Accused of failing to keep their marriage, not putting their children first, or simply not ‘marriage material’, divorced women in Egypt have long been under a shadow in the eyes of society. Yet, in Egypt’s patriarchal society, this is a perception that does not extend to divorced men.
Undergraduate students of October University for Modern Sciences and Arts (MSA), Farah Abdelgawad, Habiba El Mekkawi, and Rose Agha, decided to fight this stigma.
“Through our research, we realized that there haven’t been any campaigns addressing the struggles that divorced women face in society,” says Abdelgawad.
With a passion for social impact, these young women launched ‘Enty Zel Nafsek’ (You Are Your Own Shadow), a social awareness campaign aiming to fight the stigma surrounding divorced women in Egypt, and end the unjustified discrimination against them.
“Zel ragel wala zel heita” (A man’s shadow is better than a wall’s shadow) is a famous Egyptian saying often used to encourage women to get married or discourage them from ending a failing marriage. Echoing a popular thought, the saying claims that living under the protection of a man is better for a woman than living on her own. ‘Enty Zel Nafsek’ fights this perception.
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Despite increasing rates of divorce nationwide, divorced women in Egypt are still heavily judged by society, and are given demeaning labels such as “kharrabet beyout” (home-wrecker), or even “kharg beit” (secondhand). Whether from the divorcee’s parents, her friends, or society in general, divorced women often struggle to attain acceptance and inclusion, for no reason other than their marital history.
Although there are many different reasons for divorce – infidelity, violence, abuse, conflict, and more – the blame is often on women, assuming they did not try hard enough to keep their family together. In many cases, social stigma is even used as ammunition to scare women away from divorce.
“Without knowing the reason behind the divorce, many immediately label the woman as selfish. They just assume that she ‘chose herself’ instead of choosing stability for her children. We wanted to fight that perception because we want people to stop making divorced women feel guilty for simply choosing to get divorced,” El Mekkawi tells Egyptian Streets.
Through their Instagram account, Enty Zel Nafsek collaborates with sponsors and offers their followers discounts to their services. These sponsors include Dr. Mai Ashour, Consultancy and Life Coach, offering discounts on her sessions, Rina Donna Accessories, offering a jewelry-making course, and Speak Up, supporting victims of violence.
“We’re not encouraging women to get divorced, we’re only trying to support these women emotionally,” says Abdelgawad.
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The platform is attempting to spread awareness on the stigma surrounding divorced women, acknowledges their struggles in society, and makes them feel heard and supported in a country that records a case of divorce every two minutes.
Although the campaign was created as a graduation project in February 2022, Abdelgawad, El Mekkawi, and Agha are keen on expanding further and receiving support from the Egyptian government and the National Council for Women (NCW) to assist them in expanding to a larger scale and reaching more women nationwide.