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Ayushi Agarwal

IWB Blogger

Zainab Salbi’s Revolutionary Talk Show Features Oprah, Arab Rappers & Niqab Wearing Standups

  • IWB Post
  •  November 16, 2015


Zainab Salbi, the woman who is revolutionizing the arena of talk shows. Her show is nothing like “Koffee With Karan”, where celebrities bash each other and are encouraged to spill dirty ‘deets’ about their private lives.

She hosts, “The Nida’s Show”, where influential personalities like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, and Donna Karan have been interviewed.  After dedicating 20 years towards helping women in wars and conflict zones, she now is determined to change lives through the medium of television. Salbi has a lifetime’s experience in encouraging women to speak out.

The Nida’a Show, which premiered last month on the Discovery Channel’s TLC network, is being broadcast in 22 countries across the Middle East and North Africa.  Salbi’s real aim for the programme is to inspire women to not only change their lives, but to also change the culture of the region. While the famous names may add sparkle, the show will be a success, she says, if it bridges divides and starts a discussion about “issues that the culture is not comfortable addressing in public”.

She featured women taking “on Arab TV in Arabic” about the details of the sexual attacks they have endured,  which is taboo-busting.  Salbi says, in a region where discussing any sexual activity – even rape, is seen as dishonorable.

Other guests included a transgender man and his religiously conservative family, who love him; an Egyptian mother who left school at 12, but is now fighting against female genital mutilation, and a young man who, because he is illegitimate, has faced enormous institutional and personal discrimination.

Salbi says there is a hunger for an honest discussion of the issues that Muslim women in these soaps are dealing with – love, marriage, divorce, custody or children out of wedlock. “I guarantee these shows have had more of an impact than Women for Women International. This isn’t to diminish humanitarian work, it’s just that I felt like I was going door to door [with a message and now I am holding a microphone.”

If all this sounds heavy-going, there are also stories of female Palestinian racing-car drivers, a niqab-wearing Saudi Arabian standup comedian, Arab rappers, actors and regional fashion designers. These everyday, uplifting stories are just as important, but are seldom heard. “All the west is talking about at the moment is terrorism and refugees. It has got to the stage where we [Muslims] think of ourselves as ugly and the worst, too; the beautiful, good voices are being ignored.”

Salbi emphasises that fear of Isis is running high throughout the Middle East, too. “Someone I knew in Jordan told me her hairdresser of three years has joined ISIS. So, we are also looking at each other with fear. But the more we act on fear, the worse things get. The only way we can combat this is to highlight the 90% of voices who are saying something different. At the moment, we only hear from the terrorists … Just because we are scared, I don’t think we should be silent.”

Women do have the power to change lives all over the world. All we need is a little courage and lots of ambition.

Source: The Guardian

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