Sexual harassment is most common in all areas of the society:Senior Advocacy Officer and Documentary filmmaker Melody Patry
Melody Patry is a Senior Advocacy Officer at free speech organisation Index on Censorship, a documentary filmmaker, who specializes in using creative storytelling and digital technologies to support human rights.
Her most recent film, ‘Shout Art Loud’, was filmed in Egypt and it explores the role of arts in challenging sexual harassment and violence against women. Patry who was at Oslo for the World of Women conference, Spoke to The Oslo Times on the challenges faced by women today.
During her brief rendezvous with The Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor-in-Chief Hatef Mokhtar, she also spoke about freedom of expression and gave her views on various aspects of the issue.
Please tell us about the World of Women conference?
It is the first edition of Road Women, which is more than a conference. It is series of talk, and panel discussions. The idea was to gather women from around the world with different skills and competences from various sectors. So it was participated by women that are lawyers, dancers, musicians, and human rights activists and are really interested and also by men, although the name is World of Women. There are lots of women and also some men who want to see some change in terms of gender equality, who want to hear the voices of women, for instance on how the women can bring differences in conflict ridden societies.
Can you tell us about yourself, your work, and your past, present and future activities?
I am a documentary film-maker, human rights and women’s right activists. I have made a
documentary about an artistic initiative to fight sexual violence in English. Sexual violence issue is not limited to one country it is an international problem. My documentary shows how powerful art can be to bring about change in the ways taboos and sensitive issues are perceived and how the entire society can be changed. I also work as free speech advocate with the Index for Censorship team – a London based organization dedicated to securing freedom of expression. We work on issues surrounding restriction and barriers to freedom of expression that includes all forms of expressions – be it media freedom, press freedom or artistic freedom of expression.
What is your message and reaction to those countries that still restrict freedom of expression?
My main message would be that freedom of expression is a fundamental right not a condition. There is a reason why we add the adjective fundamental because it is fundamental to all society. To put it correctly, it is fundamental to democracy and to a state. In the past few years there has been a real deterioration in terms of freedom of expression all around the world. There are some authoritarian countries where freedom of expression continues to be threatened. The deterioration is evident even in the so-called western democracies where freedom of expression is granted. It is really important to tackle this issue now, because allowing free speech to be eroded away will affect other rights and freedom and consequently affect our society.
How do you perceive the condition of women rights, especially right to religious freedom, in France?
Such conditions are not totally correct because the French authorities have not completely banned hijab and scarfs. They have banned full-face niqabs in public space by making it a criminal offense. I don’t know whether it is criminal offense but you can be fined if you wear niqab in public space. In my opinion that is a restriction on freedom of expression because you are singling out women rather than being included, you are excluding women from the public space.
I think women’s right issue must go beyond this issue. Women’s body is being attacked constantly. Sexual harassment is most common in all areas of the society, even in parliament. This is actually unacceptable, this should not happen in France in the 21st century.
How do you perceive the recent attack on the French Weekly Hebdo for making the cartoon of Prophet Muhammad?
Well, it was clearly an attack on freedom of expression. Charlie Hebdo was targeted because as a press cartoonist they have been publishing controversial cartoons. So, it was an attack on press freedom and an attack on freedom of expression and we should renounce it as such. There have been a lot of explanation, contexts and background to the attacks but the use of violence to silence people cannot be justified.
In South Asian countries like India, nearly one woman is raped every 30 seconds. As a human rights activist what is your message to these states and the NGO’s that work in this field?
Well my message for organizations working actively to support women is that they should keep raising awareness about various barriers those stand between women and their work. My message to the people who can support woman is that they should support women and invest in groups and NGOs
who are actively engaged to promote women’s right to change the situation on the ground. To the women who have been raped or have been victim of sexual abuse, I would like to tell her that you are not on your own, there are some people around there to help you. Silence is not the answer even it is very difficult to speak, you should not be ashamed because you are not responsible for what happened to you and there can be no excuse for using violence against your body.
What does dictatorial regime mean to you?
It’s regime that suppresses the voice of the people or some parts of the people, minority group or groups.
