Welad El Balad: Fighting street harassment in Egypt

BY SHAHINAZ EL HENNAWI, international movement fellow at Hollaback!

It all started after the Revolution! We, Egyptians began our revolution by years of hard work and a final spark from Tunisia. We desired change and we knew we can do it. We all felt that it is our country, our home, we all went to the streets wanting to share, live and breathe freedom. We wanted to undo all harms of the last many years. For the first time I could actually walk in the streets of Egypt with no fear, I felt we were all brothers and sister, no harm. I went to the square never thinking about sexual harassment. I was walking there in so much crowd with two of my friends then we found  men surrounding us with a circle to protect and keep us from harm since they felt that something was going wrong. They used to send thugs to the square to frighten women and girls so we can go home and not have a voice. But we didn’t stop, we kept going.

After nine months, in Ramadan (the Muslims fasting month) we got an idea that the feast  (3 days Breakfasting after Ramadan called Eid Fitr) should not be like any other feast. It has to be a safe feast for Girls in New Egypt. So my friends and I kept talking about it and not really knowing what to do. Usually in our culture the feast is a big event, where everybody is in the streets and many teens specifically go out and think that sexual harassment is fun to do in these days.

About almost 6 years ago we witnessed for the first time in Egypt mass group sexual harassment in front of the movie theatre and then couple of others took place specially during feast time.

But this time we wanted it to be different, we wanted our campaign to be filled with the energy of freedom and solidarity. So we had an idea to reach out for the community groups (Groups of male youth who were formed during the revolution to protect their neighborhood during the time of chaos right after the revolution began). A friend of mine, Karim from the Green party, who is very politically active decided to work with me on this campaign and he believed so much in the cause. We decided to call it “Welad el Balad” meaning the sons and daughters of the country, it has a culture connotation meaning “Having good manners” So if you call it to someone misbehaving, they would usually become ashame and stop. We started up a facebook event and invited people to join us and we started preparing for this campaign a month before. We reached almost 3000 volunteers in less than a month. We divided our selves into committees, held training for each committee with a specific assignment, we held several events in the street, we approached so many shops and cafes, and during the Eid itself we had shifts on the ground for 3 days, each working on a specific task, such as raising awareness, legal counseling, psychological counseling, survey, music, games, media outreach, in addition to a great show of a football team who volunteered to assist us. The idea behind sports was to engage the young youth is something constructive and shift their perceptions. The young men of the committees served as mentors for the young ones to the extent that some of the young harassers apologized, asked to join the campaign and brought their friends. The campaign demonstrated huge success, we were approached by the media, TV, sponsors, we also were mentioned in NGOs reports.This is the second year of the campaign, where we decided to go beyond Alexandria and reach out to different places in Egypt, I am very proud of my partners on the ground who are currently in the streets working in the campaign instead of having their holiday and enjoying their time with their families. I am watching them with joy and gratitude while being a fellow here in mother Hollaback to return to them with more inspiring actions from all over the world.

For additional information, check out the press coverage of the event here and here.

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