One year on.

Events in Egypt are escalating so quickly that I’ve written about five different drafts of this blog post.

Q) As transformations in the country’s turbulent political sphere take centre stage in our global media, which issue has, yet again, been sidelined?

A) The most sickening, horrific abuse of human rights in Egypt: the use of sexual violence against women in Tahrir.

Morsi has been overthrown, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has stepped in to help provide “transitional government”, promising new elections on an as yet unspecified future date. The last time SCAF stepped in after Mubarak’s deposition in 2011, its apparent persistent attempts to cling onto power, along with its defence of horrific violence used against protestors during the revolution, provoked fear and cynicism from the Egyptian people until Morsi was finally handed the baton in June 2012. Morsi’s presidency brought disappointment, disillusionment, and immense frustration with suspected power-grabbing measures and an all-round failure to deliver on the promises of the revolution. With SCAF now holding the reigns once again, I fear that a safe and secure Egypt remains a hazy, distant prospect.

Where are the women of Egypt in all of this? She lies on the ground in Tahrir Square, covered in bruises. She shields her naked body from the clutches of mobs of men. She shivers, she bleeds. She staggers away with the support of brave men and women who fight back against the attackers. Unlike me, she lives not only with the memories, but with the knowledge that this has been done to her in the city she calls home, in the country she loves. This has been done to her because she went to Tahrir and protested for her human rights – utmost among them, the right to walk freely in her city without being raped or sexually harassed.

In the evening of Sunday 30th June, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault reported 46 cases of sexual assault on female protesters. In the four days of protest that followed, a total of at least 91 women were raped. One widely reported case is the rape of a 22-year-old Dutch girl by five men. Having undergone surgery for “severe” injuries sustained in the attack, she has, thankfully, returned home.

Unsurprisingly, her story hits a nerve. She was attacked almost exactly one year after I was, in the same place. I was making a student documentary; she was interning with an Egyptian news agency. We’re both 22. But her experience is more horrific than I can imagine, more damaging in so many ways than my own experience. It pains me to know that she’s just been through that. I’m trying to get in touch with her to give her the opportunity to contact me if she ever wants to.

More painful is the knowledge that while her story, like my story, has been told by news agencies around the world, scores of Egyptian women suffering these attacks see no reporters telling their stories. 

This is not a new phenomenon; Egyptian women have endured decades of systematic sexual violence. A UN Report published in May this year stated that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual violence. As regimes in Egypt have changed, sexual violence as a form of torture has not. Egypt endured the targeted tactics of Mubarak-era, government-paid “thugs” on women in public spaces. Egypt watched as women participating in the 2011 revolution, like Mona Eltahawy, were stripped and beaten in the streets, then detained and sexually abused. Egypt has been, and continues to be, riddled with men who verbally and physically harass women walking down the street – whether through catcalls, groping, or even gang rape. In 2012, the Ministry of the Interior reported 9,468 cases of harassment, 329 sexual assaults, and 112 cases of rape. The afore-mentioned UN Report found only 19% of women report attacks to the police. Nineteen percent – how many more thousands of cases are missing from the Ministry’s statistics?

And, finally, Egypt is now witnessing more sexual attacks on female protesters than ever before; the UN Report also notes that nearly 50% of women reported increased levels of harassment since the revolution.

One key question in all of this: why? Where does Egypt’s sexual harassment endemic really stem from? Many arguments circle the internet. Some blame Islam, some vaguely blame “Middle Eastern culture”. Click here to read a sharp and insightful critique of oversimplified interpretations of sexual violence in the Middle East.

The roots of Egypt’s sexual harassment endemic stretch deep into the fabric of Egyptian politics, history, and society, and are so tangled that it is difficult to find an easy solution. It stems from behaviours learned from fathers and brothers; historic abuses against women committed by members of authority – those figures children are taught to trust and respect; and from poor education that teaches impressionable young boys to grow into misogynistic young men. I have immense respect for men of Egypt who resist these pervasive cultural influences, and are instead supporting Egyptian women in their fight. All of this only scratches the surface of the roots and reasons for sexual harassment in Egypt.

