The film industry’s gender gap is in the spotlight, with actors speaking up against under-representation and unequal pay. Women behind the spotlights, on the other hand, remain largely in the shadow. Worldwide, only one in four employed in the audiovisual and interactive media are women. Theatre Day Productions in Palestine launched Women Audio Visual Education (WAVE) in Gaza to address this issue. 

The project is one of four winning proposals of “You Are Next” UNESCO-Sabrina Ho Initiative, a funding opportunity for projects that train young women in the digital creative industries. WAVE builds entrepreneurial, creative and technical skills in young women through animation, storytelling, and vocational trainings. Aya Al Matrabiee, 20, and Maryam Sa’ady-Awwad, 21, have recently completed WAVE’s light and sound program.

The training, conducted by two international light and sound specialists, focused on practical tips and techniques that participants can immediately apply. Part of the class was dedicated to filming with smartphones, including how to eliminate the background noise and improve the quality of voice recordings on a mobile device. During a module on interview techniques, Sa’ady-Awwad, a recent university graduate in multimedia, realised that “to make an artistic interview, you need a right place and a right light.” While not new to conducting interviews, WAVE gave her a new perspective – “When I rewatched the documentary films I produced before this training, I realised that all the interviews needed editing.” Al Matrabiee experienced a similar revelation. “When I watch films or see photographs now, I notice how light and sound was used by a creator. I ask myself – if I were the creator, what would I change about the light and sound?”

To these young women at the start of their career, WAVE came at the right time. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve always looked for chances in life,” tells Aya Al Matrabiee. “When I heard about WAVE, it made me feel that, I’ll find my space there,” she adds. While they are determined to carve out their own space in the Palestinian creative scene, Aya and Maryam’s pursuits of an artistic career have provoked mixed reactions. “I have the support of my close family. My father – who passed away few weeks ago – brought me the first camera to do my filming. But my extended family tells me to focus on my education and forget about filmmaking,” says Al Matrabiee. It is a similar story for Maryam Sa’ady-Awwad – “While I am supported by my close family, I still need to explain to others that a woman behind a camera is no less important than a woman doctor.” The pressure also comes from her community. “I live in the rural area of the Gaza Strip. Sometimes, I stay out late in the evening to film. My name and face are always on the local and social media. All these things make me the subject of gossip and rumors,” explains Sa’ady-Awwad. This experience, however, only strengthens her belief that female representations matter. “Having a larger female presence in the digital creative industry is crucial. Every community issue has a female role in it, which means we need women’s eyes in covering them.”

Enormous possibilities belong to the digital creativity industry.

WAVE’s mission echoes that of UNESCO-Sabrina Ho Initiative, to foster future female leaders and turn up female voices in the digital creative industry. According to UNESCO’s flagship publication Global Report 2018, the gender gap in the digital environment is widening. Not only are women less connected to the Internet, they benefit less from digital literacy and skills training. In an era where creative projects increasingly take place online, this gap has direct consequences on future employability of women in cultural and creative industries. Aya Al Matrabiee believes that “enormous possibilities belong to the digital creativity industry,” and this is why women need to pursue in this domain. While female representation has some way to go, she can see that female creatives are rising in Palestine: “When I tried to create a group of young photographers in Gaza a couple years ago, I could not find any girls. Today, the situation is better. This is because we, women together, are acting to change it.

Theatre Day Productions help participants find their entrepreneurial spirit and start creative projects aided by newly gained technical skills. Ultimately, they hope to see original content by Palestinian women distributed and celebrated at international festivals and markets. “I want to share my dream with you,” says Aya Al Matrabiee after the training – “It’s to build my own company on digital media content.”