Women’s rights activists launch “Say No” campaign to stamp out abuse

Activists working for the rights of girls and women in Egypt have launched a new campaign titled "Say No" aimed at encouraging females to reject any form of abuse or mistreatment, particularly that associated with their gender.

Females are encouraged to reject verbal, physcial and sexual assault, the denial of various rights — such as the right to education and free movement — and dangerous practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

The new campaign, which is being promoted via social media, has the following message for Egyptian women: “Resist him if he verbally or physically assaults you; protect your rights and never ignore them; say no if you are trapped at home or deprived of education, work or friends; say no if any of your family advises you to genitally mutilate your daughter — it will damage her physical and psychological health."

The "Say No" campaign is the latest effort in an ongoing initiative named "You Are More Important" aimed at protecting the rights of girls and women in Egypt. Both are supported by the Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development (MFHSD), an NGO dedicated to health and develpment issues.

Perhaps surprisingly, the founder of the "You Are More Important" initiative is a man. As a gynaecologist in an Egyptian hosptial, Amr Hassan, witnessed a wide range of physical and psychological problems experienced by girls and women as the result of abuse and mistreatment at home.

He decided to take action, founding "You Are More Important" with the support of MFHSD, with the intention of including men in efforts to improve the lives of girls and women, since it is often men who hold most power in Egyptian homes.

The initiative sought to highlight a range of problems that can be tackled by way of changing attitudes, since many of the problems have social causes, including outmoded ideas. Issues relating to pregnancy, child health, FGM and caesarian-section births have all been tackled, often using unconventional methods. These include humorous comics that seek to dispell various myths about pregnancy that have been passed down through the generations.

"From childhood women begin a life story full of violence, and the troubles grow with her age," Hassan told Egypt Independent. "It begins with genital mutilation, then her family may keep her out of school, then time passes, accompanied by the fear of sexual harassment and the suppression of freedom. Many women do not choose their partners, and after marriage they are not allowed to complain of the husband's violence for the sake of the kids."

According to statistics from MFHSD, around 81 percent of Egyptian women have been subjected to FGM, a practice that causes a wide range of medical complications. Meanwhile, many women use the powerful pain-killer Tramadol in order to deal with the resulting pain, particularly during sex, and the extended use of this drug can harm both the mother and her unborn children.

“Genital Mutilation decreases a woman's sensation during sexual intercourse, and I’ve met a Tramadol-addicted pregnant women who told me that her husband let her to use Tramadol to reduce the pain caused by sexual intercourse,” said Hassan.

The new "Say No" campaign aims to encourage girls and women to identify any practice that they identify as abuse and to reject it, whether that abuse is aimed at themselves or their female relatives.

But, as Hassan points out, many women's rights campaigns have been limited in their effectiveness in the past because they have been aimed at women without including men in their target audience. He says that all campaigns under the "You Are More Important" initiative also target at men, seeking to win their support in the battle to improve the situation of girls and women.

“In our campaign, the situation is different, because the founders are three men who are defending the right of women to renounce violence,” Hassan said.

The doctor says the "Say No" campaign is also seeking to reach the widest possible audience by prioritizing social media, which has the ability to spread messages to everyone, regardless of geographical location or social class.

“Traditionally, women's rights campaigns target mainly the countryside residents," he said, "but after seeing people's feedback on the campaign's Facebook page, we discovered that a significant segment of well-educated urban residents are against our campaign. So we decided to reach the broadest audience by using the new media in this initiative, including social networks and YouTube."

Among the comments on the Facebook page are many from women and girls complaining of suffering from violence in the home, either from parents or husbands. Some have also told of the pain during sex as a result of FGM.

According to United Nations statistics, more than 200 million girls and women globally have been subjected to FGM. Within Egypt, 91 percent of women aged from 14 to 49 years old have been subjected to FGM, according to the UN.

Meanwhile, some 99 percent of women in Egypt interviewed in 2013 said they suffered from sexual harassment, while 47 percent of divorced women said they have been subjected to domestic abuse.

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