Surely the key to ending an endless cycle of “like father like son” behaviour towards women is: EDUCATION. How can we educate in the modern world? We’re no longer confined by educational institutions or family influences; thanks to the internet, social media, and mobile technologies, we can learn, share, educate, and support each other on a global scale. This is exactly what groups like Sexual Harassment Action Group, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, Harassmap, the Whistlestop campaign, and so many more, are doing. Men and women are taking grassroots action to inspire people in Egypt and around the world to change life for women in Egypt. From protest marches to male metro patrols, these brave volunteers are often risking their safety to stand up for their sisters.

On a separate note, I am still going to make my documentary. The producer I have been working with is in Cairo now, filming, and I fear for her safety daily. She has taken this documentary down a slightly different route than I envisaged, and as a result, I have decided to push on and create my own, separate, documentary. But one thing I’ve come to appreciate is how much time this is likely to take.

In the past year, I’ve become far more experienced working in factual television, and it’s made me realise how inexperienced I was before and how much I still have to learn. I was a student last year, not a fully-fledged journalist. In order to do justice to this subject, and make a real impact, I need to make a quality documentary. Quality demands expertise, and funding. Securing funding and getting the documentary commissioned will require a high level of skill and a killer pitch, which will take time to develop. And, crucially, I can only return to Egypt to make this documentary with far greater security measures in place, and a stronger team so I am not going it alone.

So I am now committed to this project on a longer-term basis. That may sound like a cop-out, but it is not; my attitude is simply that if I’m going to do this, I must get it right.

I, along with so many others, feel global news agencies are failing to provide sufficient coverage on women of Egypt. So the responsibility to voice these women’s stories has fallen to volunteers running charitable groups. Please support these groups – links provided above – and search for more. And stay tuned as I develop the documentary, in which my aim is to actually help change the situation, not just to comment on it.

We live in a world where billions of women are subjugated through rape and sexual abuse. Women of Egypt cannot enjoy the simple right to walk down the streets and board public transport without facing harassment. Women of Egypt cannot protest without fearing for their lives. How can we claim to be making progress in this world when these most basic of human rights are continually violated?

This battle will be won by persistence and determination over time. The support of men of Egypt is critical. Backward, misogynistic attitudes must be undermined, the roots of sexual harassment and sexual violence ripped from the ground. Men and women of Egypt are already fighting bravely on the frontline; let us form their cavalry.

Street Children, Disability and Prostitution for Survival.

A very well-written but shocking insight into one woman’s unimaginably vulnerable, isolated life, abandoned on the streets of Egypt. Reblogged from http://nellyali.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/street-children-disability-and-prostitution-for-survival/

nellyali

It was my third visit to the shelter. There was a happy atmosphere today which I later learnt always accompanied the arrival of a new baby. Shadia had come home with her new born after a C-Section the day before. I asked if I could go in to see her. I had never met Shadia before. I walked into the bedroom that housed 3 bunk beds and 6 single wardrobes, each padlocked. Shadia lay shaking in the middle of the well made bed. I panicked. I had never met someone with Parkinson’s disease before. My ignorance, both of the illness and of street children hadn’t prepared me that a child with parkinson’s could end up here. Shadia also had her left eye gauged out. But Shadia was beautiful.

I was new to my research with street children and still very unprepared for the heart ache that this work brought with…

View original post 1,011 more words

New ideas…

This is my first blog post in a ridiculously long time, so I feel quite sheepish in writing it. I’ve been thinking long and hard about how exactly to carry out the pledge I made last summer: to do my bit in the fight against sexual abuse against women, both in Egypt and around the world. Noble intentions, yes – but some serious planning and refinement of those ambitions is needed to really make that happen.

I hugely enjoyed helping Unreported World with the production of their 20-minute documentary, ‘Egypt: Sex, Mobs, and Revolution’ broadcast in November on Channel 4. As for my own documentary, I’m in regular contact with the producer who I’ll be working with, and progress is indeed being made. As I outlined some months ago, getting it funded, commissioned, and fitting it all in around the producer’s incredibly busy schedule will take time. But it will happen!

Anyway, whilst working on new TV projects has given me invaluable experience, I’m itching to do more for womankind. Particularly after being inspired by coverage of a new documentary, “Brave Miss World” – please DO look it up.

