Tag Archives: Norway

Together we are against extremism

-fyllut caption-

I am not scared, sang extremism expert, Tahir Mahmood . With that, the demonstration against ISIS and the extreme Islamist group in Norway called The Prophet’s Ummah, was in motion. 

Five youngsters organized the demonstration. One of them was the Norwegian-Iraqi girl, Faten Mehdi Al-Hussaini. She was honoured by Norwegian media because of her courage and strong, speech. You do not follow Islam, you follow the devil, Faten Mehdi Al-Hussaini proclaimed about ISIS while on the rostrum in front of the Norwegian Parliament. She said that ISIS attack unprovoked, without legitimacy.

History created

Together with different Imams, members of the Parliament, party leaders, representatives of the Islamic Council in Norway, and the Norwegian Prime Minister, the five youngsters engaged numerous demonstrators. Multiple times, it was said that they had created history with their actions.


The appeals included how important it is for the inhabitants in Norway to stand together against extremists.  I support Norwegian Muslims and everyone else who is a part of this uprising. This fight we can only win together, said current Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Despite inequality 

A Norwegian blogger claimed that ISIS creates a state built on force, not harmony. This is conflicting with what Islam stands for.  The terror attack in 2011 was mentioned throughout the demonstration. Although it brought back tragic memories, the importance of standing together no matter religion, belief, or ethnicity was emphasized.


The Islamic Council of Norway was also present, and in their appeal it was mentioned that they believe in maintaining dialogue with the extremists. Whether it is those who look towards extremism or those who is already defined as an extremist.

As a last minute heads up, the emcee of the demonstration reminded not only the demonstrators, but also those working at the Parliament, that the work was not done only by showing up. The work will start when you get home and when you wake up tomorrow.

Written by Hannah Skotheim
Picture credit: creative commons

Just Eight Minutes…

Even as the conflict in Gaza sees no end, news stations are ready to move on. But that’s no reason for us to do the same. 

A couple of days ago, one summer evening in our cabin, the newscast presented eight minutes of the dramatic world situation. Eight minutes in, the host moved on to inform us of more or less completely unnecessary news. The kind of news I often find humiliating. Especially when there are more important issues worth knowing. This particular evening for instance, it detailed the beautiful weather in Norway, the explosion of ice cream sales, and a train stopping because of the heat. Far less important than the surrounding world in flames.

This past week, the documentary from 2008, ‘’Tears of Gaza’’ was broadcast on Norwegian TV. Sadly, the situation presented in the documentary, is the same today, if not worse. While watching, we witnessed frustration and hopelessness of what felt like constant bombing, endless deaths of innocent children and endless tears filled with hatred. Quite understandably, it can be hard to avoid the hatred that younger children develop under these circumstances. A boy who had lost his dad said: ‘’I hope God punishes Israel, Egypt, and everyone else who supports Israel’’. The same boy wanted to become a doctor when he grew up. He wished to cure injured in war. Back in 2008, we wished that the little boy never would have to experience another war. Unfortunately, by this point, he’s probably been through three wars all together.

That is if he lived through the first one…

That same night I had trouble sleeping. Usually, I am able to reflect upon an unfair situation, become frustrated, but then again feel glad that I am living the life I am. This night I could not help to think that I am too going to die one day, just like the children in Gaza. Maybe loving life the way I do eventually will feel like a waste. Even though my situation cannot be compared to those lives in Gaza, a sort of death anxiety came creeping up on me. The following night, the same channel showed another documentary on the tense situation in the Middle East. For many years, two TV channels were our only way to keep updated on what was going on in Norway and the rest of the world. This year, we decided to subscribe to newspapers, and organise an Internet connection. Suddenly, news became available, and it was almost a shame not to be updated. Usually, we are able to read heartbreaking articles, watch awful, disconcerting documentaries or listen to unbelievable sad interviews on the radio before we continue on with our life without any concerns. Sometimes we are disgusted at the news. At the same time it all happens at a distance, making it somewhat palatable. Thursday, however, I woke up doing the most natural thing when connected to Internet; check the newspapers and social media on my smart phone. Around the breakfast table the same morning, the terror threat towards Norway, was a delicate subject. Now, the dramatic situation was no longer at a distance.

