A new multimedia documentary project is spotlighting the vital roles of women in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
"The Trials of Spring," is a series of six shorts, a feature film and news reports by The New York Times that offer a rarely seen look at the gripping personal experiences of female activists in the wave of revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.
The films profile nine women across Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, with each detailing their journey through uprisings and crackdowns. While each story is unique, they often share an arc similar to the larger political developments of the post-revolution countries in the region, where an initial hope for change is quashed by increasing repression and conflict.
In the Syria short, for example, archival footage shows four women known as the Brides of Peace defiantly march in protest of the Assad regime while wearing homemade wedding dresses. In interviews after fleeing the country, two of the brides describe how their triumphant demonstration caused security forces to imprison them for months.
As the films show, many countries have regressed on women's rights since the Arab Spring.
A 2013 United Nations report found that 99.3 percent of women in Egypt are subject to sexual harassment, and female activists have been forced to undergo virginity tests after being arrested for demonstrating. In an incident that sparked widespread outrage, police fatally shot female activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh in the street during a protest earlier this year.
The team of filmmakers and producers, most of them female, presents the cross-platform project as a fascinating counter-narrative to misconceptions of women in the region as submissive to the repression of women's rights. Instead, the films show brave acts of protest both at home and in the streets, and depict women as driving forces behind many protest movements.
"I went from I think a stereotyped understanding, to some degree, of the women in the Middle East and North Africa, to something that was more nuanced and understanding of their diversity and their strength and resilience," said producer Beth Levison in a call with reporters on Tuesday.
Levison said stories about the Arab Spring lacked female perspectives, with media focusing mostly on men with guns and shifts in political power.
"I don't think enough stories are told about the women who are the mortar, who are holding things together," Levison explained. "I think that the narrative that's often told about conflict is about who's in what position, rather than about what's happening on a day-to-day level to try to bring peace. It's kind of like that old saying, 'If it bleeds it leads.'"
While the project puts a spotlight on activists, the films themselves are not heavy-handed works of advocacy. Instead, the works hope to amplify the voices of the women who are profiled.
"We certainly wanted to avoid the thought that here are some Western filmmakers trying to help these Arab women -- because they're incredibly strong women who can help themselves and are doing a lot to help their countries," said the project's Digital Director Lauren Feeney.
Moderator's Note: These six short films debuted on June 7 as a special project on The New York Times homepage and culminated with Gini Reticker's feature Trials of Spring focusing on Egypt which premiered at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival June 12th in New York.
The feature film follows three Egyptian women: Hend Nafea, a young religious Muslim from the countryside who is now facing a likely jail sentence for her role in the uprisings; Mariam Kirollos, a young, urban Christian who has long been passionate about women’s rights; and Khadiga Hennawi, a formerly veiled widow in her 60s who earned the nickname “Mama K” for assuming the role of caretaker of the revolutionaries. These women’s intersecting personal and political journeys over the last nearly four years are emblematic of the experience of women across the region, and their stories illuminate the vital – and often underreported – role women play in shaping its future. The film is intended for festival and theatrical release in 2015, to be followed by an anticipated U.S. public television broadcast and international release.THE TRIALS OF SPRING is created by Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker, the team behind the award-winning documentary PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL and Executive Producers of the PBS special series WOMEN, WAR & PEACE.
Go to Trials of Spring to view the six short films or to find out about future screenings of Reticker's feature film.
[Nick Robbins-Early is Associate World Editor at The Huffington Post}