Sexual abuse against children is horrifyingly common in Egypt, with 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys reporting being sexually abused in some way. What makes it even worse is that because of the cultural taboos and a lack of sex education, most children are raised completely unaware of their rights and their ability to say no. Eman Ezzat started the organisation Hemeyaa to put an end to this; teaching children about sexual abuse through games, songs and acting.
Although Eman also works with the victims of sexual abuse, the main focus of Hemeyaa is prevention through raising awareness with all children. Visiting schools and nurseries around the country, Eman has already managed to spread her message to 400,000 children in almost 3 years. So what exactly is her message? “There are three main lessons I try to teach. Firstly that ‘my body is mine’, which means no one is allowed to touch their private parts with the exception of their mother and a doctor if their mom is present. Some children in Upper Egypt didn’t even know what their private parts were before the session. Secondly, even though they may have been raised to think otherwise, they have the right to say no. And finally, the steps that they should take if an abusive situation arises”, Eman explains to us.
“We teach simple catchy rhymes, so children can easily memorise them without directly using words like sex or abuse or harassment.”
The Hemeyaa sessions teaching these messages are in a language that the children can understand; fun and games. “I know children love coloring, singing and games and created a programme for children under 14 around it. We teach simple catchy rhymes, so children can easily memorise them without directly using words like sex or abuse or harassment”, Eman passionately tells us. And it works! Eman recounts, “A young girl with Down Syndrome exposed abuse from a relative, she couldn’t scream or shout, but she started to sing the song that we showed her”.
Eman explains that there are many misconceptions about the sexual abuse of children that need tackling in Egypt, “90% of abuse comes from the family, not from strangers. When I run sessions with children, they often come to me and tell me, my father or brother or uncle did that. In addition, in our society people don’t generally believe that boys can be abused but in reality 1 in 6 boys expose abuse”.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to this awareness programme are the adults. As Eman reveals, “There is a very strong resistance, some parents refuse to give the session to the children because they aren’t comfortable with their children learning about things to do with sex”. Despite the uphill struggle, Eman has not been deterred, “I invite many parents to attend the sessions with their children and they are very impressed, because I don’t even mention sex and abuse. When they see the sessions they completely change their mind”. Over the years, she has witnessed slow progress, with schools increasingly welcoming her sessions.
“It is my dream that all children in Egypt know this information.”
According to Eman, significant change is needed in the education system, with the Minister of Education repeatedly ignoring her calls for assistance. “We have to put sex education on the school curricula! I need more help and support, I spend from my own money on the transportation, papers, coloring sheets and all the people that help me are volunteers. We need proper systematic change and to shift the mindset of the parents so that they are aware they need to teach their children to stay safe”, Eman advises.
Ending on a powerful note, Eman states, “It is my dream that all children in Egypt know this information”, a powerful and important dream that must be wholeheartedly supported throughout Egyptian society!