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'Men Engage' Wants to Put an End to Gender-based Violence

7 June, 2017
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A young activist has launched a first-of-its-kind initiative in Egypt that aims to end gender-based violence. The initiative hopes to raise awareness among men about their role in society, as well as that of their female peers, and their responsibility in countering harassment while encouraging men to support women’s empowerment.

Ahmed Hegab, 32, a former telecommunications engineer, created the “Men Engage” initiative in 2015 to give men a platform on which they could share their experiences as bystanders, perpetrators and victims of violence through periodic workshops.

During the workshops, a group of trainers — comprised of only men from women’s and human rights groups — give the attendees inspirational speeches about their role in society and how they can help end sexual harassment and violence against women as well as support efforts aimed at empowering women.

“The program focuses on men because they are a crucial part of the solution to many social problems,” Hegab said. “Men should be part of the fight to end female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, [child] marriage and other problems facing women in Egypt,” he told BECAUSE.

Hegab added that the initiative also gives men a space to talk about their experiences with violence. “Cases of sexual violence against men go underreported in Egypt due to fears [attached to] stigmas. However, ‘Men Engage’ gives men an opportunity to share such experiences and encourages them to take action and to stop being shy and talk about them,” Hegab said.

Hegab first thought about his anti-sexual harassment mission five years ago when he was driving on the Nile Corniche in the upscale district of Maadi and saw a mob of young men assaulting a 17-year-old girl. Hegab rescued the girl by pulling her into his car, a move that resulted in the mob deciding to attack and wreck his car.

“At this moment, I decided to quit my job and do anything possible to end sexual harassment in Egypt,” he said. Hegab then joined Harassmap, a mobile and online non-profit organization that uses interactive mapping to try to reduce the social acceptability of sexual harassment throughout Egypt. Harassmap provided a platform where Hegab could bring the "Men Engage" initiative to life.

A 2013 United Nations report found that 99.3% of Egyptian women have been subjected to at least one form of sexual harassment, making it a pandemic that leaves hardly a single woman untouched.

Hegab believes that awareness about the phenomenon is growing, especially following the large number of sexual assaults that were reported on during and after the January 25 revolution and “that is gradually solving the problem”.

“The ‘Men Engage’ initiative is an excellent idea that will help end a phenomenon practiced by men through men themselves,” Randa Fakhr El Deen, the executive director of the NGOs Union against Harmful Practices on Women and Children, told BECAUSE.

Fakhr El Deen added that the initiative is not new in Egypt as there are many programs like these happening at Egyptian universities by non-governmental organizations. Such initiatives, she said, raise awareness about the idea of engagement and explain that whoever sees a person being subjected to violence should not keep silent.

The initiative, Fakhr El Deen also pointed out, has an important component that encourages men to speak about their past experiences with violence — which is not normal in Egypt.

“Usually men feel shy to speak about those issues, and they almost never report to the police about them. We need initiatives like ‘Men Engage’ in order to change this culture,” she explained.

Tags Sexual harassment sexual violence gender-based violence Men Engage Harassmap Egypt