I, along with billions of people worldwide, was deeply shaken and disturbed by the horrific Delhi gang-rape case (and the more recent devastating rape and murder of 3 Indian sisters). My instinct was to blog about it. But then I thought…what can I say? What can I possibly write in a blog post that billions of people around the world aren’t already saying? I started to focus more on what I could do.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what exactly to do. Sexual violence against women is such a truly global phenomenon that it’s difficult to highlight its occurrence in one part of the world without appearing to neglect all those women suffering in the Congo, in Syria, in Pakistan, in America, in France, in the UK…and in every country on Earth.

So, do I make a documentary on every country in the world? Do I gradually work my way through a list of misogynistic global hotspots? And, standing next to the plethora of existing NGOs and charitable organisations designed to fight the sexual abuse of women, what can I bring to the table?

I’ll stop with the (possibly irritating) rhetorical questions now and cut to the chase. As a British young woman, I’ve decided to hit home with this global problem. I want to develop my own documentary that will resonate with young men and women growing up in the UK. I want a UK audience to see that sexual violence and discrimination against women is as relevant at home as it is abroad – just in different ways.

So, my aim is to highlight to a UK audience that sexual abuse is not confined to far-flung countries like India, Syria, or Egypt; nor is it confined to the Jimmy Savile era, the horrors of which are, disgracefully, only now being brought to light; nor is it confined to abuses carried out by priests in the Catholic Church. Sexual abuse plagues the younger generation of Brits in a far quieter, subtler, yet equally deplorable way.

Needless to say, we all know that rape occurs in the UK – it affects nearly 70,000 women every year. But I really don’t think we’re open enough about it. To a degree, I don’t think young men necessarily realise that rape jokes might not count as “banter”, and I don’t think young women necessarily realise that they have a right not to laugh at them without being branded that most unfashionable of things: a “feminist”. I could go on to talk about the widely-discussed controversy over telling women “don’t get raped” rather than telling men not to rape, and the pervasive “blame the victim” culture, but I feel these points have been very widely discussed already on the internet (and I may end up ranting for hours).

I must, though, express my admiration for the Home Office’s anti-rape ad campaign. But what concerns me are the general attitudes of young men and women – towards rape and who is to be held responsible – that necessitate such an ad campaign.

Telling women how they should dress and behave to avoid rape – note Tory MP Richard Graham and Joanna Lumley’s blunderous comments – only serve to further inflame this debate.

To round up, I don’t want to give too much away, and it’s very early days for this project. I’m putting out feelers to see how this documentary could work, so please do get in touch with any feedback or further ideas.

Thanks for reading this delayed and horrendously long post!

Is this Egypt?

Here’s a link to my published article on the sexual harassment of women in Egypt.

Thank you so much to everyone who shared their stories with me. This really is only the beginning!

🙂

http://www.fairobserver.com/article/natasha-smith-is-this-egypt

One more step in the fight against sexual harassment in Egypt

I have now completed my article and it will soon be published by Fair Observer, once the editors edit it and the web designers format it to look neat and pretty. Woohoo!

I have also been able to complete my MA unexpectedly in the past 2 weeks. I never imagined I’d be able to complete it this year after my attack forced me to abandon the unfinished documentary. I will admit, I am rather proud of myself.

It was quite a challenge to fit so many moving stories and viewpoints into such a tight word count. I soon came to realise that sexual harassment in Egypt needs much more extensive coverage, which has inspired my decision to create some kind of web resource for women to share their experiences of sexual harassment, and their ideas about tackling the problem. This will also provide me with room to share the stories I have already featured in my article in greater depth. The idea is in its infancy at the moment, but I’ll keep you updated.

It’s deeply satisfying to be connected to the cause of fighting sexual harassment. It’s raised my awareness of the plight of women in so many regions of the world who suffer in different ways every single day simply because they are women, which makes them vulnerable. I feel the plight of women in the Congo (who I will be running 10K for on Sunday), Egypt, India, Honduras and many other regions demands much greater media coverage in order to capture the attention of women in Britain and elsewhere. As cliched as it may sound, I have begun to feel a much deeper bond to womankind – a kind of sisterhood that motivates me to do much more to defend women’s rights globally.

I’ve now got a 10K run on Sunday that I am nowhere near physically fit enough to complete with ease; I anticipate that I’ll be crawling across the finish line. But the cause is so incredibly worthwhile and I’m very glad to be part of it.

