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Be the Change

From psychology to social media and NGOs, alumni are taking a stand

By Ioanna Moriatis

“If you want to change an ongoing problem — let’s call it a social disease — you have to go to the core, to the root of it, and raise children on the concept of how wrong it is,” says Dania Younis ’12, co-founder of E7na initiative.

Across Egypt, AUC alumni like Younis have tapped into their personal passions and skillsets to step up against sexual harassment, each driven to action through unique learning journeys and approaches to create change at the individual and
communal levels.

A Community Psychology Approach

Farah Shash ’09, ’12, co-founder of The Community Hub consulting agency, has built an extensive career tackling sexual and gender-based violence. After graduating from AUC, she entered the field through an internship with Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance, where she helped provide psychosocial support to female survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Farah Shash ’09, ’12

While Shash’s internship sparked an interest in the field, it was her experience as a psychologist and researcher with El Nadeem rehabilitation center for victims of violence that truly set her career in motion. “This was the place where I learned everything,” she says, highlighting her experience engaging in a range of projects, from psychosocial support and research to policy work and lobbying. “It was very hands-on because I was working directly with female survivors for five years. I think this is among the most significant and important projects I’ve worked on because at El Nadeem, I was involved in amending penal code articles related to harassment.”

As part of a task force on sexual violence at El Nadeem, Shash helped implement significant legal changes, paving the road for the ultimate development of the law criminalizing sexual harassment in Egypt. Later in her career, as chair of HarassMap, Shash had the opportunity to build a campaign centered on the issue of consent.

“It’s very important to talk about consent. That’s the core issue of sexual harassment, but we never talk about it. So I was glad to lead this and see how people actually reacted and engaged in this discussion,” says Shash.

Alongside these experiences, Shash simultaneously took part in consulting work with Hana Fahmy, adjunct faculty of community psychology at AUC. Combining Shash’s expertise in gender issues and Fahmy’s monitoring and evaluation knowledge, they eventually came together to apply community psychology approaches to social projects through full-time consulting. “In 2019, we started The Community Hub. It is basically a consulting firm that uses community psychology, which means impactful, collaborative and participatory approaches to solve issues or provide solutions to social issues,” Shash explains.

Many of the partners The Community Hub supports through consultation are working to combat sexual harassment and violence, and the team is now gearing up to serve as a hub for more in-house projects that serve the vision of the organization. “We’re working on several areas of focus, among them gender and psychosocial support systems,” says Shash. “We’re also doing a lot of campaigning work and storytelling of female leaders or social entrepreneurs.”

Strengthening the Movement

Energized by the recent social media movement that has illuminated cases of sexual harassment across Egypt, Younis and Sarah Yassin ’12 chose to take action by building a collaborative platform, E7na initiative, which aims to connect activists and survivors through a national summit.

“The idea came to my head to create a summit because a lot of people, individuals and entities, emerged to focus on fighting sexual harassment — or they already existed, but there wasn’t any attention on them,” says Younis, who had observed the benefits of conferences in raising awareness and bolstering community connections and saw room for such a space in the movement against sexual harassment in Egypt.

“We wanted to present something different to the cause. We also felt that a lot of people are working individually and independently, but their efforts are not creating enough impact.”

Dania Younis ’12

In November 2020, in an effort to bring all of these voices together and create opportunities for collaboration, Younis and Yassin launched the first sexual harassment summit in Egypt, an event that garnered the attention of many across the country. “We were expecting, I don’t know, maybe 200 registrations and people attending, but we got over 1,000. For us, this was a success we did not imagine would happen,” says Younis.

