“Arab Women in Architecture” is a documentary that features interviews with nineteen Arab architects from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia and has been produced as part of the 2013 sixth cycle activities of the Omrania—CSBE Student Award for Excellence in Architectural Design.
It explores and features stories on the experiences, challenges, and achievements of Arab women architects, more precisely, themes as education, teaching, architectural practices, the vision of architecture or motherhood are discussed.
The full film was screened for the first time on January 7, 2014, during the Award’s sixth cycle ceremony, at the German Jordanian University’s Othman Bdeir House for Architecture and Design in Amman, Jordan. I was really happy to find the movie available on Youtube since I was unable to attend the event and decided to write a small review and encourage you to actually take the time to watch this short and very inspiring documentary.
The documentary consists of 6 parts in total, each of which is about 10-15 minutes long. Each part focuses on a different subject in the lives of these women architects.
In one part of the documentary, they just give an introduction about the entire theme ‘ women in architecture ’. They talk about studying architecture, wherein more than half of the population is the female population, and why architecture is considered a career specifically made for women.
In another part, they talk about women starting their own practice in the field of architecture, as there are not many women known to have their own practice to date and break the stereotype for women architects to become famous. Many of these known women architects set an example for the younger generations and the upcoming architects to stand on their own will and that if they can do it, then anyone can do it.
In other parts of the documentary, they talk about how architecture and our community are inter-related with each other and how exactly both work hand in hand. They also talk about most of the challenges that are being faced by women in architecture—both who work in the public sector as well as those who have their own practice.
On the other hand, some women talk about not having to face any major challenges in their professional life, not having to face any gender discrimination in their careers.
One topic I would like to focus on is “Motherhood”, Why this theme? Because even if parenthood is considered, usually, a man and a woman, nowadays the consequence of children is mainly bored by women and has a huge impact on their career.
The above fact is even more visible in Arab societies where the division of roles in the society is more conservative than in our European societies, even though in the end, women generally still face the same issues. Since this notion of choice is a recurring one, the above issue is often followed by a feeling of guilt by the women, who are made to feel like they abandon their family and are not “good mothers”.
However, on the positive side, all those women never complain or consider themselves victims. These women, just like men did make their own choice: to get an education, to have a career and a family – where all three are kept in balance. They explain their mixed feelings, their struggles, and hardships but most importantly they try to think of solutions.
A Jordanese architect, Meisa Batanyed even managed to change the laws and to authorize women to work from home where they can manage their families as well to help them.
Another option opted by women is to open their own practice or business, which gives them more flexibility and freedom. Some of them even decided to take their children to their workplace. Of course, laws have to be modified but not only about women’s career, but other topics like children’s education or the division of the tasks at home between man and woman are also very important, sometimes the most important.
As a matter of fact, it is really important for children and men to see another vision of women and also for men to divide responsibilities with the women of their family. As Jala Makhzoumi, Iraq says very well, a new model has to be built.
To conclude, this documentary portraits the life and struggles of everyday women architects. A successful woman is often presented as a kind of wonder woman in the media, to whom it is really hard to identify. Not here. Here, you will hear women talking about their achievements, doubts, and struggles.
In the end, their love for architecture is still the same and if you were wondering if it was possible to have a career and a family, you have your answer now—It is a yes. You just have to go for it and live your life the way you want to, because no one else is going to do it for you.