News about the unbelievable weather, one or more happy rather unknown celebrity, and worries about being fit for the beach, has still remained in the headlines in addition to the terror threat. Some of us are always looking for a way to escape the reality, some seeking only news or advice that will make their day even better. Certain days, I can honestly say that I have done the same. This summer however, I have barely been able to go to bed without any concerns. There are too many terrifying things happening around the world and in our country at the same time. This makes the news — to me and presumably others — impossible to avoid.

The last couple of years, Norway has experienced disasters that have affected our people. Memories will always stay with us, but moving on is often vital to obtain the meaning of life no matter how hopeless it might feel. What we are experiencing in our country today as well as in the world, can make us revaluate our lives. Seize the day, hopefully everyday, and especially during these critical days. But, please do take time to engage in the world issues in between all the sunbathing and ice cream eating.

By Hanna Skotheim

Photo: Electonic Infitada

Are Norway choosing Quantity over Quality?


EVERY YEAR IS the same. Only this year it’s more intense. Teachers in Norway are unhappy about new reforms that could affect their work conditions. Increasing office hours, less independence, and higher requirements are some of the claims.

In December 2012, the Norwegian political parties wanted to expand the length of a teacher’s education to a five-year master programme. This happened only two years after a fresh reform had changed the situation for teachers. The argument for making it a five-year programme was that teachers would gain more subject competence and experience from research. In addition, more people would apply in general. Today, the discussion is once again preoccupying the minds of the party members, current teachers, and future teachers.

A change in office hours
First, the Norwegian communal sector organisation (KS) wanted to expand the working year for teachers to 45 weeks, which would mean 37.5 hours weekly throughout the year. Thereby turning the generous summer vacation into regular office hours. The independence of the teachers and schools would also decrease because of the increasing amount of control given to the local authorities. Unsurprisingly the teachers weren’t happy with this and the Norwegian union of education declared the number of days the teachers worked should be equal to the number of days their pupils were in school.

Compromise leading to a final vote
A peaceful demonstration in Skien coupled with several other frustrated reactions towards KS, forced the organisation to finally reverse some of their plans. KS and the Norwegian union of education, made a compromise. The new deal is that teachers must be at school for a minimum of 7.5 hours a day. These hours are meant to be used to do tasks teachers believe are beneficial to their students. The compromise is to be voted on by the teachers themselves later this month. The leader of The Union of Education — Ragnhild Lied — has already claimed that the result of the vote will be binding for its members. However, if a majority does not agree with the deal, it will almost certainly result in a strike. Wisely some might say another leader Terje Skyvulstad, has said that it is difficult to predict what will happen should there be a strike.

Free or forced teachers?
One professor at the University of Oslo, Thorgeir Kolshus, expressed to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten: ‘’If the teachers are forced to maintain certain office hours, the job will become less attractive. If you give teachers freedom, you will get quality’’. June 18th will be the day of the vote. The question is; will there be quality?

Problems are not just affecting those in Norway, recently in Ireland, Headmasters and University Presidents were ordered by the Government to reduce staff costs by 1%. This was despite a recent report claiming that Ireland was third in Europe for Adult Literacy and Numeracy tests. The chief executive of Irish Universities Ned Costello claimed “A commitment to roll back the recently announced staff cuts, and an injection of funding in the forthcoming Budget and estimates this autumn would be a good place to start.”

Five-year master programme
Similar to the situation in December 2012, once more the current government wants to try to expand the teacher education from a four-year bachelor to a five-year master programme. On the one hand, a masters programme can attract more disciplined students with better grades. The programme can also give higher self-confidence academically. On the other hand, a masters programme can also be risky for those students who are not as strong academically. This can result in a growing apostasy. For a masters programme to be attractive there need to be a rise in wages, fewer ‘’time thieves’’, and the teachers need to be given more trust, autonomy, and status.

