The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


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18 December 2014

International Migrants Day, 18 December: A tribute to Rahel Zegeye, Ethiopian migrant worker/filmmaker

International Migrants Day, 18 December: A tribute to Rahel Zegeye, Ethiopian migrant worker/filmmaker

"Let us make migration work for the benefit of migrants and countries alike. We owe this to the millions of migrants who, through their courage, vitality and dreams, help make our societies more prosperous, resilient and diverse."

Ban Ki-moon, General-Secretary, United Nations
Message for International Migrants Day,
18 December 2013

During the summer of 2011, Alex Shams of the Migrant Workers Task Force (MWTF) based in Beirut, Lebanon contacted me at the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema, of which I am founder and director, to tell me about the fascinating adventure of Ethiopian Rahel Zageye, a migrant worker who had recently made a film. They were hoping that I could assist them in their effort to get Rahel's film project funded. I was absolutely delighted to learn that while doing domestic work during the week, she devoted her time off on the weekend to filming, and what is more amazing, she used her own funds to do so. She had recently completed the feature fiction film Beirut about the experiences of five Ethiopian women domestic workers in Beirut.

I immediately suggested an email interview, which could be published on the African Women in Cinema Blog to give visibility to Rahel Zegeye and her work. Using a list of questions for the interview, Janie Shen, also with the MWTF, assisted Rahel with responding to them in English. 

As a tribute to Rahel Zageye on International Migrants Day, excerpts from the 02 September 2011 interview with Rahel Zageye by Beti Ellerson are as follows:

"A very talented and unique woman, she is most probably the one domestic worker in Lebanon (or the world?) who has put all her savings and free time to filmmaking" (Janie Shen of Migrant Workers Task Force).

What brought you to Lebanon and what inspired you to make the film?

I came to Lebanon because of the unemployment situation in Ethiopia. I was inspired to make the film because of the bad situation of the Ethiopian girls working over here as housemaid. Beirut is a drama about a group of Ethiopian girls in Lebanon working as domestic workers. It is loosely based on the Ethiopian girls that I have encountered during my ten years working in the country.

Objectives of the film?

My main aim with the film was to show a different perspective on the lives of Ethiopian workers in Lebanon. We often hear stories of abuse and bad treatment of Lebanese employers towards their foreign domestic workers (maids). Most media and organizations working to help migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Lebanon portray the worker as a helpless victim, her fate ruled by evil agencies and bad madams. Although this often does happen and is definitely an issue that needs attention, reality is much more complicated. I want to shed light on the inner lives and thoughts of a domestic worker, an aspect which is usually hidden from the Lebanese and foreign public.

Many Ethiopian MDWs who come to Lebanon decide to run away from their employers. Some do this due to real reasons of mistreatment, others don’t. They might be tempted to leave the boring household chores and duties at the employer’s house for a ‘freer’ existence. Once they leave the employer’s house and break their contract they do not have any documents and are illegal to stay in Lebanon. More than often they will choose to sell their bodies for a living whilst enjoying their freedom. They live life on the fast lane: drinking, smoking, partying and sleeping with many men usually without any form of protection.

The film tackles sensitive topics such as morality, prostitution and HIV/AIDS. These are important issues that
need to be brought into attention to both Ethiopian women in Lebanon but also back in Ethiopia, before they decide to go work in Lebanon. MDWs need to understand the risks that are involved when you runaway from an employer. Although many employers are difficult to live with and work for (and some outright impossible), the truth is that they still offer some protection against the risks of the outside society.

During the past three years Rahel Zegeye's work and advocacy for the rights of migrant domestic workers have become increasingly visible. In 2013, she wrote, directed and produced the play “Shouting without a Listener”. The play relates the experiences of Lily, a migrant domestic worker, who fights against discrimination in Lebanese society and the inefficiencies of the Ethiopian embassy in dealing with these issues.

Report by Beti Ellerson

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