips down to his undershirt and starts acting like a threatening gorilla.
The video is part of a new bimonthly series of videos on the website Amnesty TV that was started last June. They produce and post satirical comedy, campaign stunts, short documentaries, outspoken opinion and real news videos that are available for free on their website. Amnesty spokesperson Harriet Garland told Max Fisher from the Atlantic that the videos are meant to be “a mixture of very serious thematic concerns and a very light-hearted way of exploring them.”
However as I watched the video, I did not feel particularly light-hearted or cheery. Quite the opposite; it made me cringe and not for the reason the video was made. I could not get out of my head the image of Amnesty employees and volunteers snickering and giggling as they did their background research and looked through case files of women rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
There’s no denying that the video has a lot of truth to it. Yes, the guardianship system imposed by the government is exploited by some Saudi men to oppress women. Yes, women cannot leave the country without their male guardians issuing them governmental permission to do. Yes, many employers do not employ women until after obtaining explicit permission from their male guardians.
The thought that international organizations believe that the average Saudi man is responsible for how women are treated does not sit well with me. Women rights violations are human rights violations. It’s not men against women. There are just as many Saudi men speaking out against these violations as there are Saudi women defending and practicing these violations. I hate to think that the man stripped down to his undershirt in the video and jumping around threateningly like a gorilla is supposed to represent the average Saudi man.
In another video by Amnesty TV, an Iranian/British actress Shappi Khorsandi demonstrates how people accused of adultery are stoned in Iran. In that video, she objectively, albeit comically, shows the size of stones that are used and how the victim is dressed on a mannequin. However, there are no harsh depictions in the video as in the Saudi women punishment video. Despite that the two videos share the same general theme but the latter was able to go about it more tastefully.
If the Saudi video was written and produced by “Saturday Night Live” or “The Colbert Report” I probably would not have found it so offensive. It would be obnoxious but it’s OK to be obnoxious when you’re a “late night entertainment comedy show.” It’s not OK when you’re an international human rights organization that victims are supposed to be able to turn to and expect their causes to be treated with dignity.