EGYPT: RISING FOR JUSTICE
I have spent the last couple of days reading and watching riveting account upon riveting account of different women in Egypt, who have been assaulted, belittled, abused, raped, beaten, killed. I have been sitting here trying to fathom, trying to understand why an uncle would rape his niece, why a group of men would hold a woman down in broad daylight and violate her repeatedly, why parents would think that subjecting their daughters to female genital mutilation would somehow make them ‘purer’, why a whole nation might think that it’s a woman’s place in society to be second…
And while each and every one of the stories I’ve opened my heart to is heart-shattering, nothing makes me sob and gasp uncontrollably quite as much as the fact that impunity has been allowed to exist and that perpetrators of violence have been allowed to hide and be enveloped in its injustice.
Remember that word: impunity.
Impunity means ‘exemption from punishment where it is due’. I didn’t know what it meant myself. I had to look it up and when I did, I realized that that is exactly what we are encountering here in Egypt.
How can it be that Egypt is one of the worst places in the world to live if you’re a woman? So much so, that when a report was published ranking Egypt the number one worst country in the Arab world to be a woman by Thomson Reuters, we were so desensitized, most of us, Egyptians, didn’t even blink. In fact, very few heard about the report in the first place.
Why is there no appropriate accountability for these acts of violence? Or, in fact in many cases, any accountability at all? Why is there inaction where the violation of women and girls is concerned? And when action is taken, why is it taken to favor the perpetrator and not the victim? I recently found out that in cases of adultery taken before the Egyptian court, Egyptian law will punish the man by putting him in prison for up to 6 months, while a woman can be incarcerated for up to two years! Is that justice? Is that fair?
Isn’t anyone else angry? Isn’t anyone else flat-out outraged that this is what Egypt has come to? I’ve seen the masses moved into action through our revolutions! I’ve seen their unbreakable, determined spirit marching fearlessly throughout the streets, demanding their inalienable human rights (rights that they may have never experienced, but somehow always knew they were entitled to) from their oppressors. Why is there silence or, at best, a distant murmur when it comes to issues of female justice? Why haven’t we been taking a stand, insisting for laws to be implemented to protect our mothers, our daughters, and our sisters? Where are our religious authorities and why aren’t they actively starting campaigns to end the gender violence so rampant in our society?
I am full of questions. I can’t sleep because of the sheer quantity of unanswered questions, rolling around in my head.
‘Feminists!! You can’t get away from them! What do they want? Why do they always have to go on about how life isn’t fair? Get over it, why don’t you??! Life is hard on everyone, not just you!’
Friends have said that to me. Co-workers too. Family. Acquaintances. People messaging me on the internet who I don’t even know! Other women…They call me a bitch and they don’t mean it as a compliment.
But I ask again: how can I stay silent? How can I when a 13 year old Egyptian girl called Suhair died during a genital mutilation operation last June? 13 years old is the age of my little sister.
How can I ‘shut up and get on with it’ when a friend of mine often recounts to me that growing up, she had to see her mother get beaten up and insulted repeatedly by her father and that there were times when she herself was kept from going to school so that none of the teachers would see the bruises and belt-marks on her own body.
How can I hold my tongue when I cannot walk down the street without being harassed repeatedly and sometimes even groped? And should I speak out, I am blamed for being ‘provocative’, for walking the way I do, for dressing the way I do, for being ‘too sexual’, and leaving the men NO CHOICE ,apparently, but to harass me.
The first time I was groped, I was 11. I was walking down a busy street with my mother and a full-grown adult grabbed my thigh forcefully for a moment or two as we paused in the crowd and then kept moving nonchalantly, casually, like nothing had happened. I froze. It was like someone had poured a bucket of ice down my neck, even though it was summer and the air was thick with humidity. I didn’t have time to look up and see his face. I didn’t have the sense or the speed to open my mouth and scream. It happened in a flash and he melted into the crowd. I doubt he remembers that moment, but I sure as hell do.
And so, I speak…and I won’t apologize for it. There are millions more untold horror stories that need to be told and I, at the very least, am not afraid of sharing mine, because if by doing so, I am able to inspire even one person to break the silence and their sense of shame, then I’ll consider it a victory and I won’t mind the abuse that I get as a result.
I figure a lot of everyday folk who are annoyed by feminists probably don’t understand feminism for what it is anyway: a movement to end the physical, mental, spiritual, legal, and every other kind of injustice against women. It’s not about female domination or superiority.
We have to reverse the effects of desensitization and open our hearts to the suffering and the pain of women and girls in Egypt and internationally, that has stemmed from so many years of smothering, suppression, inequality, discrimination and yes, impunity. But, we must also be willing to take it one step further.
We must be willing to DEMAND our rights. Not just as women, but as a community of women and men, marching and rising together to build a society founded on justice and accountability and where everyone can thrive freely and equally.
I want to see education initiatives throughout the whole of our society to dispel the fog around boy-girl relationships and interactions. I want to see movements started in every organization, every church, every mosque, and every academic institution to shift the mindset that women are nothing more than sexual temptation. I want it to be made clear that men who supposedly ‘give in’ to the unavoidable and irresistible temptation to violate women are NOT victims.
I want there to be accountability and a just set of laws to protect every woman walking down the street, so that they can walk and dress freely without worrying incessantly about being sexually harassed.
I want there to be indisputable laws implemented to outlaw the practice of female genital mutilation and I want our respected religious leaders to be heavily and passionately involved in those campaigns.
I want rapists held responsible and fittingly punished for their crimes.
I want economic independence and job opportunities for women in abusive situations so that they feel empowered enough to get up, take their children and leave, without being afraid that society will be against them for taking a stand against their abusers and wanting to protect their children.
I want to foster dialogue between women and men, in every sect and in every division of society. I want to redefine the soiled notion of what feminism and the women’s movement is in the minds of millions across Egypt. I want our unification to produce a loud, prominent voice that cannot be disregarded or ignored when it comes to the demanding of justice for women in our country.
Those are only some of the things that I want!
Last year in February, in our own way, Cairo rose to participate in One Billion Rising, and we got to speak out, to raise awareness and to dance to celebrate women and girls everywhere. And though it was a small event, it affirmed my belief that there is a definite light at the end of the dark tunnel that is injustice and complacency.
I am not resigning my Egyptian sisters to a life of silence, shame and abuse because I offend some people by speaking out or because, even within me, I know it is a monstrously big task and that I will be going up against some serious giants. I choose to speak and to demand justice.
And I hope you will join me also. Next month, I will be rising and demanding justice for our Egyptian women. Cairo will be rising again this year and I invite you join us and to speak out and demand justice, wherever you are.
Every voice is appreciated. Here’s to the beginning of the end of violence against women in the world and here’s to Egypt rising!