Redefining feminism – Tashweesh Festival

“If everything is put under the name of Feminism then nothing is feministic. Feminism is a label that most people neglect because of the superficial pop culture interpretations that produce a tunnel vision. Very often Westerners want to save the women who wear headscarf but very often it is their choice.”

The multidisciplinary festival Tashweesh festival seeks to give voice to the many feminist positions of the Near East, North Africa and Europe. The 10-day programme includes performances, debates, reading groups, film screenings and concerts.

Moderated by Johanna Keller, the Big Talk on Double Agenda discussion evening touched on sensitive issues and the right to sexual self-determination. From heated discussions about burkinis on beaches in the south of France or the ban on minors wearing headscarves, to worldwide condemnation of sexual violence during the New Year celebrations in Cologne. Looking closer at these examples, one starts to perceive a certain double agenda of the debate in society: Women’s rights being instrumentalised to spread resentment against ‘Islam’, ‘the Arab community’, or ‘the migrants’.

Four recognised names in the discussion presented the variety of Arab feminism that exists in the arts and the academia:

Sonja Eismann – a publicist, journalist, the founder of Missy Magazin and author of Hot Topic: Popfeminism Today

Dina Makram-Ebeid from Egypt is an assistant professor, writing about work, social equality and social movements.

Malika Hamidi (FR) is a PhD in sociology, specialized in Islam-feminism in Europe, and author of Un féminisme musulman, et pourquoi pas?

Salma El Tarzi (EG) is a celebrated documentary maker, visual artist, essayist and activist from Caïro.

The movement has become so diverse that activists question is “Feminism” the right word to describe it? And why there should be superficial labels, when the word “Feminist” has so many different interpretations? They appeal for a decolonization of the mind. This can happen only when one can integrate the different standpoints. The activists call into question the movement itself. Nowadays, feminism can be Afro/Muslim/European/Arabic and they all aim various changes. From a theological and political discussion it has grown into a serious problem facing cases of physical aggression. An example: the cases of headscarves being removed by force in Belgium.


Photo : Maryam Tafakori


From the European point of view Malika Hamidi says that the continent experiences a post-feminist movement, where the headscarf is not a symbol of oppression but for empowerment, for being proud of your background and choosing to cover your hair. For her the nature of the problem is spiritual, political and intellectual. She explains that if you are an academic, you can’t be an activist. She shares a story from her experience:

I was in the EU parliament delivering an important speech and after this one man who watched me, told me that all the time I was speaking, he was wondering how I look like without my headscarf.’’

For her the small changes make the big progression – from the athletics who compete with their hijabs to the first female Muslim astronaut sent to space.

For Dina the cause is personal and Feminism is a fight against the social injustice and for more solidarity in the world. Sonja observes in her work the pop culture movement. “Feminism is not questioning whether Beyonce is a feminist,” she says. Mainstream feminism has deprived the powerful slogan of the community. She says, “If everything is put under the name of feminism then nothing is feministic.”

Salma explains that feminists are expected to act in a certain way, that is why, the movement hardly goes further.

How are we going to implement more solidarity in the society? Join the discussions until 27th October 2018 in Beursschouwburg. The festival is co-organised with Goethe Institute in Brussels.