A SAT-7-arranged panel discussion in Westminster sent parliament a powerful reminder of the need to continue to stand up for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Rachel Fadipe, Executive Director of SAT-7 UK, spoke of the slow progress towards gender equality in the region. She described how “many women are confined to the domestic sphere and live their lives behind closed doors – often have few or no choices when it comes to work or education.”
SAT-7 women’s presenter Hengameh Borji gave examples from her own experience of the lack of choices open to women in Iran.
Firstly, she recalled her surprise as an eight-year-old, the first time she saw her mother put on a headscarf. She remembered being told it was “Because I have to”. Then, as a 16-year-old who decided to commit her life to Christ, Hengameh said she kept her new faith a secret “Because I had to”. She outlined examples of how women in Iran are not given choices around religion, clothing, travel, or even whether their husbands can take up to three other wives.
SAT-7 Egypt women’s producer Maggie Morgan explained, via video interview, her show’s recent campaign “Love is Not”. She said for many people in her culture, “Loving people means stifling them, loving people means covering them up, loving people means that you don’t let them reach their full potential.”
“Love is setting people free”
Instead, the message she, her guests and presenters want to campaign is that “Love is not that you keep people bound up, love is setting people free”.
The Westminster event, “Gender Equality and Religious Rights” was hosted in Parliament by SAT-7 and Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, Co-Director of the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (CIFoRB).
In one of her contributions, Baroness Berridge highlighted the growing awareness of the close correlation between allowing the freedom to choose your religion or beliefs and the empowering of women in societies.
The fourth panel member, Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, said that she recognised – from international situations and in her own constituency – that religious contexts could sometimes constrain but can also empower women and give them an “infrastructure” to be “an engine of change in their community”.
She said, “Where you liberate women, they are the greatest assets. They can be incredibly powerful mediators of how families do well … and you see the massive difference they can make in their communities by their leadership and facilitative roles.”
Rachel Fadipe spoke of the growth of SAT-7 programmes that address a range of social issues with bringing hope and freedom to women being a priority. She said, “Our TV programmes advocate justice for women, challenge long-held religious and cultural mindsets, equip women with knowledge and wisdom, and help them understand their worth.”
A strong endorsement came from Pauline Latham, MP for Mid Derbyshire, who has served on the Select Committee for International Development, and who attended the event.
Having met with SAT-7 producers in the network’s Cyprus offices, she said, “I found it such an amazing organisation that is doing such a good job at changing attitudes and giving people options which they very often don’t have.”
Hengameh Borji crystallised how her SAT-7 women’s programmes approach these topics – using the Bible well and “creating discussions, making men and women think and wonder about these issues”.
She said, “We hope and pray that one day women in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Middle East will be able to make their own choices and on that day no woman would say I follow that religion because I have to, I wear those clothes because I have to. We pray that we won’t hear this ‘Have to’.”
- SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television and digital media charity broadcasting for over 20 years across the Middle East and North Africa, with an audience of over 25 million people. We have also been able to support the historic churches of the region and equip minority Christian groups there to be resilient in the face of adversity and persecution.
- Our satellite television network now comprises 4 distinct channels, broadcasting in Arabic, Farsi and Turkish, as well as a large active social media presence, e.g. in 2017 there were 37 million views of SAT-7 videos through Facebook. Over the last fifteen years, SAT-7 has introduced a range of social development programming, focuses on a wide range of topics including education, women’s rights, domestic violence, drug addiction, disability, unemployment, peace building and reconciliation.