This past weekend, I followed a Facebook link submitted by Women and Girls Lead, and I watched the most fascinating and gut-wrenchingly sad documentary called Shadya. Gone public in 2010, this documentary was presented by Independent Lens. Shadya is a World Champion in Karate — and she is a feminist. A feminist in Israel. To make things even more complicated, she is a 17-year-old feminist Arab Palestinian living in Israel, among brothers who hate her for her independence, and a sister that can’t wait to follow in her footsteps. The only one who truly supports her is her father. He drives her to competitions, workouts, and he stands up for her when her brothers derail her achievements.
I watched this movie online with my four-year-old daughter because I wanted her to see that girls can be more than Princesses. Shadya is an impressive role model for little girls and young girls. She’s a great model for women. At 17 she knows what she wants: to be first. And she settles for nothing less. Unlike her sister, she refuses to cook and clean as women in her culture are expected to do. She even refuses to pray, and when you’re in her world, if you stop praying, you go to hell. She’s OK with this. She believes that these rules are ancient and have no hold on her.
Shadya is enigmatic, strong, opinionated, and ambitious. But all of it comes to an end when she marries at 18. Even though her muscular and handsome husband insists in front of the camera that he supports her competitiveness and wants her to continue with her Karate, things do change once she says “I do,” as they do for most women no matter what country they live in. Shadya’s desires do not change: she wants to compete. But in her culture, a woman’s place is in the home, taking care of the needs of her husband and children. And her husband’s feelings do change, especially as he is young and he feels pressure from the men around him who tell him to control his wife.
For the first time in her life, Shadya feels trapped, and when she does compete, against her husband’s wishes, she loses. The loss reminds her of the futility of her fight, and in the remaining scenes of the documentary, we see her first being told to end the filming by her husband, as he takes control of her life, and then, about a year later, pregnant. The film is over because her dream is over. The bright, funny, lively and strong Shadya has been tamed and silenced.
I was able to embed the film here, so please pass it around. She is a true hero, a Muslim feminist, and news has it that now that her husband has been laid off, she is allowed to teach Karate to kids, and may even compete again. Please share this with your kids, girls and boys alike, because there are lessons in this young girl’s life that everyone can learn from. For a girl like Shadya, only a male-dominated culture like the one she lives in could stop her. I hope that, although she has been momentarily subdued, she lives her dream for her — and no one else.
Watch Shadya – A Women and Girls Lead Online Festival Selection on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.