Hey everyone, my name’s Leila (she/her) and I was born & raised in Cairo, Egypt.
Not only is today my 17th birthday, it's also the beginning of my collaboration with Full Potential to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault and harassment in the South West Asia North Africa (swana) region.
Do you know what it feels like to be 12-years-old and have a disgusting taxi driver pull up and demand you to get into his car? Or to be standing a couple of blocks away from your elementary school, wearing a school-uniforming consisting of pants, a shirt and a sweater, and have two different men drive by just to catcall you? Of course, one of them drives by twice, just to make sure you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. No girl should ever be in that situation. Yet, at the age of 17, I deal with this harassment on a daily basis. And I’ve finally had enough.
I’m naming this project أصواتنا — “our voices”
The meaning behind it is simple: 99% of the women in Cairo have experienced sexual assault (SA) but hardly anyone knows about and until recently, no one was talking about. Almost every single one of my friends has experienced a form of SA. Yet, they suffer in silence. All because we live in a society that would rather make excuses for sexual predators and blame victims than accept the reality of what is happening.
Everyday I either hear about, see, or experience an instance of SA, and I can no longer stand by and just watch my community turn a blind eye to these crimes against humanity. Because that’s exactly what it is. SA causes corrosive psychological effects. It haunts women for years to come, if not their entire lives. It’s unhealthy; it’s unfair; and most of all, it’s inhumane. “Well that’s just our culture” or “what can we do about it?” is never an excuse or justification —that’s ridiculous. Culture has no relevance when women are being abused. That’s where the line needs to be drawn. Enough is enough. It’s time to start talking about what’s going on. We need to stand up and speak out against this corrupt system.
I want to talk about three events that made me realize I needed to act:
Earlier this year, news broke out in Egypt about a 19-year-old man who goes by the name of Bassem Zaki. In just 3 years time, Zaki assaulted over 100 young girls and women in Egypt and abroad. His crimes went undiscovered and unpunished for 5+ years. But after news finally surfaced, there was a domino effect. When one girl spoke up, 10 more followed which then turned into 20 which led to over 100 girls filing police reports.
A couple months later, the same group of girls that spoke out about Bassem Zaki shined a light on what’s known as the “Fairmont” case. A young girl attended a New Year’s Eve party at the infamous Nile City hotel, where her drink was roofied by a group of perpetrators. The details are too gruesome to share. But I have to mention: not only did the perpetrators assault her, they filmed it and used it as blackmail to keep her silent.
In July of this year, a Jordanian woman, Ahlam was murdered by her father for reasons, “related to family honor.” Ahlam's murder was Jordan's 9th honor killing this year and a breaking point. After news of her murder broke out, over 500 Jordanians hit the streets of Amman amid coronavirus restrictions. Online, thousands joined hashtag campaigns like #Screams_of_Ahlan, #Blood_Does_Not_Become_Tea and #Stop_Killing_Women.” (LA Times)
After watching these three events unfold, I reached out to Full Potential in late July.
The “our voices” project — أصواتنا has two goals:
1. Shed light on the reality of SA in the SWANA region and the #MeToo movements that are beginning to take place as a result.
2. Build a community of like minded individuals, dedicated to speaking out against SA.
I like to think of it as a safe online-space, where victims are believed and never blamed. Because it shouldn’t take experiencing SA to fight against it.
Experiencing SA is common, talking about it shouldn’t be rare and taboo.
Talking about SA is really hard. It’s uncomfortable, especially for survivors. But sometimes the most difficult things to talk about are also the most important. So let’s talk. Let’s be critical about the ways our culture allows this disgusting trend to live on. Let’s realize: victim blaming silences victims and lets criminals off the hook. Let’s work together to reshape our society into one where survivors are brought justice and their culprits are aware that they can’t justify their actions with empty claims. Let’s create a safe space. Whether you’ve experienced SA or care about fighting against it.
We’ve all been silent for too long.
It’s time for our voice to be heard, together.
That is how we will beat the system.
P.S. If you ever need someone to talk to, want advice, or just want to say hello- please feel free to reach out! You can email me at SubmissionsToLeila@gmail.com. I’m always here to listen and am the only one who will be reading your messages. Everything is 100% confidential, unless you decide otherwise.