Qalat al-Rawiya: Gender-Sensitive Storytelling

Fairytales are an important element of popular culture and are extremely influential on the human consciousness. They reflect social beliefs and actions, and underscore individual convictions at the same time as they are continuously reproduced and widely disseminated. The WMF is aware of the impact that fairytales and popular stories have on reproducing and emphasizing various gender-related issues, such as gender-roles and women’s representation in popular, cultural and folk traditions. To address these cultural constructs, the WMF is producing gender-sensitive fairytales and feminist stories in order to disseminate alternative cultural material. These texts seek to challenge prevalent representations of women and empower women by presenting positive and active role models.

In order to explore issues linked to history and gender as reflected in popular, everyday culture, the WMF’s Gender-Sensitive Fairytales and Feminist Stories project has adopted a two-tiered approach focusing on both folk literature in colloquial Egyptian Arabic and the classical text of A Thousand and One Nights. In 1998, members of the Gender-Sensitive Fairytales and Feminist Stories began organizing bi-monthly, full-day workshops on rewriting fairytales. The first meeting “Rewriting Arab Tales from a Gender-Sensitive Perspective: Preliminary Experiments”, was held on 2nd-3rd March, 1998 and brought together a diverse group of Egyptian women working in the fields of literary criticism, creative writing, social and cultural history, and theatre, to analyze and rewrite fairytales from a gender-sensitive perspective.

In addition to rewriting “source” texts, several researchers began producing their own gender-sensitive stories and feminist texts. Over the years WMF has organized many storytelling evenings with the rewritten versions to disseminate these cultural products to a wider audience. These events — like the ones held at the Bayt al-Harawi and the Greater Cairo Library — attracted diverse groups of Egyptian scholars, activists and children. The WMF has also been invited to hold storytelling events in various venues and in different countries, such as the Sheikh Ibrahim ibn Mohammed al-Khalifa Culture and Research Center in Bahrain and the Cairo Opera House (2003), the Townhouse Gallery (2002), the American University in Cairo (2000, 2001) and the Spanish Cultural Institute (1999).

WMF has published a training manual on how to use, and conduct story writing workshops for raising awareness on gender issues in schools.

WMF has published two volumes of collected stories, culled out of these fairytale writing workshops, Qalat al-rawiyyaat… ma lam taqulhu Shahrazad and Qalat al-rawiyya, as well as a series of children’s stories.

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