Sharing Voices – Part II

Interviews about rights of women in Egypt – Hopes and Aspirations

Nadia

Nadia Siraj – Interviewee

Following the previous post about Maryam few weeks ago here is my II part of the series. 

Nadia Siraj (44, Cairo) was born in Saudi Arabia. She has lived half of her life in Saudi Arabia and half in Egypt. She has worked as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expert for corporations such as the National Commercial Bank in Jada, Microsoft, British Consulate or Islamic Development Bank as well as in the Social Field in several countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Dubai. At some point, she decided to leave corporate and focus more on Meditation and Energy, which had always been her passion. She believes in the importance of empowering people regardless of any condition, thereby making people being themselves. Nadia loves self-expression through body (dancing and music). She is co-founder of a centre that promotes meditation through dancing in order to make people to find their own serenity.

Maryam and Nadia stories make you clearly see some aspects that negatively affect women. In their opinion, the increasing influence of wrong religious interpretations, tradition and even Capitalism (‘is the other extreme of treating a woman like an object and making her feel she is unworthy without having certain looks, buying certain products, etc.’) make women to be more exposed to harassment, to be forced to wear veil, to get married at certain age or being restricted of choices and submissive on relationships. This process has especially been strengthen since late 70’s, ‘when wahabi culture started being imported to Egypt’.

Nevertheless, Maryam and Nadia believe ‘women are awaking’. Women are becoming conscious about their situation. Rather, as Nadia notices, there is raising ‘a strong reaction reflected by feminism movements’, although, in her opinion, another positive respond to fight for equality could have been developed instead of a movement based on ‘frustration and opposition’.

Since the fall of Mubarak’s regime (February 2011), Nadia believes that the ‘revolution’ worked for something and the fall of Mubarak’s regime ‘broke something old’ so it triggered a process ‘in which people realize that there are other options in life’.

On the other hand Nadia  considers that ‘ her divorce was one of the big turning points in her life because she realized that all people, who interfered in her life and were so keen on finding ways to control her. They are not there anymore or they are only there when it requires control. She said, she started questioning many of the values and beliefs in which she had been raised and then she disregarded many of them without being reactive, because being reactive will make things worse’. She is instilling it to her son and her parents start ‘to see things differently when it comes to raising girls different from boys and controlling them more than boys. ‘It’s a learning process for all of us we are breaking cycles of unnecessary controlling and being controlled’ she said.

Nadia highlights her younger period in Saudi Arabia, where it was very difficult for a woman to have a job. More recently, she remembers the harsh period she spent because of her son’s custody: ‘I have suffered dealing with separation, and the law stands always on the side of the man more than a woman’ For Nadia it was even difficult to being with being divorced with a son.

Hence, when I asked Nadia about the role of men in women’s situation, she said: ‘there were successful women who were supported by their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, etc. I was lucky to be one of them in certain aspects of my life where my father was there to give me support. Nevertheless, it is not the case anymore because there is much competition and people are so busy with their own stories so a lot of women have to empower themselves by finding their ways’.

Talking about younger women Maryam and Nadia agree on the fact that there is a certain polarity or contrast, but at different levels. Nadia observed that new generations face ‘resistance from the elders, who cannot accept that the whole area of security (everything that they believe in and keeps them alive) is being shacked. They don’t want that. They want to hold on to what they know and believe, so the younger generations are challenging the older ones and only those of them (the young ones) who get stuck in the ego and self-victimization are not able to move on and adopt change’.

Thus, looking at the future like Maryam, Nadia has a lot of hope. She sees ‘more respect from young men and they are more in touch with their feminine side; whereas many women are standing for themselves, for their rights and being more confident’. However, she points out the way Middle East societies are viewed, especially from Western countries. First, ‘they are always focused on books and conferences. It is always focused on driving, entrepreneurs, etc. and it is not focused more on based wise on women’s need. Whatever they look at, it is more in favour of consumerism at the end; so entities that promote independence in these aspects make women independent only financially, thereby making more consumers as equal as men’. Thus, she doesn’t see this independence ‘as a genuine step in really being concern on women’. Secondly, she saw many women from different countries (Dubai, Morocco, UK, Iran, Turkey, US) who had their own issues. They ‘are not equally treated as men, not equally paid as men, emotionally or physically abused by men’. Hence, she doesn’t like the idea of ‘spotlighting Middle East as an area where women are oppressed and it doesn’t happen anywhere else’.