Then I’m off to Oxford for my 2-week internship with Unreported World. I cannot wait. It’s going to be a fantastic experience – I’m sure of it. I’m so happy to be interning for a programme that I feel so genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about. I hope I can bring oodles of positive energy to the team without being annoying.

Today is a good day!

New beginnings

Things are starting to look brighter. After a month of recuperation and reorganisation of my plans, I’m feeling more optimistic about taking on new challenges and reaching different goals.

Until this summer, I’d been hurtling through life, always feeling I needed to work harder, be stronger, and push myself to the limit with bigger and bigger challenges. My mind never stopped fretting and stressing about whether I was good enough, clever enough, strong enough; whether I could really make my big ambitions a reality. I was overambitious. I was also cursed with ‘Invincibility of Youth’ syndrome, with symptoms including naivety, impulsiveness, recklessness, carelessness, idealism and underestimating danger and difficulty.

Since the attack, I’ve calmed down. I’ve slowed my mind down. I have a different perspective on life, and am rebuilding my life from the ground up. I live in the present, not the past or the future. I see things much more simply, and am enjoying a level of inner peace that I had never experienced until now. I’m much more content just to be alive. I am becoming a happier, healthier, and better person.

I have a lot to organise. I feel passionately about helping to combat the abuse of women both in Egypt and across the world – including the UK – and am trying to find ways to channel that passion into a workable strategy. This project will take time, and a great deal of planning, and I’m not sure exactly what form it will take. Only time will tell.

In September, I am due to undertake a 2-week placement with Unreported World. Undertaking this placement is a really big step for me, having struggled with symptoms of PTSD. But this is a step in the right direction. I’ll gain an insight into what it really takes to become a documentary filmmaker and to work on professional documentaries, from pre- to post-production. I’m very excited, if a little nervous.

Prior to this, I’ll be participating in the ‘Run for Congo Women’ 10K event organised by Women for Women International, who help Congo women survivors of rape to rebuild their lives. This will be my first fundraising event, and I’m so proud and excited to be taking part. Women and children in the Congo are in desperate need of such support, with thousands of women being raped every week; 2011 statistics showed 48 Congo women were being raped every hour. So again, this is a step in the right direction, a chance for me to do something to support women plagued with sexual violence on a daily basis.

This is only the beginning, but it’s a good start. After watching my world come crashing down 6 weeks ago, I’m now feeling better about what I can achieve if I set my mind to it. I have a new direction, a new sense of purpose, and a commitment to furthering the cause of women’s rights and freedom from violence and discrimination across the world.

As the old saying goes: when life gives you lemons…

Thank you.

I apologise to anyone who felt offended after my boyfriend’s well-intentioned post asking for donations towards my future documentary. I promise it was done with the purest of intentions, even though it may not have appeared that way. I am sorry that it was misinterpreted as an attempt to exploit the situation (and the situation of so many other female sufferers) for financial gain. James was simply responding to multiple suggestions from friends and strangers alike to set up some kind of fundraising scheme. As has been reported, I am a student journalist. I therefore have had minimal funding, no production team, and this is the first documentary I was making in order to complete my postgraduate study. That is why funding is an issue. But I have since removed the post to avoid causing further offence and provoking misinterpretation. I do now believe it was a naive and unprofessional move to allow the donation request to be posted. I do apologise – I am trying to make all the right decisions and respond in the best way to all this, but it is quite difficult.

A huge thank you to every single person who has offered such immense love and support since I submitted my first blog post. I genuinely never imagined it would receive such media attention – I simply hoped to spread some awareness among my social media contacts. In all of my interviews and reports, I have tried to remain honest and emphasise that my intentions are not to profit from this experience, but instead to spread awareness and help to bring positive change for other women affected by sexual harassment in Egypt and elsewhere. I feel it’s no longer really about me; it’s about what good can come out of this.

I understand many of the criticisms that have come my way. I understand that I was naive and, arguably, stupid to have been near Tahrir Square. I take full responsibility for poor judgement in this respect. However I did not simply march into Tahrir Square with a camera held up high; I was so captivated by the atmosphere on the bridge that I just kept walking, and tried to turn around as soon as I released how close to Tahrir Square I actually was. Again, my lack of spatial awareness was my own mistake, as I was not familiar with the area. I had felt so safe on the bridge surrounded by women and children, and I wish I had turned around as my friends and I had originally planned, before we became caught up in the wonderful, celebratory atmosphere.

