The #MeToo campaign brought together women across borders and seas to tell their stories, shocking the male population with the scale of sexual harassment and showing women that none of us stand alone. AUC students, Laila and Nadine, were inspired by this campaign to make a poignant video showing Laila in the streets of Cairo surrounded by the authentic stares of passing men, giving an insight into what life is like living as a young woman in a country that is notorious for its level of harassment. We met with them to discuss the viral video and the power of the #MeToo campaign.
When you saw the #MeToo campaign, what made you decide to do something for yourselves?
We were always interested in these kind of issues, so when the social media campaign started, we thought why not do something ourselves to impact people and film-making is the best way we know how to express ourselves.
Your video targets both female victims of sexual harassment as well as the harassers themselves, what are the messages you sought to give?
For women we wanted to tell them that they are not alone and that they shouldn’t feel that any of it is their fault.
For the men, we want to tell them that it is not okay to strip down a girl naked with your eyes. We want to take a stand against this behaviour being normalized.
How did you come up with the script?
We literally sat in a café and started typing and it just kind of came out. It was everything that we felt. Before filming we came up with the script for the part aimed at girls. The part of the script aimed at the men we came up with after the filming experience itself.
How did you go about filming the video?
We filmed using our phones hidden away and just walked through the busy streets. We didn’t want to use a visible camera, because then they would just look at the camera. We wanted to capture the genuine harassment.
Why do you think it went viral?
So many people can relate to it. It is something we go through everyday so we would have shared it ourselves because this is how we feel so we would would want more people to see it.
What were the responses like?
Predominantly very positive. With all the comments and shares, it felt like there was this small community of women, of people that have been through what we’ve been through. It feels like a virtual hug and makes you feel safer that it is not just you.
We got a few bad comments as well including a harassment comment on the video, with someone commenting on Laila’s body. So we replied, and he became very very rude and after he wouldn’t stop we just blocked him. We didn’t want to block him at the very start because we wanted to get into a dialogue. With his negative comments, he was actually proving our points.
What impact have your personal experiences of sexual harassment had on you?
We feel naked, we feel that we have done something wrong. It makes us feel afraid to walk down the streets in Cairo, especially in the center. We really like Downtown, but the sexual harassment there is very concentrated.
What was the reaction of your families to you creating this video?
Nadine: My mother was supportive. My dad was like, ‘what harassment? You guys get harassed in Egypt?’. It’s not that he wasn’t supportive, he just wasn’t aware of the issue and now he is scared.
Laila: My step-dad said, ‘that’s not true, it doesn’t happen, you are downgrading your country’. No, we are just empowering women and showing the truth, we are not trying to negatively show the country, we are trying to help it.
Egypt is one of the worst countries for sexual harassment in the world, why do you think that is?
It is how they have been raised. It is not the education, because even people from higher classes do this too. Our culture is very chauvinist and sexist, men think it is their right to do whatever they want.
What do you think does needs to happen to help change this?
When we have children we have to raise them not to harass, so it comes from us. The men that have already grown up also need to know too that it is not okay to harass.
The current older generations might not be fixable, because one-on-one talk won’t necessarily get the result we want, the focus should be on raising younger children and how they view women.
Social media campaigns often get a lot of criticism for not changing things in the real world. What impact do you think the #MeToo campaign actually had?
The #MeToo campaign reached a lot of people in our community. Many men were commenting saying that they didn’t realise that we felt this way and experienced these things. Even for girls, not everyone is exposed to it in the same way. Some live sheltered lives and so seeing the campaign opened their eyes to the scale of the problem.
The #MeToo campaign has been criticised because once again women are having to take the steps to combat sexual harassment, even though the problem is predominantly caused by the men. What do you think of this?
It is very sad that it is women that have to work for not being harassed. Men can generally go anywhere and feel safe, whether it is nighttime or in an alleyway, so they get this freedom and then we are the ones that have to work to try and not get harassed.
Do you intend to keep making videos on issues such as this?
We have only done one campaign like this before on women’s rights, it was called ‘Not defined by gender’. We were trying to reach people in our community about how gender and their social constraints shouldn’t limit us.
We are currently working on doing an Arabic version of the sexual harassment video. We definitely want to continue doing these kinds of videos and not just with sexual harassment but empowering women in general.
Finally what advice would you give victims of sexual abuse?
Stay strong. I would advise them to speak up to the men if they can, so the men can realize it’s not right, but only if it is safe enough. Women should disregard all the comments that tell them how they dress is the reason why. You should wear whatever you want to wear!
Watch the viral video here: