Last Thursday, I had the honor of being invited as one of the speakers in the second day of the workshop titled “Female Actors in the Egyptian Islamic Public Sphere: Increasing Significance through Increasing Mediatization?" organized by the Netherland-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC). The speakers were Ms. Kawthar the head of the social department in OnIslam, Ms. Dalia Younis, last year ,medical student who is the moderator and spokesperson for her mother Dr-Suzan, the medical professor and Islamic preacher, and myself. I’ll be posting about the whole event in a while. Here’s my opening statement:
Thank you NVIC for the honorable invitation. It’s very special to me to speak on this special day, November 25th is the international day for elimination of violence against women, such a very interesting coincidence.
It is very special to me to share my experience that has been a journey of self exploration that has been helping me a lot.
During my last year in medicine school which is a training year, and for a whole year after graduation, I was struck by the low standards women put for themselves.
My colleagues had minimal – if any- interest to their grades & performance, compared to the rings they have on their fingers. I found out that the ultimate role of a woman according to them was to get married before being 25, and for that anything was accepted; humiliation, abuse, quitting her career… when I started to talk more about that, I was called “a jealous spinster”
So In late 2007, I started my own blog in Arabic “A Diary of a Sinister Spinster”.
At the beginning, I only wanted to vent away my own anger & frustration, but then I found out that I was not alone thinking like that, and that I have been giving an amazing blessing; “The Voice”
So .. for two years, 2008 & 2009, I expressed my impressions & concerns about the Egyptian community and how single women are being treated. My main debate was even though marriage is a good thing, being single is not the end of the world, and I should not give up what is important for me just to get the marital status.
The biggest challenge when I was interviewed by media, or from the comments, was that I was perceived as “A spinster by choice”. It took me some time to keep on saying that the title of the blog is sarcastic and not expressive of how I see myself.
Most of the comments were supportive & encouraging from anonymous women & aggressive from anonymous men. Of course, I got me a few online proposals J
Then I knew that our main problem is that we don’t bring up our daughters in a way that preserves them any hint of self esteem. The concept of beauty that made facial bleaching creams in a Caucasian country a best seller is a very good example of how we here don’t raise our daughters to believe in themselves, until today I fight with that… girls still think to have dark skin means you’re not beautiful!!
The most controversial debate was when I tried to hit the concept of choice; talking about women living alone or women getting married by themselves (to say their own vows) were topics that I get comments on till today and a lot of them don’t agree.
I share my email all the time and my cell phone sometimes with people who comment, through which I got to know a lot of friends & people that I now know personally.
By the end of 2009, I knew that even though my anger was deeper, it was a stage, and that I had to evolve. So I started a new blog “The Purple Revolution” my own revolution, where the main focus is young women ranging from 15 to 35, women who are in the beginning of either a relationship or a marriage.
My tools are diverse now, using the Twitter hashtag technique, Facebook netblog services, and the different Google applications are helping me to reach my target audience, and helping them to reach me. Using codes like VAW or FGM is a very easy way to get in touch with those who have the same interest on the web, and to be always updated regarding these topics.
Let me give you an example; October is the month assigned by the UN to raise awareness of domestic VAW. A very big group of websites owners, bloggers, and activists joined their online forces by posting videos, data, simple straight numerical facts and posts of their own words about that issue. Through dedicating a tag or a label, sharing a banner, and tweeting about all that, the term violence against women was (and still is) widely and constantly spreading through the web.
In Sept 2009, I joined Muslimah Media Watch (MMW), an online English speaking website where Muslim women from around the globe emphasize how media portrays women in general in Muslim dominating countries, and Muslim women in the West. Naturally the audience is a bit different, as an Egyptian and an Arab, most of the topics I talk about are from Saudi Arabia, being the highly controversial and Lebanon, being highly exposed to media. As much as we get positive feedback, I still get comments stating that this categorization though it might help saving the identity but in the mean time it gives marginalization a bigger chance.