Promoting critical thinking and self-expression

Organised by the non-profit organisation ADIF Infor-Femmes with the support of the Butterfly Fund managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, media education workshops bring together women from all walks of life to watch films, listen to radio reports and then discuss their responses. The goal is to empower the women to play an active role in society.

There is a pleasant aroma of cardamom in the room. Taking pride of place on the table in front of the projection screen is a mouth-watering tray of exotic treats. Each of the workshop's 10 participants has brought along a sweet dish to share, to celebrate the end of the first stage of a process that began last September. Every Thursday morning for almost five months, they have met at ADIF Infor-Femmes' premises in the Cureghem district of Anderlecht, to watch and discuss films and then vote for the four works they want to present at the 'Coupe-Circuit' ('Short-circuit') festival of social realities.

There have been hours of debate, sometimes lively "but always respectful", notes Stéphanie Demeestère, teacher of French as a foreign language (FFL) at ADIF Infor-Femmes, who co-hosts the media education workshops with Éléonora from non-profit partner organisation Gsara. "We're all different: we come from different countries, we're different ages, some have children, others don't, we have different religions. So naturally we don't necessarily think the same way," says 44-year-old Fatiha, who arrived in Belgium from her native Morocco five years ago. "Sometimes we might disagree with the theme of a film but still engage with the 'hero'. Personally, I was very moved by the plight of David, the main character in After the Silence [a film by Soman Larcin]. However, David is gay – that's why he had to flee his country. I’m not in favour of homosexuality, but there's a part of me that is like David and that's what I found moving: at the start of the film, he's too frightened to tell his story, to talk about himself. He finds it difficult. But gradually as he becomes more confident, he reveals a little more of himself, and that does him good. I'm also a very shy person. I'm afraid to speak to people or go outside. But here at the workshop it's OK: I have the courage to speak up, to give my point of view. I've become less withdrawn."

"My life has changed!"

Getting women involved is one of the defining characteristics of the 'Gardons l’œil ouvert' ('Keeping our eyes open') project. "For the past three years we've been offering our FFL learners the chance to take part in creative expression workshops that promote the development of responsible and active citizenship," explains Stéphanie. "Combining media education and critical analysis of current events, cultural outings, meetings with media professionals and experimentation with audiovisual techniques, the project encourages participants to develop a critical view of the world around them so that they can pass on their insights to family and friends."   "For me, the film I found most moving was Ousmane [by Badia Koujane]," says 68-year-old Azmat, originally from Pakistan. "He left Senegal thinking he would find a better life here, but that's not really how things turn out: he has a very tough time." With six children to bring up, Azmat, who arrived in Belgium with her husband 43 years ago, has always had plenty to fill her days. "People sometimes ask me why I still don't speak good French after so many years in Belgium. Well, it's simple: I devoted myself to my family. Now I'm free: my children are all grown up, and they say to me 'Go on mum, live your life now!'" Azmat intends to take full advantage of this new freedom, and is making the most of the media education workshops. "I have things to say, and I say them. I get involved in everything. I've even interviewed directors of some of the films we've watched: I'm a dab hand with a microphone now!" For her, these workshops have had unexpected effects: "Before, I used to find everything stressful. Now, I'm no longer afraid to go to the commune, the doctor's surgery or other places by myself: I've learnt enough vocabulary to make myself understood. My life has changed!"

The women say that their outlook on films, on current affairs, on things they see on TV, has altered. "I notice things now that I didn't see before," says Azmat. "When I like or don't like something, I can give reasons why. There are different ways of talking about the same subject. It's fascinating." What’s more, they take great pleasure in sharing this knowledge with their loved ones: "It's lovely to be able to discuss things with my husband, my children and my grandchildren."

A blog about our day-to-day lives

The team's journey culminated recently in a trip to Charleroi for a day of discussions with the other three selection committees for the Coupe-Circuit festival. The women, most of whom rarely leave Anderlecht, went to defend their selection and listen to the arguments of the other committees. In a few weeks' time, the final jury will choose which works which will win the competition prizes.

"The women are encouraged to develop a critical view of the world around them and to play an active role in society."
Stéphanie Demeestère
ADIF Infor-Femmes

The team is now preparing for a new project, building on the work they have done already: publishing a blog. "I'm pleased that we'll also be able to discuss lighter subjects such as beauty and cooking," says Fatiha with a smile. First up on the programme is a foray into the world of photography, with some help from a female photographer. "We'll be able to use a mixture of media – photos, text, audio – to tell the outside world who we are and what we do, and show how much creativity we're capable of," enthuses Stéphanie.

About the Butterfly Fund

Managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Butterfly Fund's mission is to support organisations in the Brussels-Capital Region which help women – particularly those from immigrant backgrounds – to access social and cultural activities. Since it was established in 2014, the Fund has provided 34 projects with support totalling €232,640.

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