Monday December 12, 2016
Written by Alexandra Kinias
The nostalgia to the Sixties, the Egyptian golden era as labeled by historians, leaves many people reminiscing about its beauty and elegance that lives only in their memories. Perhaps what is missed mostly is the freedom to wear dresses inspired by Parisian fashion that women wore then and walk in harassment-free streets; an incomprehensible image to today’s generation who are not only subjected to this perpetual and demeaning phenomenon on daily basis, but also blamed for it.
Hadia Abdel Fattah, an anti-sexual harassment activist and founder of Eve in the Factory, a campaign to fight sexual harassment in workplaces, created an event for young women to wear dresses and walk down the streets of Cairo, to raise awareness that neither women nor their attire are the cause for sexual harassment.
“The problem is that women are not only harassed in the streets, but the line separating flirtation and harassment has become blurred to many. We are helping them understand that harassment is not only being touched or groped, but also being stared or hissed at and having profanities hurled at them.” Hadia explains.
The absurd justification that sexual harassment is blamed on women’s immodest and revealing attires that tempt men and arouse their sexual desires, is merely a diversion from acknowledging that misogyny is thriving and its venomous ideology is flourishing in the hearts and minds of men.
“Sexual harassment has nothing to do with how women dress, and everything to do with the mentality of people and the moral decline in the society. My argument is always that women in the sixties wore dresses, and yet harassment was unheard of. Today no female is safe, that includes young girls too. They all get harassed; unveiled, veiled, even in niqab.” Hadia adds.
When a pack of 12- years-old boys surrounded a group of girls of similar age, like hyenas, pulling off their veils, groping their bodies and touching their private parts, that refutes the allegations about women’s attire. “Do you think a child at this age cares about what they are wearing? And that’s how the idea for the event was incepted.” Hadia explains. “I have been contemplating the idea for three months, and when I approached photographer Gehad Saad, he totally embraced it.”
Out of 2000 women who expressed interest to participate in the event, ten were selected. The event created a lot of controversy and the criticism that flooded the event’s Facebook page with vulgarity and offensive comments was “expected,” and which Hadia chose not to delete, “to show the massiveness of the problem.” But in spite of negative reactions, Hadia is content with the results. “The event ignited heated discussions and women started questioning the validity of the societal beliefs that caused them to suffer in silence and compared their status with women in other countries like Afghanistan, Saudi, Europe or America.”
Sexual harassment is a psychological terror, and occasionally physical terror, practiced by men to control women by fiercely fighting against their right to choose and dictating to them what to wear is an evident demonstration of this medieval behavior.
Hadia was attacked for breaking a social taboo. The event shocked the self-acclaimed custodians of women’s virtues, who perceive women’s attire as a core value of social and religious morality, undermining the fact that several veiled women participated in it too. “Women attire became a taboo and trying to change how women dress is shaking the values of many.”
Recent reports from the Egyptian National Council of Women declared that 99% of women were subjected to harassment, yet the meager measures taken to defeat this crime are grossly inadequate when compared to its escalating magnitude and high frequency. Worst yet, the “harassers” and advocates are fully placing the blame on women’s attire than facing the real reasons. Only when the real causes are addressed and strong and effective measures are taken to deal with it, there would be hope for safer streets for the women to walk on.
“I am aware that I am not going to end sexual harassment with a “dress up” event, but I am confident that this small effort is a building block that will inspire more women to follow suit. We are all pieces in the same puzzle.
All I wish for is to decrease the staggering rates of sexual harassment, because it is impossible to eradicate it. But I believe in our ability to change.” Hadia plans to create more similar events in other governorates, and will shed light on more issues. “I am in the process to form a group of volunteers to help organize our future events.”
For more on Gehad Saad’s work, visit his Facebook page Robabkia Photography