In the bustling streets of Cairo, with its echoing noises of life and its pounding stories of perseverance, an awakening is happening. Young minds are starting to understand the power of community. They’re understanding the role they can play to inspire change in their society by giving young people the chance to become informed, engaged, and empowered. Some are no longer complaining about negativities, but seeking out positive change. And that is what “3ard Al Share3” is doing.
Today, it is hard to overlook an awakening that is unfolding. With 99.3 percent of Egyptian women having experienced sexual harassment, young minds are starting to understand the power of community, and the role they can play to inspire change in their society. For that matter, more youth are creating safe spaces, such as “3ard Al Share3”, where young people seek empowerment through engaging with one another and sharing knowledge.
Spanning the 8th and 9th of May, “3ard Al Share3” (roots and routes of street harassment) took place at the GrEEK Campus. The campaign aims to raise awareness about the roots of street harassment, in hope of leading to routes in which the problem no longer exists.
The community-crafted collaboration between the International Model of the European Union (imEU) in Cairo University and Danish student organization Frit Forum is considered to be the first ever student conference to discuss street harassment in Egypt.
The two-day event presented a variety of perspectives and approaches to the phenomenon across both Egyptian and Danish cultures. It also connected young students who might feel powerless over the issue in their society, with the young dreamers who are already working on making it a better place.
Lead organizer Menna Azmy explained how the pun-infused name, “3ard Al Share3” stemmed from three dimensions: “First that it means “show” which is what the event is in a very abstract sense. It also means “width” and “dignity”, which signifies the need for personal space, and the dignity of the street that should be redeemed and everyone who spends time in it”.
The richness and spiritedness of the event derived not only from the cross-spectral inspirational speeches and engaging workshops, but also to the live music presented by some of the most skilled youth. “Our integration of speakers and entertainers made this all the much more differentiated than anything that happens in the Greek Campus,” said Azmy.
“Harassment is essentially an idea”, said writer and author Amal Farrah as she kicked off the conference with a discussion on how important it is to target the ideology of people. She traced the roots of harassment to lack of education, awareness, and even a lack of humanity and mercy.
And as bleak as Egypt’s stance may seem in regards to harassment, HarassMap Project Coordinator Habiba Mohamed had plenty of hope to invite. She said that more people are speaking up about the issue now than they were a few years ago.
Some of the positive indicators of progress she also referred to were the new laws adopted in Egypt criminalize harassment, as well as the increasing number of people who now acknowledge harassment as a problem and understand its extent. Mohamed added that while there are many challenges that lie ahead, our society cannot give in to frustration.
Yet as optimistic as Mohamed was about the latest legal adoption, women’s rights lawyer Reda el-Danbouki addressed some of its flaws. He explained that the sentence for the crime isn’t strong enough to create real deterrence, and that the law itself isn’t comprehensive enough to include different motives for the crime, as well as different forms of the crime.
At large, el-Danbouki believes that the purpose of the law was just to put on a “media show”.
Although most of the speakers agreed on the roots of harassment, the routes to take were considered differently.
While el-Danbouki and Mohamed applauded the presence of legislative action, Danish journalist and project leader of the Everyday Sexism Project Irene Manteufel said that “Legislation is of no use if the cultural standards are contradictory”.
Manteufel elaborated that while there’s strong legislative action to combat harassment in Denmark, the high numbers of harassment persist, as 80 percent of women in Denmark have experienced harassment since the age of 15 according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), making it the country with the greatest amount of harassment in the European Union.
The similarities concerning this issue between Egypt and Denmark, according to Menna Azmy, are what made this collaboration with Danish Frit Forum appropriate.
“The idea for street harassment came very appropriately when we were walking down the street in Aarhus (Danish town) discussing the differences between Danish and Egyptian culture,” said Azmy. “One of the things we found to be very similar between the two is the way some men treat women. We concluded that since problems bring people closer together to solve them that we would do this on an issue that touches us all no matter what the nationality.”
Perhaps some of the most enjoyable moments for the participants included the self-defense exercises given by USA National Team Coach Ramy Jerair who showed the participants a variety of self-defense techniques.
Egypt’s youngest solo cyclist Galal Zekri Chatila’s also engaged the participants in discussions on encouraging young women in Egypt to embrace cycling, despite the challenges of living in “a patriarchal society”.
“Community plays all the role in social change!” stressed Azmy, which shows how much the role of community affected the vision of this collaboration between two communities in two different countries.
“What I want the most from 3ard Al Share3 to accomplish is more than a sense of unity,” said Azmy. “I want a growing number of Cairenes to get a sense of belonging and inclusion; that we all empathize and that socially, it’s not acceptable to be a bystander; that feeling apathetic about street harassment is not OK.”
To learn more about 3ard Al Share3’s and follow their campaign, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/3ardalshare3
Edited by Enas El Masry