Monday 13 February 2017

Nevertheless, she persisted

My life is brilliant.

Even my childhood was, depending on the parameters you use. And perhaps for those who know the story, those few including my mother, that's an odd statement to make.

I apologise mum. You'll understand in a few pages time.

Someone I met recently explained to me what the best thing was about stepping off a plane from the Eastern hemisphere in our country. She said "not a single man was staring at me". Now think of all the things she could have said. That she didn't say. She said that.

You see, she had come from a country where not being stared at was, as a woman on her own, a luxury she was not afforded. Imagine her walking through the airport at the other end, being stared at. Undressed. I imagine her walking up and down the plane to the toilet on the long long flight. Being stared at. I imagine how I would feel if the same thing happened to me for the same period of time and I know I would wilt. This woman would never wilt, in any circumstance, or at least I cannot imagine her doing so, because she persists.

Last week, #neverthelessshepersisted trended on Twitter as a US Senator was put down, told to sit down, because she dared to reread words already written and I think uttered in Congress. She put down as being told, but persisting. It was a put down that resonated across the Western world with every woman who's been talked over, had their ideas parroted by a man and accepted despite suggesting it first, been frozen out of discussions in networking sessions for having the audacity to have a different opinion, with every woman who refused to know their implied place.

That's a lot of us.

But I lost sight of context, a context delivered to me in harsh reality this evening by Channel 4 News' interview with the accidental journalist and film maker Waad Al Kateab by the end of which I was crying. I feel no shame in admitting this. I think anyone who saw the piece wasn't the slightest bit moved, then they are a very cold person indeed. This woman, this one woman, started filming in Syria during the Arab Spring in 2011 on an iPhone. By the end, she was submitting film to the world as one of the few authenticated sources in Aleppo as it was retaken by government forces.

Inbetweeen she witnessed unimageable things. Things no woman should witness. Another woman, face covered in blood, no explanation of why - though I suspect her journey to the hospital bed she was lying on was anything but simple or danger free, though that was not the reason she came to be lying on the hospital bed. No, that was because she was giving birth. While bombs exploded around her. Now, I am not a mother, but I am a woman. And I believe there is one moment in a woman's life which is absolutely sacrosanct, and that is when a woman is giving birth. But war leaves no room for sanctity.  The baby didn't breathe for 12 minutes. For 12 minutes, an all male team of doctors did CPR, never relenting, never giving up, perhaps in acknowledgement that one more miracle that day by that point would not be too much to ask.

A trio of brothers arriving at hospital, one of them beyond rescueing. The grief, the respect, the maturity and one broken moment of the other two brothers that will never leave them, captured on screen forever, a brutal reminder that 2 brothers under 10 years of age, should never lie weeping their hearts out the side of their dead brother.

And all the while, this woman, the woman behind the lense, had her own baby at the start of the war, and by the end had given birth to another. A woman who still dare not show her face on British TV for fear of repercussions for her actions. A woman who stayed, right to the very last, in order to tell the haphazard, disastrous, chaotic, story of the evacuation of Aleppo. With her own children in the back.

No disrespect to anyone else, but personally, I'd like to nominate a new woman to be the target of #neverthelessshepersisted. What I'd really like is for her to gain the recognition she deserves. Because standing at a lecture in an unbombed, fully supplied with electric, cleaned daily, with scanners at the entrance, full security, and a complete roof - well, lets just say I have no less respect for her but this evening has reminded me that women's challenges in this world are relative.

If you would like to know more about Waad Al Kateab then I recommend the beautiful page over on Channel 4 which gathers her most gut punching films together.


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