By Hanna Skotheim

Pandeia has also offered up its own pan-european report on education cuts which can be read here.

Oslo – The Heroin Capital of the North

Anders Hoff

Anders Hoff

WHEN YOU THINK of Norway, you think of welfare, oil-money, socialism and the privileged Scandinavian life. Surprisingly the capital, Oslo, struggles with an overwhelming number of heroin addicts – and deaths by overdose.

Walking out of Norway’s biggest train station in the heart of Oslo, a spot where many have their first proper glimpse of the country, tourists might be surprised. Walking straight into Oslo’s main street, you are likely to pass people either injecting a shot of, or being clearly affected by – heroin. This first impression, a concern that has caused heavy debate for years in Norway, might easily leave people with the impression that Norway has a huge drug problem, but the picture is far more complex than.

Heavy drugs

A report from SIRUS (Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research) revealed that the number of people in Norway who have experimented with drugs, is lower than the European average. The number is also below the European average for “recreational” use on a regular basis, this includes cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy/MDMA. However, Norway has a relatively high number of intensive and more serious cases of drug abuse – actually above the European average. The report showed that within Norway’s 5 million inhabitants, there were between 7,300 and 10,300 injecting drug users in 2011 – a number that increased from 1970 to 2001, followed by a reduction until 2003, and which has been stable since. The drug addicts who inject constitute the majority of Norway’s problems with drug abuse, and these numbers offer part of the explanation to the many drug users outside Oslo Central Station, popularly referred to as “plata”.

The high numbers of users of such a heavy drug as heroine, might surprise those who first and foremost know the socialistic country for being one of the world’s richest nations. It is also known for its extensive social- and welfare system. Apparently, despite the oil money and welfare system, Norway is struggling with one of Europe’s most extensive heroin epidemics, something that reveals that drug addiction is a complex phenomenon which money and welfare have been unable to solve.

Numbers of deaths directly caused by drugs are hard to compare among European countries, but reports from EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction ) show that Norway has topped the European table concerning drug related deaths since 2007.  From 2002- 2012 the average number of deaths in Oslo per year due to drugs was 60 people. 78 per cent of these deaths were due to opiates, but whether this was due to heroin, substances prescribed by doctors for rehabilitation, or a combination of the two, remains unclear. After 2009 the number of deaths due to heroin was reduced to half, but at the same time the numbers of deaths due to methadone provided by the state as a legal and rehabilitating substitute, increased and are now on the same level.  These statistics clearly indicates how big a challenge the government is facing.




A culture of injection

In Norway, about 90 per cent of heroin users inject the drug, compared to only 15 per cent in the Netherlands. Injection of heroin is known as the most risky way to consume it, so why is it so common? Several explanations have been offered by SIRUS. One of them is, that it is more advantageous to inject the dose. The price of drugs has traditionally been higher in Norway, and not wasting drugs has been a bigger concern there. Despite the fact that prices are now on an average European level, such patterns in a culture take a long time to change and so far this trend has remained.  Another explanation offered is that Norway or Nordic countries have an extreme culture of hard drinking and intoxication, which makes people seek the most extreme experience of the heroin effect.

An attempt at reduction

In recent years, effort has been made to encourage activities preventing overdose risk, promoting emergency assistance and the establishment of a field nursing service involving outreach activity of health checks, treatment of sores, free hepatitis A and B vaccinations, distribution of injection equipment, nutrition and hygiene guidance, follow-up and referral to other parts of health care system. Oslo started to hand out free needles in 1988 and a heroin- injecting room was also opened in the centre of Oslo temporarily in 2005 and made permanent in 2009. This room is available for “hardcore” injectors over the age of 18. Some critique has been made of these specific endeavours – especially on the issue that legal injection rooms and free needles might contribute to, and encourage this culture for injecting heroin.