I understand why many people feel I am foolish to plan to return to Egypt. But I will take a long time to prepare for my next visit, will set up a wide support network to ensure my safety, and will never take the kind of risks I did last Sunday again. Moreover, I feel a sense of duty to bring something good out of all this, and I feel that I am now in a privileged position to produce a documentary that offers a deeper insight and can really make a difference to the situation by spreading greater awareness. I also want to meet with women  in Egypt who have experienced, and continue to experience, horrific sexual abuse, so they can finally make their own voices heard. I do not wish to hog the limelight; I want to  highlight the suffering of many, many other women to a UK (and hopefully even wider) audience.

So thank you to everyone who has offered love and support. And an overwhelming thank you to all those who helped me that night – I probably would not be here without you. You are the true heroes.

Thank you so much to those who offered donations before I removed the post from this blog. I hope to maintain your interest as I move forward and continue with this documentary. God bless you all.

“Please God. Please make it stop.”

I have been forced to leave Cairo prematurely following a horrific sexual and physical attack in Tahrir Square.

The atmosphere was one of jubilation, excitement, and happiness as I walked, accompanied by two male companions for safety along Kasr El Nil bridge. I had had an awful day, caused by problems in personal relationships, so I was so happy to be in such a wonderful environment, getting such amazing footage. Women, children and fathers smiled, waved, and cheered happily at the camera, calling out the widely used phrase “welcome to Egypt! Welcome!”. Fireworks lit up the sky. It was a moving and captivating experience.

Just as I realised I had reached the end of the bridge, I noticed the crowd became thicker, and decided immediately to turn around to avoid Tahrir Square. My friends and I tried to leave. I tried to put my camera back in my rucksack.

But in a split second, everything changed. Men had been groping me for a while, but suddenly, something shifted. I found myself being dragged from my male friend, groped all over, with increasing force and aggression. I screamed. I could see what was happening and I saw that I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t believe I had got into this situation.

My friend did everything he could to hold onto me. But hundreds of men were dragging me away, kicking and screaming. I was pushed onto a small platform as the crowd surged, where I was hunched over, determined to protect my camera. But it was no use. My camera was snatched from my grasp. My rucksack was torn from my back – it was so crowded that I didn’t even feel it. The mob stumbled off the platform – I twisted my ankle.

Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals.

Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.

I shouted “salam! Salam! Allah! Allah!”. In my desperate state I also shouted “ma’is salaama!” which actually means “goodbye” – just about the worst possible thing to say to a horde of men trying to ruin me. I might as well have yelled “goodbye cruel world! Down I go!”

A small minority of men, just a couple at first, tried to protect me and guide me to a tent. The tent was crushed, its contents scattered into shards all over the ground. I was barefoot as they stole my nice new shoes. I was tossed around once more, being violated every second. I was dragged naked across the dirty ground. Men pulled my blonde hair.

The men trying to protect me tried to guide me into another tent. I was able to scramble onto the ground.I sat with my back against a chair and surveyed the surging mob. Although a few men tried to form a human shield around me, offering me rags to cover my bruised body, men were still able to touch me. There were just too many.

I felt surprisingly calm. I understood what was happening and just transcended into a detached state of mind. I gazed around at the bared teeth and raging eyes. The tent began to collapse and I was cloaked in a huge sheet. I was struggling to breathe. One man lifted a tent pole and attempted to strike me with it.

At this point, I said aloud to myself, calmly, over and over, “please God. Please make it stop. Please God. Please make it stop.”

I’m not religious. But at times of desperation, we all feel compelled to appeal to some higher power to save us. It’s human nature. The need to feel safe and loved is what compels many to reach for religion in the first place.

An ambulance forced its way through the crowd. It opened its doors, and was invaded by tens of men. It closed up and drove away.

I began to think, “maybe this is just it. Maybe this is how I go, how I die. I’ve had a good life. Whether I live or die, this will all be over soon. Maybe this is my punishment for some of the emotional pain I’ve caused others through some foolish mistakes and poor judgement recently. I hope it’s quick. I hope I die before they rape me.”

I looked up and saw a couple of women in burkas scattered around. They looked at me blankly, then looked away.

