Rewriting traditional stories to gain a gender-sensitive perspective

The Women and Memory Forum (WMF) in Egypt started the Women’s Stories project to allow women to rewrite traditional stories from their own perspectives, giving women an opportunity to challenge traditional texts, redefine their role in society, and develop writing skills by rewriting these stories to show an egalitarian or woman-centric perspective. 

One of the ways the organization achieves this goal is by rereading and redefining Arab cultural history. This includes traditional stories. Fairy tales and stories are an essential element of popular culture, but they often communicate normative social beliefs about gender roles that marginalize women. The Women’s Stories project was started to give women an opportunity to challenge traditional texts, redefine their role in society, and develop writing skills by rewriting these stories to show an egalitarian or woman-centric perspective.

In order to offer women these opportunities, the WMF holds gender-sensitive writing workshops focused on redefining and expanding the portrayal of women in folk literature. The first workshop was held in 1998 and entitled “Re-Writing Arab Tales from a Gender Perspective.” The workshop brought together a diverse group of Arab women, active in the spheres of literary criticism, creative writing, social and cultural history, and theater. Since then, workshops have been held on a monthly basis. During each gathering, the women analyze an Arab folk story, such as one of the stories from 1001 Nights, and discuss its gender elements. Following the discussion, each participant separately writes an alternative version of the story. Then they all reconvene to read the resulting gender-sensitive and feminist stories to one another.

The WMF has published some of these new versions of traditional stories. They have also used the stories in public performances that included theatrical elements such as directing, costumes, lighting, and live music. Translating the stories into public performances allowed this new gender-sensitive cultural material to be disseminated to a wider audience.

After its initial success, the WMF has held gender-sensitive story-writing workshops for young Palestinian girls and in the Sudan. The girls and young women who participated have been able to share their revised stories in their own cultures. In addition, WMF collaborated with grassroots NGOs to hold creative writing workshops in low income neighborhoods in Cairo and Upper Egypt, providing an opportunity for women to share their experiences and to enhance awareness of gender rights.

The WMF has faced some opposition to its Women’s Stories project. Notably, some professional popular literature scholars felt that the revised stories inappropriately distorted classical texts. Other people felt that the public performances of the stories exhibited aggressiveness and hostility towards men. However, there have also been very positive reactions to the project from the greater public, including young men and the media. The enjoyable, storytelling aspect of the project helps it to be successful in uncovering gender discrimination within a culture and in empowering young girls and women.

The WMF was founded in 1997 with the goal of promoting a society based on justice and equal opportunities for men and women. 


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

Every society has stories and traditional texts that can be an inspiration for human rights activities.  This tactic can be used for a broad range of issues encourage those who have suffered from discrimination in their societies to connect their own experiences to a shared cultural heritage.  It can also be adapted to encourage conversation about social and cultural taboos, and create a vision for a society that respects human rights. The storytelling and theatrical aspects of this tactic also make it more attractive and accessible to those who otherwise might not be as interested in human rights work.