In 2003 the police, the municipality of Oslo, and the central government made a plan aimed at breaking-up the groups of drug users gathering in central Oslo and to stop the drug market in these places. But the actual use or possession of heroin in the centre of Oslo rarely causes any reactions by the police due to a general softening of the drug policy.

Ten million Norwegian kroner was allocated in 2013-14 for the development of a five-year strategy, but there is a constant debate concerning what exactly should be Norway’s strategy for reducing the numbers of heroin abuse. Decriminalising heroin, and offering it to the heavy users for free; a strategy incorporated in several countries including Switzerland, Netherlands and Denmark, has been discussed, but so far Norwegian authorities have not agreed on trying this. Where several countries show good results, some of these numbers are based on the visible effect in the cities – effectively aesthetic improvements. Helge Waal from SERAF(Norwegian Centre for Addiction Research), who has been evaluating the project in Zürich claims that in Switzerland the strategy of free heroin for heavy users, was taken both to help the users as well as to “clean up” the city. That leaves the question of who exactly our strategies are aiming at helping; the heroin users or the reputation of the city?

While the debate about which strategy offers the best and most humane way to treat the heroin addicts goes on, the numbers of heroin users and deaths in Oslo due to overdoses remains steady.

By Ingunn Dorholt

Congo, Crime and Discrimination: Norwegian Fast News

The Olympic Comittee

The Olympic Comittee

Ingunn Dorholt gives a brief overview of last week’s dominating news.

Last week Norwegian media were anticipating the second sentence of the British/Norwegian ex- soldier Joshua French, who has been imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo for almost five years. The final sentence has been postponed several times, most recently due to a report about his current mental health.

The case started in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009, when the two Norwegians, Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland, were convicted for a number of charges, including the murder of their private driver, keeping weapons illegally, performing armed robbery and for attempting to start a private criminal association. The two Norwegians were sentenced to capital punishment on three court levels, however The Congo no longer performs actual executions. Neither of the men has admitted to committing the murder. Instead they claim that their car was attacked by a local group, who killed the driver.

The Norwegian foreign department sent an enquiry to Congolese authorities to have the two Norwegians  sent back home, but so far nothing has happened.

On 18 August 2013, Tjostolv Moland was found dead in his cell. Joshua French is now awaiting the sentence for the murder of his friend, as Congolese governments claim that he drugged Moland, and strangled him to death. The Norwegian police department Kripos, went to Congo to investigate the case, but did not find any reason to believe there was anything criminal behind the death. There were no traces of drugs in Moland’s blood.

Moland and French were running a private security company in Uganda. Their original plans in Congo are disputed, but anonymous sources within the military claim they were recruiting other soldiers to private armed missions around Africa.

Norwegian arrogance

Norwegian media are of course also busy following the Olympic Games in Sochi. Norway received two warnings from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the first weekend of the winter games, and the Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg, has warned Norwegian contestants about their behaviour. He claims that “Norway is already known for being arrogant, and this is not exactly helping the image”. The first warning came after bronze-medal winner, Martin Johnsrud, decided to change skiing tracks just before the finish line. The other one was because the women’s skiing team were wearing black armbands as a symbol of grief, after one of the Norwegian skiers lost her brother on the night of the opening ceremony in Sochi. According to the IOC, the “Olympic competition is not an arena to show grief”.

Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg.

Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg

Inequality in insurances

Pandeia’s theme this week is Inequality, and equality has been a much debated topic in Norwegian media lately. It has been revealed that disability insurances are twice as expensive for women as for men. While Norwegian equality laws prohibit differentiating the genders in relation to car insurances, there is so far no law that prevents the insurance companies from making the distinction on other insurances. In 2011 the EU established a law that made such discrimination illegal. However Norway is not a part of the EU, and can choose whether or not to implement the law.


Photos: Martin Hafsahl and Sjur Stølen

Foreign Student “Ghettos”

Ena Kreso

Norwegian student media are looking into immigration issues within student housing. If international students are not mixed with domestic students in housing offers, it might create problems of isolation. Pandeia’s Tinuke Maria Iyore translates an article from Universitas.