After 5-10 minutes, my friend managed to convince people inside a medical tent to form a pathway through the crowd to guide me into the tent. During transit I was mauled and invaded.

I reached the tent and saw my friend Callum. Muslim women surrounded me and frantically tried to cover my naked body. I fell to the ground and apparently temporarily lost consciousness.

The women told me the attack was motivated by rumours spread by trouble-making thugs that I was a foreign spy, following a national advertising campaign warning of the dangers of foreigners. But if that was the cause, it was only really used as a pretext, an excuse.

The men outside remained thirsty for blood; their prey had been cruelly snatched from their grasp. They peered in, so I had to duck down and hide. They attempted to attack the tent, and those inside began making a barricade out of chairs. They wanted my blood.

Women were crying and telling me “this is not Egypt! This is not Islam! Please, please do not think this is what Egypt is!” I reassured her that I knew that was the case, that I loved Egypt and its culture and people, and the innate peacefulness of moderate Islam. She appeared stunned. But I’m not really a vengeful person and I could see through the situation. This vicious act was not representative of the place I had come to know and love.

After much heated debate, it was decided that Callum and I would leave separately to avoid attracting attention. I was disguised in a burka and men’s clothes and ordered to hold the hand of an Egyptian stranger who would pretend to be my husband. I was terrified but I could see it was the only way out, and had to decide to trust him.

He pulled me through the crowds out of the back of the tent. He told me: “don’t cry. Do not cry. Look normal.”

I was barefoot, dodging broken glass and debris, trawling through mud and dirt. My inner reserves of strength kicked in, and I stopped crying and just thought “keep calm and carry on.”

My trousers had clearly belonged to someone much fatter, and were falling down.

I thought I was being led to an ambulance, or to hospital. The man sat me down by the side of the road, still ordering me not to cry. Eventually, his friends turned up, with Callum. They explained that they couldn’t take us to hospital since they might be arrested if they were seen with us.

One man helpfully suggested: “you want to go to McDonalds? Get some food?” I declined this generous offer of culinary compensation for the evening’s events. Surprisingly, I wasn’t really in the mood for a Big Mac.

Callum and I went on our way. We eventually hailed a taxi. Upon reaching a government hospital downtown, we tried to explain the situation. People stared at us blankly, sloping around the corridors. We were turned away and told to go to a nearby hospital instead. Nobody would take us; we just had to walk there.

Upon arrival, I was eventually ushered into a small cubicle. Two men asked “are you pregnant? Married? A virgin?” They seemed displeased by my response of “no”.

They led me back outside to sit with Callum. I was refused examination and treatment. Eventually I decided I’d just have to check for damage myself. I went to the bathroom and couldn’t believe the reflection. I was dirty, wounded, with hair like a tramp and eyes wide with shock.

For 2-3 hours, people strolled past us, a couple of them making vague attempts at phonecalls to the embassy. At every stage, Callum did everything in his power to speed up the process and talk sense into everyone. It was thanks to him that the people in the medical tent saved me. He effectively saved my life.

Somehow, we ended up with the embassy thinking we were at the police station, the hospital staff not realising we were still at the hospital, and the police thinking we were…god knows where.

I was sat in a room full of men. One of them seemed to be taking a photo of me. I’m not sure why, as I wasn’t exactly looking glamorous. It all made my heart race.

It was Callum’s phonecalls (he had to use other people’s phones as both of ours had been stolen) that bore fruit. Finally our friends turned up with a lady from the embassy. I was taken to a private hospital where a doctor’s first question was “are you married?”, which is of course the most important question to be asking a victim of mass sexual abuse.

He and a female nurse (who only reluctantly kept me covered up) looked briefly at the damage and just wandered off, saying that because I didn’t have internal bleeding, they couldn’t do anything. A useful trip, that was.

Finally, I was taken home by my friends, and put to bed. I didn’t want to tell my family right away, as I knew it would destroy them.

Yesterday, I had a proper examination and darted around sorting things out, spending an eternity giving a police report. People with me were reduced to tears, but I didn’t real feel like crying. People kept telling me “you’re being so brave”, but I just felt like getting on with it. Maybe it’ll catch up with me in a few days, I don’t know.