Under the theme Stronger Together, the virtual summit convened activists and organizations tackling sexual harassment through diverse approaches and featuring an array of panel discussions. “We had UN Women, the National Council for Women, and representatives from different entities like GIZ, Safe Kids, O7 Therapy and Mother Being speak about their efforts and how we can support them,” says Younis. “We also wanted to highlight activists like Nadeen Ashraf, Nour Emam and Ally Salama, so we had talks by young, emerging supporters of the cause.” Other speakers at the event included female leaders and academics, such as Marianne Azer, member of the Egyptian Parliament, and Mervat About Oaf ’88, ’02, professor of practice in journalism and mass communication at AUC.

Moving forward, Younis and Yassin hope to hold more iterations of the summit and expand their work to develop educational content and programs on sexual harassment targeting schools, universities and professional organizations.

Leveraging Networks for Change

Similarly infuriated by the stories of sexual harassment that have come to light in the past year, Omar Samra ’00, UN Goodwill Ambassador and adventurer, felt it was his responsibility to use his voice to fight the societal norms that have perpetuated sexual harassment in Egypt. “I was really angry and frustrated at the injustice and the fact that something so bad that affects so many has been left to worsen day by day for so long. So I started speaking up about it,” he says.

Omar Samra ’00

Samra began by publishing videos on social media, speaking out against sexual harassment and showcasing his support for existing activists. As he educated himself further on the issue, he began to identify more ways he could reinforce the movement. “I started to realize how very few of the people who matter from a
media perspective were actually talking about the problem,” Samra explains. “All these celebrities and people who — combined — have tens of millions of followers, who would actually have the ear of the masses, were not talking about it.”

Motivated to spur more public discourse on the problem, Samra teamed up with media personality Sherine Arafa to launch a video campaign highlighting women speaking up about their experiences with harassment — an approach modeled after the #MeToo movement in the United States.

“We just made an open call for women to share their experiences, and I think in a day or two, we had almost 200 submissions,” says Samra. “So we realized very quickly that there are lots of women — of course, it’s hard and scary — who are willing to speak up.”

Samra’s passionate outspokenness against sexual harassment eventually caught the attention of Equality Now, an international organization aimed at building gender equality through a variety of avenues, including legislative approaches to sexual and gender-based violence. Invited to join the board of the organization,
Samra saw an opportunity to support the movement against sexual harassment and the broader cause for women’s rights and gender equality at a global level. “It’s definitely very rewarding to be part of that group, and it’s also very educational,” he says. “If you look at their CV, the things they’ve overturned and the laws they’ve passed, it’s just incredible work — so it’s really an honor to be a part of it. The hope is that I can use the platform of Equality Now to help here.”

Samra was able to help nominate activist Nadeen Ashraf to receive Equality Now’s Annual Changemaker Award, presented by Gucci and Chime for Change — a recognition that has brought her work with Assault Police even more into focus on the international agenda.

The Road Ahead

While each of these alumni have taken distinctive approaches, some working on
the ground and others helping to elevate the voices of other activists, all agree that the movement against sexual harassment needs to be sustained and advanced for there to be long-term impact in Egypt.

Younis with E7na initiative team members at MySafeUni Day

The movement needs to be situated within a larger conversation about masculinity, gender and equality, affirms Shash.

“There is still a gap because we see sexual harassment as an issue in a vacuum, not as part of a bigger picture of gender-based violence and patriarchal systems. There’s a larger framework we have to work on to be able to end sexual violence and harassment,” she says.

Speaking to men who may be unsure of how to involve themselves in fighting sexual harassment, Samra encourages people to take the initial steps of listening and acknowledging the problem. “When you do that, you realize how much injustice and suffering there is, and then hopefully, you get to a point, like me for example, and realize, ‘I can’t stay quiet about this anymore. I need to speak out.’”

To keep up the momentum of the movement, Younis also says that conversations need to evolve and target those who still do not recognize the severity of sexual harassment. “You cannot remove something that has been rooted in a country’s culture overnight,” she explains. “It can’t be treated like a trend where people forget all about it and then we move on. No, it has to be something that we talk
to children, students and adults about. If we want to see change, we have to keep speaking about it. The conversation must keep going.”

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