What does human right mean to you?
It means a lot of things to me, but I think it starts with tolerance and respect. Human rights means we can live together, and develop our societies, move forward our societies without excluding anyone so that there isn’t only one group that benefits at the cost of another group. It is all moving together and trying to sort injustice that exists already.
What would you call freedom?
My definition of freedom is that you are free, there is nothing standing in your way to do what you want to do as long as obviously it does not infringes on someone else’s freedom. Freedom is very vague because there are many freedom. I don’t know it is a difficult question actually.
Women rights are not violated only in South Asian countries but also in European countries. What do you think and what is your answer to women trafficking now?
We should have proper investigation to find individuals involved in women trafficking and we should end impunity by bringing these individuals to justice and prosecute them for their criminal offences of depriving women from their basic rights and freedoms and using and abusing their bodies. Some people and group exist those are responsible for trafficking. These should be properly investigated and brought to justice so that they don’t walk free to sell women again. Besides that I think that there is real need for creating more awareness about the issue among women because lots of women fall into trap by believing in the trafficker’s promise of a better life abroad. Some efforts in terms of raising awareness and knowledge about the trafficker’s trap among women would be helpful to address this issue.
How do you perceive the existing child marriages in South Asian and other countries and as someone with African roots, what is your opinion on slavery in African nations?
Slavery, I guess, existed outside of Africa as well. My mother was from French Caribbean, and slaves that were grown in Caribbean came from Africa. Many UN reports and other reports from independent research groups have gathered evidence of slavery in not only some African countries but also in European, Asian, in North American, and in South American nations. Slavery is a crime, but we still have people trying to recruit people in boundaries. We have got lot of domestic workers who live in conditions that are very similar to slaves where they are being detained against their will, where their travel documents are confiscated and forced to work without pay and underpay.
Child marriage is a very complex issue, because lots of parents are poor, marrying their daughter at a very young age because they do not have the resources to feed their daughter or educate her. Some do it because they believe that it is going to help their daughters but quite often most of the child marriages are due to financial difficulties. This should be addressed. Lot of women conferences are organized, lots of activist and women are working at the community level trying to elaborate about child marriage and explaining its consequences. We should continue these efforts of raising awareness at the grassroots and also at the higher level. We need political will to address this issue for instance in terms of not going backward and lowering the marriageable age of a girl, as was done by some countries.
What is the biggest challenge to ensure women’s right in the world today?
I honestly cannot answer that question because there are so many issues, and I am against switching some rights in comparison to others and also because girls don’t face the same issues in all countries. However, there are some transcendental issues, for example, sexual violence, is found everywhere. Ending violence against women, all forms of violence, including sexual violence, is definitely a top priority issue. This should be addressed right from the very beginning, including female genital mutilation, cross cutting, domestic violence, rape and harassments. Women should be provided equal rights as given to men – you cannot ban women from singing, dancing, or from exercising certain perfection. For instance when you are stuck in sinking boat that has many holes and with your own hands and feet, you barely can plug off all of them. But instead of letting the boat drown, you can extend to others on the boat for a hand to block the holes and save the boat from sinking. With team work, you can actually block all of the holes and avert the boat from sinking. We need to have this approach in mind, when trying to resolve issues concerned with women. While sinking boat can appear overwhelming, we all have different skills, and competencies and together we can help the boat from sinking.
Do you have special message for freedom of speech, democracy and human rights for our international audience?
We need to continue to fight for what matters to us, and continue providing the platform for unheard voices to ensure freedom of expression universally. We should work towards providing platform to women, and minority groups and encourage voicing their concerns. I think that’s how we can work in a democracy. Democracy normally means to be governed by the people but people is not a unique form or a homogenous, group. People are diverse and if only one voice is heard, democracy will fail. But it does not mean that you have to agree with everyone’s experiences or demands it simply means allowing people to express themselves and share their thoughts. Actually we grow in a society where we challenge other’s idea and our ideas are challenged by other members – by continuing this trend we can attain freedom of expression and develop respect for freedom of expression.
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