I am turning 35 today and this year I want something special. No real presents, no money, just your undivided attention to read, think and Open your eyes.
I am in Cairo right now. I have always admired Cairo and Egypt for its ancient history, the Pyramids, the Faraos and the secrets of the scarab beetle. This mysterious world, brought back to live by archaeologists by digging out some of its secrets in the desert.
Cairo has recently been the centre stage for a totally different history. The place that was the starting point of the Arab Spring
Both eras have something in common that we undoubtedly know, but don’t like to think about: its violence towards women, maybe at the time towards slaves in particular, but most likely also in their daily lives. Egypt had progressed a long way since then, but unfortunately since the Revolution, it seems to go back in time. On my arrival here, it was one of the first things my colleague Noha told me about.
They have raped another woman at Tahrir square this week. She was fully covered, they stripped her naked and hundreds of men either cheered on or participated in the rape. They filmed it.’ The video was indeed uploaded on youtube. It happened a little earlier, and it was so graphic, the video taken down. After this it was amended, but re-uploaded again.
If you have chills down your spine, I will make it a little worse, but please keep on reading, as a present for me (but please believe me when I’m saying, it is not just for me). This was a quote in an article I read last week on gangs in Khayelitsha. The township in Cape Town I came regularly both for work and pleasure (dancing the night away in one of its many shabby or not so shabby clubs) in 2011.
When asked if rape was part of gang life, he answered, ‘We all rape girls if needs to be. If our enemies have sisters or siblings, we target them; we use them as weapons against our enemy. I have raped three girls already and one of my family members was raped by the enemy. You see, this is just a game and it’s going to go on and on in circles.’
I had tears in my eyes after reading this.
I really wanted to close my eyes and not think about it.
But I can’t.
The same colleague who told me the story of the fate of the woman at Tahrir square, sighed really deeply. Noha asked me if I could send her some kind of good news, some kind of hope. She was so tired of hearing these stories, and of course I did not have an answer to this. I tried by telling a story of powerful women I met in Myanmar recently, but then again I feel her desperation. When we think about rape, we think of ourselves. What if it would happen to us?
And if you open your eyes it never is a faraway story. In my immediate group of friends I know of 3 women already that either suffered rape or severe harassment. By people they knew. Maybe not the extreme and brutal version of what has happened to women on Tahrir square and recently the Indian girls that even paid with their lives for leaving a possible testimony of their experience in their community, or the thousands of rapes happening in war torn countries (also in the news last week, 25.000 Bosnian women have never seen justice served, none of their rapists have ever (!) been prosecuted), but in our daily lives. The effects can be as devastating. I have met incredibly powerful survivors who speak up and tell about their experience, and how they got past it. Somehow. But as one of them once said to me, ‘There is a life before, and a life after, and it will never be the same.’
So here is my request for a present.
I want a little bit of hope.
For myself, for Noha, but most of all for all women and girls in all our societies.
I want you to Open your eyes to rape and think about how you can help break this cycle, because rape does not start in a moment of lust.
It starts when a colleague makes a sexist joke and we find it funny – what derogatory and demeaning stereotype did we promote together?
It starts when we tell our adolescent daughter not to dress to provocatively, because she will not be safe – do we want to blame it on her behaviour when something happens to her?
It starts when we only tell our girls that they are pretty, instead of smart – what are we telling her in terms of self-appreciation?
It starts when we tell our boys they are not supposed to cry, because they are supposed to be tough – should masculinity be defined by the capability to hold your tears back?
It starts when we tell our adolescent boy, that they need to protect their sister of the other boys – do we really want to teach our boys that they cannot control themselves?
It starts when we think the word ‘bitch’ is a way to address our friends – really do not we remember that it is a derogatory term popularised by sexist gangsta rap lyrics?
It starts when we do not question the slogan ‘sex sells’ Do we doubt that years of objectification of women in media (whether in movies, commercials, magazines etc.) does not affect the way we treat or keep on treating them in society?
So my request to you: I want hope for my 35th birthday.
You can do this by posting this link on whatever social media outlet you choose, with the eye that I have drawn on an orange heart, which I folded.
It is a heart, because I want you to internalise this message and share it from the heart.
It is orange, because it is the colour of my country at the world cup. And for once in my life I want to be truly ambitious and reach as many people as possible like the craziness of the world cup, and let them think about rape and why it happens over and over again.
It is an eye, because I truly want you to look at this in your life close by. Not the faraway story that you read in a newspaper, but to look at the people around you and accept the problem is there. We all need to make sure we do not promote a culture of inequality, which supports the inhumane crime of rape.
Please show me, Noha and every woman you know that you want to Open your eyes and that you want to Open the eyes of others. We need the hope that one day rape will be eradicated from our societies, our cultures, our lives. That is the present I really want. Thanks already if you’re giving that to me.