Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Women-only media

Mai Samih talks to the editor and contributors of Dama, an online magazine written by women for women

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Amal Mohsen, a housewife and a Faculty of Arabic Literature at Cairo University graduate, has had the good idea of starting an online, non-profit magazine called Dama for non-professionals to help women express themselves. It targets women from all walks of life and is written by women for women.

Dama celebrated its first anniversary in September, having spent the first year of its existence portraying the lives of Egyptian women and dreaming of a society able to respect them for what they are. The celebration was attended by many celebrities and literary figures including TV presenters Noha Yehia Haqi and Fayza Wassef, harpist Manal Mohie Al-Din, artist Ghada Khalifa, caricaturist Doaa Al-Adl, puppeteer Sara Al-Batrawi, and writer Bassem Sharaf. Prizes were awarded to writers in the magazine as well as to female and male literary figures.   

Mohsen, 31, also chief editor of the Dama website, explained the idea behind the magazine. “A year-and-a-half ago, I discovered that many creative women, including myself, felt crushed by their responsibilities and other barriers, and I decided to create a platform for these women to express themselves,” she said.

“As a result, I decided to form a group of friends to start the magazine. We choose the name Dama because in the card game she is the card next in power only to the king. The idea was to symbolise women in society, since they are not only half the society but are also — in our view — stronger than men.” At first, 70 women wrote for the magazine from different governorates, together with Egyptian women living abroad. Now the number is over 150.

On the magazine’s website there are spaces for women to submit articles about whatever interests them — articles voicing their thoughts on everyday life, for example. There is also a creativity section for creative work, a news section, a section about high-achieving women, and a section in which women give their opinions on men. “This section is called ‘Jack’ after the prince in a pack of cards, and in it we talk about men and their roles in life,” Mohsen explained.

They interview high-profile men and look at the role of women in their lives. “There is a section in which we talk about thorny issues like sex, divorce, crimes against women, and addictions, among other issues,” she said. The magazine also welcomes women of all ages and backgrounds as contributors. “We have ‘damas’ (members of the magazine) of different ages, with the youngest being still in primary school and the oldest in her fifties. We think that creativity is natural and that every woman from every background has a hidden creative side that we want to give her the ability to show.”

According to Mohsen, the magazine has published over 2,000 articles and has more than two million visits to its Website. There is also a Dama news agency and a Damaonline TV channel. Soon there will be a Dama monthly cultural salon, which will aim to encourage communication among women. Mohsen is also ready to consider sponsorship. “We would welcome anyone who would like to co-operate with us, even if it was a governmental organisation as long as we can find ways to agree on a common agenda. We hope to find sponsors that will allow us to continue our projects,” she said.

Heba Rifaat, 30, an Arabic teacher who graduated from the Faculty of Arabic and studied journalism at the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, says that Dama changed her life. “Amal talked to me about the project and said she wanted to start a website about women. I liked the idea very much. At first, we were only a group of acquaintances ready to write articles and we designed the website ourselves,” Rifaat said.

“But it is because of these pioneers’ hard work that Dama has become an open space for all creative women to express themselves and allow others to learn from their experiences.” It also took Rifaat time to discover her creative side. “At first, it was challenging for me to write despite my love for writing, but after a year I found it easy. Every word makes a difference: it influences people and when I saw the reaction of people who had read my articles I was encouraged to go on.”    

Zahraa Abdallah, 30, a member of the Dama board of directors who is a graduate from the Faculty of Arts and was a former children’s activities facilitator, explains how she came to work with Dama. “Heba told me about the idea, and I was very enthusiastic about it. It is not only a website on which we express our feelings, but it also features a lot of activities as well, like the cultural salon we are inaugurating at the moment,” she said.

Abdallah writes articles in the monthly women’s causes section and opinion articles. “We tackle women’s issues in a different way.

I’m very happy to be one of the founding editors of Dama and am looking forward to continuing,” she said.

“I’d like to see more stories from the field in Dama and a print version as there are many print magazines on the market but not all of them are directed at a wide public. Many existing women’s magazines do not reach the whole of the middle classes, for example,” Rifaat said.

“We want to bridge the gap between women in the real world and writers in magazines, as in many cases a writer talks in one direction and women go in another. We want to make Dama not only for female writers, but also for ordinary women in the streets who can find in Dama a platform to express themselves,” Abdallah commented.

Mohsen lists some future plans. “We are organising competitions funded by Dama and creativity workshops. We are planning to publish a print version of the magazine that will be a periodical and reprint the stories from the website. We are also trying to establish a library in every orphanage in Egypt,” she explained.

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