A few things yesterday made me realise the impact this has had on me. During the examination, which was carried out by a woman, I was crying and shaking. To have someone touch me so soon after the event was terrifying.

Later, I couldn’t bear to be around groups of Egyptian men. And when it got dark, I panicked, and couldn’t bear to look any man in the eye. I clung to Callum all day. As we drove around Cairo, I couldn’t help but think “of all the people we’ve driven past today, one of them must have been in that crowd of hundreds last night. Just one.”

I am determined to continue with my documentary at some point. I have no equipment, (not even any of my photos) am nervous about the possibility of not getting my insurance to cover all the equipment and everything taken from me, and no money to resume the process. But I’ll get there. I have to find a silver lining to this experience. I have to spread awareness; it is my duty to do so. I have to do this; I will not be driven into submission. I will overcome this and come back stronger and wiser. My documentary will be fuelled by my passion to help make people aware of just how serious this issue is, and that it’s not just a passing news story that briefly gets people’s attention then is forgotten. This is a consistent trend and it has to stop. Arab women, western women – there are so many sufferers.

I am determined to return to this wonderful country and city that I love, and meet its people once again. I am determined to challenge the stereotypes and preconceptions that people have of Arab women back in the UK and the US. I have so much to say, and I will say it, in time.

So, to anyone taking risks, whether in the UK or worldwide, please, take care, and don’t make the same mistakes. Don’t be swept up in a wave of euphoria. Don’t let anything cloud your judgement. I was not focused enough because I was distracted by the wonderful atmosphere which was cheering me up after a difficult day.

But don’t let yourself become a victim. Don’t let bad experiences ruin your life and determine your future. One of the worst things two nights ago was that I had never felt so powerless. I had no control and I was violated. But now I can take control and rebuild my confidence, and learn from my experience.

Nothing, and nobody, will hold me back. When I’m ready, I’ll finish this. The show must go on.

Thank you very much for reading.

Forever sidelined?

Tensions in Egypt are reaching boiling point. Egyptians are understandably outraged by the verdict in the trial of Mubarak and his government associates, which has absolved members of his government of blame over the killing of around 850 protestors. Although Mubarak has been sentenced to life imprisonment, many Egyptians feel he should have been given a death sentence.

This takes place against the backdrop of continuing civil unrest over the election results. Many Egyptians feel cheated, as they are now forced to choose the lesser of two apparent evils: either take the risk of returning to Mubarak-style government under former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, or gamble on theocracy from the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Mursi. By the time I arrive on June 15, I anticipate widespread protest (which is more than likely to turn violent) and a very tense atmosphere as the election run-off takes place on June 16-17.

Mursi has assured that, if he is elected president, the MB will retry Mubarak and his associates – a potential vote-winner that may distract people from apprehensions over the possibility of repressive theocracy under an Islamist government. Moreover, incentives for those Egyptians seeking change to vote for Shafiq are rapidly dwindling as he maintains his support for the Mubarak verdict and dismisses calls for his removal from the race on grounds of his ties to the old regime.

The battle for justice and for a political settlement that satisfies all Egyptian citizens is unifying men and women of various ages in protest. However, as noble as this defiance may appear, it concerns me that the social, cultural, personal and political rights of women in Egypt are once again being sidelined as the above controversies take centre stage.

Questions like ‘will there be more women in parliament under a MB government?’ and ‘will the MB condone or even support a resurgence of female genital mutilation if they come into power?’ are no longer attracting the same amount of attention now that more pressing questions, such as ‘how serious will Egypt’s civil unrest get?’ and ‘will young revolutionaries boycott the elections?’ take priority. This is understandable. Yet women are central to every political development taking place. As Mariz Tadros notes: “the political battles over who reigns over Egypt are not only being fought over presidential and parliamentarian seats, but also over who can claim more control over a woman’s body.”

I fear recent history looks set to repeat itself:

1) Egyptian women will protest alongside Egyptian men.

2) When the heat dies down, men will wrench control away from women, turning their hopes for equality to dust.

Despite feeling nervous about embarking on my documentary, as events unfold, I become evermore confident that I am taking part in something critical to Egypt’s future: the fight for gender equality after decades of discrimination and various forms of abuse, and the battle to make women’s voices heard as the struggles between men take centre stage. Moving commentaries like this one from Lorna, a belly dancer who will feature in my documentary, on the situation for Egyptian women from different social classes fuel my determination to do justice to this very pressing issue.