In a student apartment building in Lower Kringsjå, Oslo, nine out of ten residents are international students. Nafiza Ferdowshi, from Bangladesh lives here, but does not plan to stay for long. “I’m going back to Bangladesh when I finish my studies. I really like Norway, but I hardly know any Norwegians,” she says.

Statistics from the Student Association in Oslo (SIO) show that most of the international students live in the older buildings in Lower Kringsjå, where block 24 and 26 have the highest percentage of international students. Here ninety per cent of the residents are foreigners. In Upper Kringsjå the numbers are completely opposite. Nine out of ten are Norwegian students.

Nafiza Ferdowshi and Tanima Ferdous, both from Bangladesh, are mostly content with their lives in Lower Kringsjå, but Ferdowshi does not plan to stay.  She thinks getting to know and communicating with Norwegians has been difficult. “I’m going back to Bangladesh when I finish my studies. I really like Norway, but I hardly know any Norwegians,” she says.

Moving up

In one of the newer buildings in Upper Kringsjå (the area with a high concentration of Norwegian students), we find Sven Sondre Frøshaug in the living room with his roommate Sindre Godager. Frøshaug previously lived in one of the blocks in Lower Kringsjå. “I avoided going into the kitchen as much as possible,” he says. “It was dirty and small. And I found it exhausting to speak English all the time.” In his new student apartment Frøshaug has a private bathroom, and shares living space with three Norwegian friends.

A Problematic Situation

Sveinung Rotevan is a politician for Norwegian political party Venstre. According to him the large number of international students in Lower Kringsjå is problematic. “It is important that the international students are mixed with the Norwegian students to secure language advancement and networking opportunities,” he says and adds that the student organizations should put in an effort to ensure a more mixed environment for students.


Trond Bakke, who is responsible for housing within the student association, says that nothing can be done to ensure a better allocation of the international students, as the allocating process is random. “The situation is a result of the fact that international students are prioritised higher, when allocating the student apartments. Additionally international students are more concerned about price than Norwegian students, and often prefer the blocks with lower rent,” Bakke says.

Missing out

Statistics show that four out of five international students in Norway return home after completing their education.

The director of Erasmus Student Network, Maria Mastrangelopoulou, thinks a reason could be that the international graduates have difficulties finding jobs in Norway, partly because their Norwegian network is non-existent. “It would be great with a career fair targeting international students, as this could help put them in contact with relevant employers,” she says.

Sveinung Rotevatn, thinks that it’s important to keep the international students in Norway afterwards. “We’re missing out on great knowledge and expertise,” he says.

Original Article by Ragnhild Sofie Selstø & Thea Storøy Elnan for universitas.no

Photo: Ena Kreso

Studvest, Venstre and Vagina Day: Norwegian Fast News

forest fire

Women’s rights to self-determination, raging fires and a doubling in aid to South Sudan. Ingunn Dorholt provides an overview of the most important news in Norway right now. 

All over the world women are busy planning the V-dag (Vagina dag), which is a global event for raising awareness about violence against women. Meanwhile, this week, Norway has been said to be heading in the opposite direction – by limiting women’s rights.vagina day

A heated debate about abortion rights has been dominating Norwegian media the last few weeks. Norway has a reputation of being a forerunner for gender equality and women’s rights. Recently a political suggestion was made, that Norwegian doctors should have the legal right to protect themselves from any referral on abortion, consultancy for artificial insemination for lesbians and certain forms of contraception. This suggestion came as a result of a political agreement that the current government parties made with Venstre (a liberal party) and the Christian party (KRF) to ensure that the parties would support this minority government when their politics are to be approved in parliament.

The agreement was made in September, but has been given a lot of attention now, because a surprisingly high number of doctors have expressed a desire to take advantage of the rights they would receive from the new law.

