[Content warning: this interview discusses sexual harassment and assault]
Nihal Saad Zaghloul is an Egyptian activist who started the Bassma/Imprint Movement in the summer of 2012 in order to help stop sexual harassment and assault in the streets of Cairo. According to the Guardian, Bassma “comprises a growing number of women and men who form street patrols, effectively preventing assaults on women in public by talking to the assailants and drawing attention to their behaviour. Wearing hi-vis jackets, the male patrollers walk the platforms of the metro in a bid to protect female passengers travelling on the women-only carriages. They form a human chain around the women and have never resorted to violence.”
Additionally, they also do awareness campaigns. From Nihal: “Our last awareness campaign was in the metro. We distributed about 10,000 flyers which contained an explanation of sexual harassment, the laws against such acts and general information about Egypt and sexual harassment. We spoke to men and women of different ages trying to change their mindset and helping them realize that blaming women (the victims) is not a solution and that we must all stand together against the harassers.”
1. Last year you started the Bassma, or Imprint, Movement. Why?
I started Bassma because I saw how dangerous sexual harassment was becoming. It was getting more and more dangerous everyday turning into sexual violence and into rape. I realized it most when one of my friends was sexually assaulted and we couldn’t do anything and we couldn’t go to the police because we didn’t know who it was.
Sexual harassment/assault are used to shame the woman, our society blames the women. It also happened on Tahrir ( a public square) so the police would not have believed us. This is when i realized that violence against women is socially acceptable among the Egyptian society and this had to change.
2. What has been the most effective way for you to connect with other activists working to end street and sexual harassment in Cairo and Egypt?
The most effective was through Twitter, people with same interest came together. Then we gathered the rest of the team through friends, working on the ground and through speaking to different newspapers and TV channels.
3. If there was a single issue that you wished more people both inside your own country or in the larger world paid attention to, what would it be?
Violence. Violence against citizens. When the state is violent and the concept of violence in a society spreads and takes over, it turns a country into a jungle where it’s the survival of the fittest. Women and children are most likely to be the victim of such a society. As such, a country can never develop with half of its people (if not more) living in fear.
4. Why do you love Cairo and/or Egypt? Why are you working so hard to make it a better place?
Why do I love Cairo/Egypt….the relationship between me and my country is a love/hate relationship; we fight, we love, we hate then we make up. I have no words to describe why I love it…it’s my home, my kingdom. I am trying to make it a better place because it’s like what a friend of mine told me, “we either fix it or leave it.” I have no intention of leaving my home so i am fixing it.
5. Favorite under-the-radar writer and/or blog.
- Womanisms by Patricia Valoy: http://patriciavaloy.blogspot.com
- My Secrets by Dina Eletriby: http://mysecret122.blogspot.com
This is the first in what will become an on-going series of interviews with activists around the world who are putting their feminism into practice.
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