Nelly Abboud with her Tandem partner Konstadina Angeletou in Hammamet, Tunisia. Photo by Constanze Flamme. Women of Tandem Shaml: all Different, all Similar In collaboration with Hostwriter, we have asked the Tandem community to share their stories. We start with Lidija Pisker's take on the women of Tandem Shaml and the importance of connecting women's rights across geographies. Four female cultural managers – from Western Europe, North Africa, the Western Balkans and the Middle East – have travelled across European and Arab countries in the quest for transnational cultural collaborations. Since June last year, they have established partnerships in countries that were new to them. And they have drawn comparisons between their home countries and those of their partners. These women are Sara Machado, Nada Abdelwahab, Snežana Ćuruvija and Nelly Abboud, participants of the fifth round of the Tandem Shaml programme for cultural exchange between European and Arab countries. Sara is from Portugal, Nada from Egypt, Snežana is from Serbia and Nelly from Lebanon. Within the Tandem Shaml programme, they have established tandem partnerships with colleagues from Egypt, Italy, Jordan and Greece. Their participation in the programme has led them visiting their partners’ countries, which for most of them was the first time they would travel to those countries. Snezana Curuvija and Sara Machado in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo by Constanze Flamme. Some of them have discovered numerous resemblances. Nelly Abboud, manager at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and co-founder of Lebanese association for cultural mediation Museolab has found parallels between Greece, her Tandem partner Konstadina Angeletou’s country and her home land of Lebanon: “The first impression was that it has many similarities with Lebanon, but with a special touch to it. We share a lot of traditions and practices, similarities in our cuisine and the way of life and the mentality.” Nelly has visited Greece in January 2019 when she did her first “placement visit” within the Tandem Shaml programme. The others have been astonished by striking differences they have noticed. Snežana Ćuruvija, freelance cultural manager from Serbia, recalls she has had an impression that the natural light in Jordan is different from the one in her home country of Serbia, due to dissimilar climate and geographical position. “It was the colour palette, so to say, that was different from what I’m used to seeing,” Snežana adds. As an architecture graduate, Snežana was intrigued by the particular urban planning of Amman and Irbid. It was in January this year when Snežana first travelled to Jordan, which was also the first time she ever visited the Middle East. Nelly Abboud with her Tandem partner Konstadina Angeletou in Hammamet, Tunisia. Photo by Constanze Flamme. Comparing her home town of Alexandria in Egypt to that of her Italian Tandem partner Silvia Giordano, Nada Abdelwahab, executive director of Egypt’s international theatre forum Theatre Is A Must, says north Italian city of Bergamo radiates a different vibe. “It is definitely a calmer and less crowded corner of the world,” says Nada, who visited Italy for the first time in April 2019. Every new place she visits, including Italy, is both different in some aspects to her home and similar in others, Nada added. Along with differences between their everyday surroundings and cities and countries they have discovered through Tandem Shaml, some participants have noticed that even the places they have already visited have changed. Sara Machado, currently a managing director of the International Contemporary Dance Festival CUMPLICIDADES based in Lisbon, Portugal has first come to Cairo, Egypt four years ago while touring with a dance company. She returned to Cairo in December 2018 as part of Tandem Shaml. And the difference was obvious. “The oppression and censorship seemed to increase in the last three to four years. Or, at least, I felt it more present,” says Sara adding that – from what she could have grasped during her encounters with Egyptians – quite some people, disappointed with the aftermath of the “Arab Spring,” had left the country. Since her last visit, Sara had changed too. When she first came to Cairo in 2015, she recalls, she had been wearing a dress. “Quite discrete but still, enough ‘appealing’ to somehow feel like a ‘walking piece of meat,’ with several men looking at me and commenting and so on. It was quite unpleasant; I can still remember it quite well.” This experience made her more conscious of what to wear in public when she returned to Egypt last December when things went much more smoothly. Reflecting on the struggles for women rights taking place in different parts of the world, four women say female voices are becoming more and more powerful globally. Nada Abdelwahab with her Tandem partner Silvia Giordano in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo by Constanze Flamme. Fighting for gender equality becomes a basic urge: “as you are sometimes criticized and agonized for your mere female form of existence,“ says Nada referring to the position of women in North Africa. “I also believe that the same [fight] exists in other regions as well, but in a more careful and ‘politically correct’ manner to suit the more complex requirements of accountability.” Nelly says that the only difference is the period of time in which the fight takes place. “For example, women in Europe fought for their right to be represented in parliament many years ago. On the other hand, Middle Eastern women are still fighting for it and some are more advanced and some are not even there yet.” In the Middle East, for example, many women face various restrictions in their everyday lives. In more conservative communities, they cannot make their own decisions and be independent. Lebanon, where she lives, is, however, more liberal than the rest of the Arab world, she noted. “I can’t say I can talk on behalf of other Middle Eastern countries as it differs from one community to another but we [the Middle East] do share similar experiences.” Even if having relative freedom and being allowed to live and move independently, numerous women in Serbia, Snežana notes, are still oppressed. The media across the Western Balkans is often reporting brutal domestic violence cases, with many of them ending fatally. When asked about the rise of pro-life movements (or anti-abortion) in the region (specifically in Croatia), Snežana says she sees it as a hypocritical way in which the power of decision-making is being taken away from women. “When you choose to give birth, you are also taking responsibility for raising that child for at least until your child grows up. And now, there are people who want to disallow women to make that choice, forcing them to have children. But when the child is born, there is no support system that would help a woman raising them.” The paths towards female emancipation might be different in different regions, but the need to accomplish gender equality is universal, all four of them agree. “Despite globally unified challenges, in different regions, women face different challenges. I feel that in the Arab region, it is more about the basic truth of survival, while for most European countries, it is about the refinement of policies. Both, in my opinion, are important struggles that echo and create resonance throughout the globe,” concludes Nada.