A new book from UN Women gives voice to women’s issues as seen by the nation’s youth
By Deena Refai
A young man dedicates a blog post to his mother. A woman reflects on the dilemma of women between public and personal rights. A work of fiction mirrors the reality of a self-proclaimed feminist. These voices and more are found in Do Not Be Silenced, a new book published in December by the UN Women Egypt Country Office.
The book is full of “rich, personal experiences that reflect an important reality of women in Egypt, either successful or heartbreaking,” explains Sally Zohney, Youth Initiatives Associate in the UN Women Egypt Country Office. She adds that the project was a collaboration with the youth-led NGO Nubian Treasure, focused on women and youth development in Nubian community.
It all started on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, with an online call via the UN Women regional Facebook page for a blogging and tweeting day on women’s rights.
“The purpose of this online campaign was to encourage young Egyptians to share their reflections on the image and status of women in Egypt, either positive or negative,” Zohney explains. The two-week e-campaign produced an immense amount of material. “I received daily contributions, blog posts, artwork, designs, cartoons and caricature from hundreds of participants. [These] were all publicly posted on our page allowing everyone to discuss, give constructive comments and share views.”
The success of the campaign led to the idea of publishing stories that reflect women’s personal experiences in Egypt, along with illuminating statistics. The book, in English and Arabic, addresses women’s rights issues in Egypt such as maternity, women at work, rights of women in public and personal space, relationships and social pressure on women.
Choosing from the vast amounts of material was not an easy task, Zohney admits. “Since we had a limited number to publish, I had to select stories and contributions that shed the light on different perspectives.”
Stories written by men discussed the same topics as those written by women but with a different perspective, with on men’s interpretation of harassment, their views on relationships between men and women and numerous other topics, like FGM and sexual rights. “It was important and surprising to me to see the [extensive] contribution of men to the campaign,” Zohney says. “I would say it was almost on an equal footing with women’s contribution to the campaign.”
One young male engineer, describing himself as “not a human rights advocate,” left a Facebook note entitled ‘I am a harasser.’ “Contrary to the title, the note not just rejects sexual harassment in Egypt but the author started attacking male arguments that “legitimize” harassment,” Zohney notes. “He even [blamed] the passive men who watch harassment without replying, accusing them of being harassers themselves.”
Zohney credits the January 25 Revolution as one of the main inspirations for the project, noting how it is essential to engage the masses in an online conversation, “I was inspired by the bravery of many Egyptian women throughout the revolution who chose not to be silent about sexual violence, about stereotypes, about abuse and patriarchy. Such a book is just one contribution that reaches out to offline world, asking them to go to the online thoughts and bridging that gap between both worlds.”
UN Women officially launched Don’t Be Silenced at Zamalek’s Sufi bookstore on December 15, and the attention has been an inspiration for the book’s contributors.
Contributor Dina Wahba says she hadn’t thought a note on a Facebook page could lead to a book. “I think the significance of this project is that it makes the publishing world accessible for young writers as well as contributes to publishing books that really represent the voices of young men and women,” she says. “Such initiatives makes publishing less intimidating to young people, especially when writing about topics such as violence against women and taboo issues. Definitely such initiatives amplify young people’s voices.”
And that is exactly what Do Not Be Silenced wants to do: amplify the conversation about women’s issues. “Silence is the number one threat that we have to overcome to address violence in Egypt and start being proactive,” Zohney says. “As long as our society chooses silence, rights will never be gained.” et
Where to Find It
The book is available for free at the UN Women office in Maadi and UN Women-related events. a limited number of copies are also at the Sufi bookstore in Zamalek. Zohney hopes that next year more copies will be printed and reach out to a wider audience.
UN Women Egypt Country Office • 7 Golf Street, Maadi, Cairo • Tel: +20 2 2574-8494 or 2223-3990.
Sufi Bookstore • 12 Sayed El Bakry Street, Zamalek, Cairo • Tel: 012 2998-3490 • firstname.lastname@example.org