Is violence a common occurrence in your community?
Domestic violence and sexual harassment is a big issue. It happens on public transport and even outside educational institutions. I’ve seen boys and young men gather around the school gates, to harass girls or follow them as they leave. Harassment is usually verbal, but it can escalate to touching or physical assault. As Girl Guides, we have been campaigning to put a stop to violence against girls and women, through educational sessions, marches and rallies.
If a girl is being abused or harassed, is she able to speak out about it?
Girls often feel like it’s their fault and for that reason, they don’t want to report it. At the Egyptian Federation for Scouts and Girl Guides, we are running sessions to address this culture. We tell them it’s not their fault. The girl is not the provoker. It’s important to speak out.
How do girls react when you encourage them to speak out?
Some girls have showed resistance, but others are cooperating. Most girls we talk to understand the importance of speaking out. It’s working as well. When I follow up with our Girl Guides, they tell me how they’ve taken action and how they’ve defended girls who are being harassed on the bus. We have seen a real transformation.
How are you campaigning for change?
We are joining forces with the government and other NGOs and we are making our voices heard as far as possible.
What do you hope to achieve by campaigning for change?
We want to change the mindset of people and make sure survivors of gender-based violence know it’s not their fault. The penalty for rape now carries up to the death penalty, but girls are still fearful to report instances of violence. It can be hard as girls can face issues when they report the crime. In some instances, the perpetrator will offer to marry the survivor and families have been known to accept the offer to protect their honour. It’s not the answer, as the survivor may be subjected to further assault. We need to educate people so they understand why violence is wrong.
What motivates you to work on this issue?
I have a daughter and I want to make sure the world is a better place when she grows up. I’ve also met survivors of gender-based violence – and it’s clear it’s an issue that must be addressed. Violence extends to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is still practised in poorer parts of the country. The consequences are life-changing and girls and women must be able to speak out about what’s happened to them. I am committed to addressing this issue, along with the Government, NGOS and my Girl Guide group, who is campaigning to put a stop to this practice.
In your experience, how has Girl Guiding supported those who’ve suffered violence?
Personally, Girl Guides has provided a safe space for me to speak out, without the fear of being judged. It’s an opportunity for girls to learn, evolve and flourish. Girls are able to forge a connection, create a sense of sisterhood and stand up for each other no matter the consequence.