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These Girls

2006
Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Karim Gamal El Din
Directed by Tahani Rached
DVD, color, 68 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Gender Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology, Women's Studies


Reviewed by Kayo Denda, Rutgers University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 1/14/2008

This exhilarating documentary by the Egyptian director Tahani Rached focuses on a group of teenage girls living on the streets of Cairo, Egypt. Through astonishing access to these impoverished girls’ lives, the film captures their camaraderie, intimacy, and tenderness juxtaposed with violence including drug addiction, rape, prostitution, and pregnancy. Rached brings to the screen not the portrait of victims, but of young women who display courage and resourcefulness despite enduring poverty and the adverse surroundings of a Muslim society.

This band of girls cares and provides support for one another. Although their resources are restricted, they do not succumb to the notion of powerlessness. Each woman resists violence and mediates exposures to danger by working around the limitations and precarious conditions of life on the street. Keeping the hair short like a boy to avoid being a victim of rape, fighting the abusive police, sleeping on tree branches away from the grasp of street predators are some of their survival skills. Such skills enable these girls to chart new territories for the discourse of agency, and negotiate their personal spaces based on harsh reality and survival. Hind, a social worker considered “the big sister” visits the girls frequently to offer direction and advice. Hind speaks to the camera about this unusual relationship which has been mutually beneficial. She mediates father/daughter conflicts regarding unwanted pregnancy, childcare on the streets, and tries unsuccessfully to discourage the habit of sniffing glue. The girls talk about their dreams for a stable life, but they also acknowledge their limited options, providing the viewer a glimpse of the barriers experienced by disadvantaged people, especially women, subordinate to the unequal distribution of power.

With the pulsating view of the streets of Cairo as a background, the filmmaker has a remarkable ability to delve into the intimate levels of relationship with her subjects. She depicts a group of effervescent young women who lead an intense life establishing solidarity and negotiating new relationships. The film provides a broader perspective on traditionally held assumptions such as family constituted by blood relations exclusively, and the nature of the streets from a sterile space to a space of nurture and collective engagement. It also challenges the stereotype of Muslim women as uniformly passive and subservient. Instead, representations are varied and diverse products that are deeply engaged in specificities. Highly recommended for discussions on topics of women’s agency, marginality, subjectivity, identity formation, power, and resistance.