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“I Wish…” a street campaign against sexual harassment in Egypt
In Cairo-- where women face sexual harassment on a daily basis as they go to school, work or even to visit the doctor-- an innovative advocacy campaign led by a group of young activists has been striving to make their public spaces and communities safer.
- "I wish I could walk around without being hurt by inappropriate words."
On a Wednesday in May 2012, inspired by snowballing social media discussions on sexual harassment in Egypt, a group of independent activists took the conversation to an offline public. They aimed to build support in Cairo and beyond, using the most simple of approaches: the country’s first ‘human chain’ against sexual harassment.
- In line with the global UN project, “Safe Cities”, which works to make cities and communities safer for women and girls, UN Women were there to document and support the statement. Safe Cities works in five urban hubs around the world, including Cairo, to increase the safe access of women and girls to public spaces.
- "Don’t harass me. The street is yours and mine."
The group called the campaign “Nefsi” meaning “I wish”. Distributing t messages on simple paper sheets to approximately 80 participants, the activists also mobilized through a Facebook group. Women and men of all ages and backgrounds lined the sidewalks of Gam’et El Dewal Street in Mohandessin, a Cairo thoroughfare. They held their messages, ready to engage passersby.
- "I wish you'd admit that you harass", “I wish I could feel safe in the streets."
The messages were impassioned and compelling. They drew attention to the vulnerability that many women face in public, and the harm done by gender stereotypes. They sparked conversations among those shopping, working and commuting, on the sidewalk and in traffic.
- "I shouldn’t have to escort my sister everywhere."
The male campaigners also captured the attention of the media. Popular TV personality Amr Adib spent 3 minutes of his daytime television show, Al Qahera Al Youm, reading the messages and broadcasting photos from the day. It also sparked coverage and discussion in newspapers, online portals and blogs.
- On the UN Women Arabic Facebook page, the photos went viral. The number of fans jumped by 4,000 people; the photo album was viewed by 50,000 Facebook users, and through comments, shares and clicks, engaged at least 45,000.
- "I wish you'd understand that I don't like it when you harass me.”
Excited by the instant impact of this 80-person initiative, its organizers are already planning other offline street movements, using social media as a multiplier and mobilization tool. They hope to further broaden discussion on a topic that has for too long been considered a taboo, and for too long kept Egypt’s women vulnerable.
Photo credit for all photos: UN Women/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin