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Palestinian Rap Group Challenges Sexism


A scene from DAM's music video for 'Who You Are.'

A scene from DAM's music video for 'Who You Are.'

A Palestinian hip-hop group is challenging sexism with a provocative new song and social media campaign encouraging men and women to rethink traditional gender roles.

The rap group, called DAM - which means "eternity" in Arabic and "blood" in Hebrew - was popularized thanks in large part to its many songs dealing with the Israeli occupation.

But its latest single, Who You Are, comes across more like a feminist anthem than a typical Palestinian resistance song. It's a response to pervasive discrimination against women not only in Arab society but around the world, explained band member Mahmood Jrere.

"For us as artists, we always say we sing about the reality and what we see in real life. And in real life we are seeing injustice between the two genders," Jrere told VOA via Skype.

The song features female Palestinian musician Maysa Daw. In the music video, she is seen doing household chores typically associated with women, yet lip-syncing the male vocals.

"What we were doing is changing roles," said Jrere. "Giving the woman to do everything. And that is basically what we are doing in real life, as well - where she is doing everything."

'We'll start honor-killing men'

Fitting a pattern found in most of DAM's songs, Who You Are's lyrics come across as indignant and filled with a righteous sense of rage. One line states: "Either it's justice for both genders or we'll start honor-killing men."

That's, of course, in response to so-called honor killings, a tradition found in parts of Arab and other societies, in which women who have sex outside of marriage or commit some other action deemed inappropriate are killed in order to protect a family's honor.

"Arabic men are having sex outside of the marriage system and no one is killing them. So if we want to kill women because of honor, then let's kill men because of honor, because we see them as equal," Jrere said.

But Jrere is quick to point out that although the song focuses on female stereotypes he said plague Arab society, he views women's rights as something that should be a global priority.

Sexism a universal issue

"In the Middle East we call it honor killing. But in the West, they call it domestic violence. It's the same thing. I admit in Arabic society it's more highlighted, but it's something global," he said.

To help advance their anti-sexism initiative, DAM is encouraging men to share pictures and videos of themselves doing household chores, using the hashtag #Who_You_R.

"Like ironing, like doing dishes, like doing laundry - something that in our minds as society we see as jobs for women. And we ask for men to do it. And that's just to boost the idea and try to bring change," said Jrere.

Reaction mostly positive

The online campaign, a joint project between DAM and the United Nations Population Fund, provoked an immediate reaction - mostly positive, but also some negative.

"We see it as something normal and something we're going to face in each song challenging norms and taboos. And it's something we will keep doing because this is the purpose of art," said Jrere.

Some have encouraged the group to stop criticizing Arab society, and instead stay focused on singing protest songs against Israel's decades-long occupation of Palestinian land. But Jrere doesn't buy that argument: "For me, anything that I see that is wrong and has injustice, I will sing about it. If it's about women's rights, if it's about occupation, if it's about the social problems that we are living as Palestinians inside of Israel - everything is subjected to my writing.”

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