She told me that ‘it is happening everywhere in different ways’.

Javier Javier Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania. Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania.

 

Sharing voices

Interviews about rights of women in Egypt – Hopes and Aspirations 

Since the Arab Spring, Egypt has become a country that has got the attention of the entire world. The fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime supposed the starting point of a new age for Egyptian society. In a country that has suffered many changes lately, one of the hot issues is the gender system and women’s rights. Nevertheless, how do women live there? What about their thoughts and feelings?

Therefore, in order to answer these questions, this little initiative aims to make us approach (from outside) to that reality through experiences of some women who want to share their stories, thereby learning from their impressions, thoughts and feelings. These are the stories of two of them.

Maryam Massoud (35 yeaMaryamrs old) specialized in Science during high school, graduated top of her class in art direction from Fine Arts in 2003, started an English-teaching career in 2005 and joined the American University in Cairo in 2008. The same year when she embarked on her journey in self development and spirituality, for a fellowship in Teaching English as a Foreign Language of which she graduated in 2010. Although she is now a teacher trainer and testing expert in her field, her heart has led her to make a career shift into self-development and spirituality, where her work will help focus in a more direct manner on creating change in Egypt.

MARYAM: “MY HEART AND MY TRUTH TOLD ME THAT I AM A LIBERAL PERSON, THAT I AM A FREE SPIRIT, THAT I LOVE BEAUTY AND I LOVE FEMININITY. I LOVE JUST BEING FREE”
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A Strong Man : Watch the new film created by refugee men calling for violence against women to stop

white ribbon
A group of refugee men who fled their homes in countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Syria to seek sanctuary in Scotland have launched an online short film* calling on other men to stop violence against women.

*(for non-English language links see below)

A Strong Man, which echoes the messages of the White Ribbon Scotland campaign, calls on men of all cultures and faiths to take pride in being gentle and to teach their friends, families and communities that violence against women is wrong. Global Minorities Alliance welcomes this inter-community contribution to the ongoing efforts to end violence against women, and supports men and women from all backgrounds who are united in their condemnation of such unacceptable attitudes and behaviour.

The film was made by 67 men from the Maryhill Integration Network’s men’s group who originate form 11 countries, with the support of Glasgow film-makers media co-op.

Firew Desta, a refugee from Ethiopia involved in the making of ‘A Strong Man’, said: “The topic of the film project is a really important one because violence against women is happening in cultures and communities all around the world.

“We wanted to send a strong message that violence against women is wrong no matter what your culture or religion. We must teach our children this; to be respectful and listen to each other. This film gives us a chance to help to change attitudes.”

Rose Filippi, Maryhill Integration Network men’s group co-ordinator added: “All of these men have fled violence or the threat of it to seek safety in Scotland, so this is an issue that resonated with them.”

“The film allowed the men to use their considerable skills, and also to find a way of communicating a powerful message to other men in their communities, in wider Scottish society and beyond. It’s been a powerful and positive process.”

Vilte Vaitkute of media co-op, who developed the film with the group over a period of eight months was impressed by the ideas and creativity the men brought to the project.

“I was blown away by the fact many of the guys have suffered torture and violence themselves in their own countries, and are so sensitive about issues of violence against women in the home,” she said.

The two-minute film, which is available in English, Arabic, Tigrinya and Amharic, reflecting the first languages of men involved, will be distributed by an online social media campaign and available for interested men’s groups, community groups and other organisations.

The film is backed by the White Ribbon Scotland. Callum Hendry, campaign coordinator, said: “It is vital that men are able to raise awareness of the nature and cause of the issue and to challenge the attitudes of those who excuse violence against women or gender inequality.”

Watch this important film here :

Arabic Version: https://youtu.be/J8zJu0paY2E

Tigrinya Version: https://youtu.be/R-eoC2vvhww

English Version: https://youtu.be/mwGEz3YhD6Y

Amharic Version: https://youtu.be/_pXPPIHH_1Q

For more information or images contact Rose Filippi at Maryhill Integration Network on 0141 946 9106 or email rose@maryhillintegration.org.uk