On Monday 4 March we were honoured to be joined by Rania Ali, Taban Shoresh and Alice Aedy for the launch of our International Women’s Day 2019 celebrations.
The event, ‘Women in conflict: overcoming adversity through film, photography and social action’, was chaired by Sonali Naik QC of Garden Court Chambers. Sonali is currently one of only 22 practicing BAME women QCs.
The evening began with a screening of ‘Escape from Syria: Rania’s odyssey’, panellist Rania Ali’s award-winning documentary.
Rania was just 20 years old when she filmed her journey from the ruins of hometown, Kobane in Syria, to Vienna in Austria where she is now based. The footage shows what many refugees face on their treacherous journey to Europe. Rania, like many others, travelled in a boat which was overloaded with people (in her case 52 sharing a dinghy meant for only 15). She was cheated by smugglers in Greece, and teargassed at the Macedonian border. This documentary marked the start of Rania’s award-winning career as a filmmaker and freelance journalist.
Joining us by Skype, she reflected on the unexpected impact of her documentary which now has a staggering 9 million views (and counting) on Facebook alone. All this despite her relative inexperience – she had never made a film before.
A key aim behind the film, Rania told us, was to humanise all of those making this journey, and ones like it. Rania wants to make clear – and succeeds in doing so - that she is not just a number, she is a person. One who likes Game of Thrones, it turns out. The audience were excited to hear about Rania’s imminent plans to study PPE at university.
Rania is currently leading the project “living together” which she set-up with the Swiss NGO Terre Des Hommes. She is also committed to working on a variety of projects with Amnesty International. In addition to this she is an ambassador for The Lotus Flower.
The Lotus Flower, founded by Taban Shoresh, is a non-profit working in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, that supports women and girls impacted by conflict and displacement. The charity gives vulnerable girls and women a brighter future, improving their economic, social and cultural chances in life. It has helped over 5000 women and girls to date. Taban registered The Lotus Flower as a non-profit in 2016. For her, she says, the why completely proceeded the how. She was clear only that she was going to help women and girls impacted by conflict and displacement.
Now, in 2019, The Lotus Flower runs three women’s centres in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq. These centres provide a safe and supportive physical environment for women and girls to socialise, partake in educational courses and awareness sessions, and gain professional training. Taban wants to live in a world where vulnerable women and girls are safe, above all. But also one where they can meaningfully participate in their communities and drive social and economic change through education, livelihood, wellbeing, mental health, peace building, human rights and gender equality – the charity’s main pillars.
In the last week alone the news has hit the press that The Lotus Flower and a team of international lawyers are bringing the first civil action to gain compensation for the gross violations of human rights by a foreign ISIS fighter. You can read more on their website and in The Times.
On Monday, Taban shared the importance of art forms such as storytelling, photography, film and poetry in humanising victims of trauma. Taban firmly believes that “women and girls can change their lives, despite the trauma that they have experienced”.
We were delighted to also be joined by Alice Aedy, documentary filmmaker and photographer, who was profiled in the Guardian. She spoke eloquently about the time she spent in 2016/17 working on the front-lines of the European refugee crisis reporting from inside refugee camps in Greece, Serbia and France, where she also worked as a volunteer.
Alice also visited Northern Iraq to take photographs of the communities of women and girls The Lotus Flower serves. Her only brief was ‘don’t victimise these women’. She hasn't. Far from it. We were grateful to have the chance to exhibit some of her photographs at Garden Court, displayed alongside information on current Lotus Flower initiatives and short biographies of some of the women involved.
Ending the evening on the high, Sonali Naik QC, encouraged all in attendance to share Rania’s video, support the Lotus Flower and above all to amplify women’s voices. While we recognise that gender parity won't happen overnight, we believe that gathering together to share experiences and challenges will help us to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and communities to think, act and build a gender-balanced world.
We encourage you all to do the same this International Women’s Day.
Find out how to support The Lotus Flower
Share Rania’s film: Escape from Syria: Rania's odyssey