The office of Tadwein, a centre for gender studies, is tucked away in a little apartment block in Maadi. It’s managing director Amel Fahmy has spent her adult life working on issues surrounding gender and established Tadwein in 2014 to find creative ways of solving gender related issues.
When it comes to gender related issues one might think that Tadwein would mostly be focussing on women but we are here to talk to Amel about men; men and boys and the key to tackling gender issues. Amel is quick to point out that men are not only key to solving gender related issues but are also effected by them “It would be so unfair to say that men are not affected by gender roles too. When we do a talk on gender we also have to tell men that you don’t always have to provide, having to always provide puts such a stress on them, as they are the main provider in the home, they have to produce money. So, they find that when they can’t a lot of them suffer from depression, there is a lot of excessive use of drugs. You could also look at youth violence. They think there is a certain way to be a man, the way you dress up, stand up, face problems. For instance, if something happens in your area you must bring your friend and fistfight. And if you don’t do that then you’re not man enough. So, engaging in violence is a huge problem caused by wrongly constructed images of masculinity. As much as women suffer, and they do suffer more because of these gender roles, men suffer too and I think it is very important to address this when you talk about gender roles. I’m not just telling you that you have to change the way you look at women but I’m also telling women that they have to change the way they look at you.”
This is why Amel thinks sex education for boys is so crucial, “You can talk about the concept of masculinity (in sex ed) because there are also these misleading ideas about what is masculine. So especially with a younger group who are just about to enter puberty they think to be masculine is to go and harass a woman in the streets, or to prevent my sister from going out, or to control a female member of my family. So, discussing this all and having these debates in the classroom will definitely enhance a woman’s life in the future, because a kid is deconstructing all these ideas.”
When boys do not have sexual education, there is a high probability that they will turn to misleading sources for information about sex and sexuality, as Amel reminds us “Search engines show that Egyptians are in the three top nations that search for porn.” The effect of porn on boys and men can be incredibly dangerous, Amel regales us with an anecdote from the time she spent working on her thesis “I was working in a very poor area and the people told me that the reason they circumcised their women is because they don’t want them to end up like the women they saw in porn, the blonde women, that have three men having sex with her and it’s not enough because she is not circumcised.”
Talking with boys about relationships in sexual education might also be a good way to make them rethink domestic violence, after all “statistically people who are engaged in domestic violence are most likely people that have witnessed or experienced it. Kids have been exposed to a lot of violence from a young age, child abuse is also very high here in Egypt. But I think, at least when you bring that discussion into the school, then a person might realise that they have been abused, that they have been a victim of domestic violence. That might help a victim reassess and contemplate the violence before they too become a perpetrator.”
Again, and again in our conversation Amel returns to the importance of educating men from a young age about gender issues, not only the importance but the necessity of doing so; “All of these help lines, and programs, and shelters for women- which are all good- are treating the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.” Indeed, often in attempting to treat the symptoms of the problem the root can be inadvertently strengthened, “During the revolution, when things like Tahrir bodyguards were set up to protect women, the thing we were debating sometimes is if you only have men there, you are reinforcing the whole patriarchal system that men rescue women. That women need men. But this is the same thought system that makes men think, ‘I am stronger, so I can force my power on you. I can harass you.’ It’s somehow connected.”
With Tadwein Amel hopes that she might start educating girls and boys, helping them to discuss these issues in a safe environment. But until then she has one piece of advice when we ask her how parents might help, “Set an example.”