Nadine Saleh has spent most of her life wishing that she could walk down the streets of Cairo without fear of being sexually harassed. By the end of 2010, she had all but given up hope. And then came the January 25 revolution.
Nadine was 14 years old when her parents first told her that she could not go to the local store in an up-scale Cairo neighbourhood alone. But on January 26 2011, the 21-year-old university student snuck out and headed to Tahrir Square with her best friend.
“I realized that the power for change is within us,” says Nadine enthusiastically, “it was time for our voices to be heard.”
Despite the passion shown by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians during Egypt’s 18-day revolution, women’s rights have taken a back-seat. Amid recent reports that 83 percent of women in Egypt have been sexually harassed, Egyptian officials have continued to ignore women’s rights. Last week, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s ruling-party, issued a strongly worded statement, sharply criticizing a UN declaration calling for the end of violence against women and girls.
Last month, several Islamist lawmakers, including Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, declared that female protesters bear “100 percent” responsibility for being sexually harassed.”
“The Islamists who blame women [for being sexually harassed] cannot see clearly,” explains Nadine, “it is their mothers, their daughters and their sisters…they are the ones being sexually abused and they are the ones who live in fear.”
Yara El-Razaz, a 20-year-old student at the American University in Cairo and the co-founder of Heya agrees with Nadine. Heya (which translates into ‘she’ in Arabic) is a women’s initiative founded in 2011 which aims to empower Egyptian women in every community across the country.
“Women make up half of the population [in Egypt],” says Yara, “every time we deprive a woman from reaching her full potential we are depriving our entire country from reaching its full potential.”
Addressing violence against women following the revolution, Yara asserts that the voices of Egyptian women no longer fall on deaf ears.
“Millions of women continue to face various forms of sexual abuse today, be it in the street, the workplace or at school,” says Yara, “Heya and many other initiatives, organizations and advocacy groups formed both before and after the revolution are working towards creating a more equitable future for women in Egypt.”
Videos of women being dragged and stripped by security forces and images of female reporters being sexually assaulted by men at Tahrir Square have not deterred Nadine from joining women’s initiatives at her university in Cairo and participating in seven protests.
“It was difficult to simply let go of my dream of an Egypt where I could feel safe just because a bunch of ignorant men want to try to steal our voices,” she says while fiddling with a heart-shaped locket around her neck containing a black and white picture of her grandmother.
“My grandma would tell me of how she used to wear dresses, swim at Alexandria’s beaches, and take public transport to university without once feeling unsafe…that is the Egypt I dream of and that is the Egypt I will continue to fight for.”
The interviewee, Nadine Saleh, is an alias. Due to safety concerns, Nadine wished that her identity remain concealed.