What happened to our revolution? A documentary on women in Egypt

In exactly three weeks, I’ll be travelling to Cairo to film my documentary on life for women in Egypt since the 2011 revolution. I’m nervous, excited, and wholeheartedly committed to producing a unique insight into this critical issue.

From the outset, I sought to produce a piece that was multidimensional and inclusive rather than focusing exclusively on a small cluster of Egyptian women’s rights activists or victims of discrimination. I wanted to feature an assortment of characters who would reflect the genuine diversity of women in Egypt. By using this strategy, I have secured a wide array of interviews with belly dancers, artists, writers, politicians, campaigners, legal professionals, and more. My only concern at this stage is fitting in so many fascinating people in such a short space of time.

Inspiration

Part of my inspiration for this project was Mona Eltahawy’s piece, ‘Why do they hate us?’, published by Foreign Policy. I found the forthright way she articulated her attitudes to be bold and daring, and it led me to seek different perspectives on the topic. I quickly became confident that this issue, though covered by international media, is certainly worthy of more in-depth analysis, as so many voices remain unheard.

This emphasis on untold stories made specifying my target audience easy: Unreported World felt like a perfect fit. Finding out that my application for a summer internship with Unreported World had been successful sealed the deal, as the internship in July will help shape my editing process in August.

Despite the bitter hatred directed at Mubarak’s regime from women during the protests, female representation in parliament has actually seen a drastic drop from 12% to 2% since his fall from power. This is a far cry from the gender equality and fair representation hoped for as women fought alongside men for change in January 2011. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces repealed a parliamentary quota that designated a minimum of 64 seats to women allegedly due to suspicion that it was manipulated under Mubarak to ensure women of his ruling party would be sworn into power. Sadly, the removal of this quota has led women to sit in only 9 out of 508 seats in parliament.

In terms of physical and sexual abuse, in March 2011, Samira Ibrahim brought a case against Dr Ahmed Adel for carrying out so-called “virginity tests” on women protestors. These tests were invasive, degrading procedures which violated women in order to prove that only unclean, promiscuous women camped out with men during the demonstrations. Although a court ruled these tests to be illegal in December 2011, the charges against Dr. Adel were dropped in March 2012 due to several witnesses retracting their statements at the last minute. This occurred in spite of the confession of a senior general that these procedures definitely took place.

These are just two examples of the whole-scale discrimination that faces women in Egypt and is provoking a tidal wave of resentment that is continually gaining momentum. If the new government fails to satisfy increasing demands for gender equality, renewed violent protests could well be on the horizon.

Progress

Virtually everyone I have contacted has offered been supportive, and has responded positively to my relentless pursuit of further contacts; I appreciate it must be a little annoying to be incessantly asked: “do you know anyone else who may be interested in participating in my project? Do you know how I may get in touch with X?”

As interviews began piling up, I realised I faced a new concern: narrowing the focus of my piece. In how much depth should I explore the role of Islam, and the different attitudes of women towards Islam as a liberating or oppressive force in their lives? (Check out this piece on MP Azza al-Garf for a fascinating insight into this debate.) How deeply should I analyse the historical context of women’s rights in Egypt? Should I focus more on women in Egyptian politics or victims of physical and sexual abuse?

Given the contemporaneity of the presidential elections, I’ve decided to place emphasis in my piece on what implications the newly elected government could have for women in Egypt. This does also encompass the issue of physical and sexual abuse, since this problem of systematic misogyny reaches far back into the Mubarak era and is still a political issue, given the fact that it is Egyptian police who have carried out abuse against women protestors since the revolution.

I received some great news a couple of days ago. Deb Bergeron of Rainlake Productions, based in New York, has asked to hire me to film shots for the company’s upcoming documentary on transitioning democracies in the Middle East while I’m in Cairo. Furthermore, I’ll be working with Fair Observer on my documentary, writing articles for the platform to log my experiences and observations.

Every day new developments prompt new observations and responses in blogs, features, and analyses across the web. I’ve offered a small sample of some fantastic links below – do check them out if you have a spare couple of minutes.

I’ll be posting regular updates about the progress of my documentary on this blog, so stay tuned.