To accommodate the high level of resistance against the law not only within the population, but also amongst members of the Norwegian doctors association, the government are now open to the possibility that the decision should be municipal. If so – it might end up being more difficult to get a referral for an abortion in the countryside of Norway than in the cities. The Christian party (KRF), who stands behind the suggestion, claims that this would mean breaking the initial political agreement.

abortionA woman’s right to a self-determined abortion was established in 1975 in Norway.  However there were cases where doctors were sending patients to colleagues in cases they were personally against. This practice was made illegal by the health department in 2011. While some claim that the doctor’s right to reservation will weaken women’s rights to self-determination, others claim that this will benefit women, since doctors that are personally against abortion are reluctant to perform such consultations. Furthermore it is claimed that is will merely work as a formality, since doctors all over the country already refuse consultations. Others, like Eline Kirkebø from the student paper “Studvest” claims that a doctors’ right to reservation would be undemocratic; “to uphold a well functioning democracy, doctors have to respect the rules and laws that have been made through democratic processes”.

Norwegian media has also been focusing on firefighters this week that have been fighting the biggest fire, in terms of damage, since the Second World War. The fire took place in Flatanger in the North-Western part of Norway. It started from high voltage wires, but due to heavy wind and the fact that the region has not experienced any rainfall since mid-December, the fire spread and the firefighters lost control of it. Heavy wind made it impossible, even for helicopters to participate in the battle against the flames. More than 90 houses and cabins were burned to the ground. Less than 24 hours after the first one, another fire started in Frøya, a bit further south where 700 people were evacuated.

forest fire 2

All of this took place only one week after another fire devoured 30 houses and sent more than 100 people to the hospital in Lærdal, also on the west coast of Norway. The city is famous for its historical wooden village from the 18th and 19th century, which is a protected area. Fortunately no deaths have been reported from any of the fires.

Finally Norwegian media has been following the Norwegian foreign minister Børge Brende on his visit to the capital Juba of South Sudan, where he promised president Salva Kiir  to double  the Norwegian aid to south Sudan from 50 to 100 million kroner.

Gender Equality: Let us not forget about the men

Oslo University is spending more money on gender equality – but the money, as Ingunn Dorholtis investigates, is not always being spent the right way.

Let us rewind to 2004: For the first time women are dominating higher education in Norway. It has been 89 years since women got the right to vote. The same year the University of Oslo makes a two-year plan of action for gender equality, and specifies that a substantial part of their budget will be spent on projects promoting gender equality. The University of Oslo will be “the world’s first gender-equalised University” by 2011. The University’s director for equality at the time, Long Litt Woon, is happy that there is finally a plan of action for equality, but is worried that the money is not going to be spent according to the plan of action.

The plan of action for gender equality at The University of Oslo forgot about one factor, argues Helle Gannestad, in an article for Universitas: time. To become the world’s most gender-equal university you need the gender ratio amongst the University’s employees to be 50/50. A report from the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) in 2006, showed signs that this was an unattainable goal by the end of 2011. In 2004, 78,4% of the employed were men. To achieve the goal of a 50/50 ratio of men and women,  99% of all new employees would have to be women until the year of  2011, and that would mean that the University would have to discriminate against men significantly, in order to achieve gender equality.

According to the head of the department at the equality and discrimination commission, Arnfinn Andersen, it would actually be a breach of the Norwegian Gender Equality law, and EU legislation. So, the University simply had to continue their hiring process where they are weighing the qualifications of the applicants,higher than their gender.

Now, fast forward to 2013: The money has been spent according to the laws and another 3 million kroner is placed in the budget for 2013, a number that will increase with 400,000 kroner next year.  At the Institute of Informatics (IFI) men are the dominating gender, while the number of women is decreasing. The institute has opened a new room that can be used for an extra day of teaching – for women only. But can it be true, that the original purpose of this extra money was to see them being spent on rooms for women only? It is unlikely.

 Giving the female students their own room to stop the development of a decreasing number of female students might be the right thing to do, if the social environment is not good for them. But money that is supposed to secure gender equality should not be spent on projects that are pushing the genders further apart – it is not the right place to focus. One thing is certain; Oslo will not have the world’s most gender-equalised university by opening pink rooms that smell of tea and girls perfume. To give special treatment to one of the sexes means upholding the differences in academia and if the goal is gender equality, the University should not forget about its male students.

