The role and rights of Arab women has and will forever be a point of contention in the context of a MENA region that is in the middle of a tug-of-war; new and old, the traditional and the contemporary, the eastern and western. The issue is that women are largely made to occupy a position of passiveness, as higher powers than them pull, twist and shape the narratives - on both sides of the war. How often do we hear from the women at the core of these cultural, philosophical and political skirmishes? Who are they? Who’s speaking to them? Is it the same people speaking for them?

It’s a nebulous, rabbit-hole issue that the acclaimed podcast series, Khilqit Binit (translating to something along the lines of 'A Girl is Born') goes a long way to tackling. A simple synopsis of the series might read something along the lines of ‘a series of interviews with successful women, who open up about the struggles met on their road to success’. This would be doing it a disservice, however.

There's one more battle to be covered, though - one more war that needs to be reported on from the trenches: the battle for Arab women’s voices. 

The series does indeed spotlight inspiring, pioneering women. And yes, that’s done through an interview. This is not Vogue’s 73 Questions. This is not the usual type of ‘female-oriented’ content that one readily finds in the Middle East - it’s not beauty or fashion. It’s ugly and it’s dirty and it has inspired legions of listeners across the region.

That to a large degree is down to the show’s host: celebrated journalist, reporter and commentator, Mona Saliba, herself an inspiration to many, a pioneer in an industry that she now transcends. While the masses will be acquainted with Saliba through her anchor role at MTV Lebanon and as a familiar face on a whole host of shows, including Beirut Al Yawm, Menna W Jerr and Hadath. But she was also one of the most prominent war reporters to emerge in during the 2006 Israeli War, after wich she covered the clashes between the Lebanese military and radical Islamist factions in 2007. A year later, she was on the frontlines once more as Hezbollah seized control of part of Beirut. Local and international acclaim quickly followed and Saliba's proverbial trophy case is a glittering monument to her achievements. 

There's one more battle to be covered, though - one more war that needs to be reported on from the trenches: the battle for Arab women’s voices. 

Season one of Khilqit Binit was a resounding success - a success made all the more remarkable considering that the Arab world is only now fully embracing podcasts as a medium. It’s been the good work of podcast networks like Hakawati, the producer of Khilqit Binit, that has opened up the eyes and ears of an increasingly discerning and media-savvy region. There’s an argument to be made that a year-plus under lockdown accelerated that embrace, but that’s a story for another day. Since launching in June 2019, Hakawati has amassed hundreds of thousands of fans across the region and was founded on the often forgotten but deeply Arab tradition of oral storytelling. Under the direction of founders, Karim Beidoun, Joy Khoriaty, and Gina Abou Hamad, Hakawati affords its content (and those creating and leading it) room to tackle taboo topics and challenge stereotypes - a perfect breeding ground for a podcast like Khilqit Binit

Having debuted in May 2019, the maiden season of the podcast went on to feature the likes of Lebanese author and activist, Joumana Haddad; acclaimed Jordanian-Palestinian sculptor, Mona Saudi; and Lebanese sexologist, Dr. Sandrine Atallah.

Funded by the European Endowment for Democracy and under the direction of Executive Producer, Mohamad Dankar, season two set sail in July of last year with a focus on women of the GCC. Despite the shackles imposed by the pandemic, the show welcomed guests such as Raha Moharak, the first Saudi woman to conquer Mount Everest, and Bahraini Top Chef finalist, Tala Bashmi, as well as Kuwaiti journalist and academic, Ibtihal Al-Khatib.

The eclectic list of guests speaks further of the dire need for a platform such as Khilqit Binit to represent the many differing female voices in the Middle East. What the show has also served to do is to both reflect and trigger the shifting tide - and it’s only when pioneers like Saliba offer more avenues in the media that all these voices will truly be heard, considered and subsumed.

Khilqit Binit is available on AnghamiApple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and CastBox as well as the Hakawati website.