Original article written by Helle Gannestad        



Pushing gender barriers with “forbidden” movie

Anja Pandeia UNESCO

Saudi Arabia’s first female movie director is called “un-Islamic” by opponents and “pioneering” by followers. Recently she has produced the first ever movie in the country where cinemas are banned. Anja Pil Christoffersen translates an interview held with Haifaa Al Mansour in Universitas, following the film’s release in Norwegian cinemas.

“It is time for Saudi women to dare to fight for their own identity and voice. It is only by pushing these boundaries that we can experience change,” says director Haifaa Al Mansour.

On November 1st, the movie ”Wadjda” is released in Norwegian cinemas. It is the first movie shot and produced entirely in Saudi Arabia.  The movie is about the ten-year-old schoolgirl Wadjda and her dream of getting her own bicycle. She is told that bikes are not for girls, but that does not stop her from trying to save up the money for one. She does this by registering for a religious contest, where she can win money by reciting Qur’an verses by heart.

“I wanted to portray a young Saudi girl and her life in the capital as realistically as possible. But by telling the story of Wadjda and her dream the women’s rights debate became inevitable,” says Al Mansour

‘Not a Political Piece’

In Saudi Arabia it is forbidden for women to drive cars, show their faces in public or travel without permission from a male relative or partner. If a woman travels across country borders, a text message is automatically sent to her husband.

However “Wadjda” is no deep political film, at least not on the surface, the director says. She wanted to tell a seemingly simple story of a child’s dreams and the resistance she encounters to reach them.

“This is a side of everyday Saudi Arabian life, which has never before been shown on the big screen,” she says.

Al Mansour hopes that the realistic characters will make people outside of Saudi Arabia able to relate to the story.

“The protagonist – little Wadjda, is just like any other girl: she listens to music, plays video games, does not want to listen to her parents and has a desire to take part in a larger, globalized youth culture. That is how it is for young people in Saudi Arabia today.”

The fear of consequences

Al Mansour eventually succeeded to shoot the entire movie in her home country, but the task proved to be much harder than expected.

“One of the biggest challenges was to convince people to act in the movie.”

Al Mansour explains how the interest in the movie project was overwhelming, but so was the fear of the consequences of taking part.

“Some people would audition one day and hear that they were perfect for the role, and then have no contact with us again. Of course this made ​​it extra difficult for us.”

During the process of making the movie, Al Mansour was met with criticism for the fact that she, as a woman, was directing scenes containing male actors. She had to sit in a van with monitors and walkie-talkies and guide them through the scenes. It often ended with her ​giving up and coming out anyway.

“We had all the permits we needed to shoot on the locations we used, and I have never agreed with the criticism. I want to tell stories, and I want to inform people about my country. I want my children to be able to grow up in Saudi Arabia without risking anything on the basis of gender and opinions.

“To achieve this, some of us have to stand up first.”

The fight for one’s voice

Al Mansour emphasizes how easy it is to forget that Saudi Arabia actually is a modern state, since it is usually the conservative gender roles that are discussed in the international media.

“Although Saudi Arabia is a modern and ‘high-tech’ country, most people are deeply conservative. I believe that the recent years have proved that it may be starting to soften, but this does not happen by itself.”

Al Mansour has a strong desire to fight for the women in her home country – and she is not alone in this fight. In early October of this year four women were allowed to practice as lawyers for the first time – a profession that has previously been reserved for men. In April, a job fair was held in the capital Riyadh for women who did not want to go straight into marriage after finishing their education. It was also the year where women were given the right to own their own bike.

“I am so proud of my generation of women who lift their veils and fight for their own identity and voice.

“Outside the capital, there are an incredible number of strong girls like Wadjda. These girls are going to grow up and redefine women in Saudi Arabia,” says Al Mansour.

– – –

Original Article by Aili Røtterud Løchen for universitas.no

Photo: Ena Kreso