Originally from Nubia, the brilliant researcher Fatma Emam has always been fascinated by feminist studies and women’s pressing issues. She’s worked as a human rights researcher, and was part of women’s rights organizations like Nazra, and Cewla for resisting violence against women. We’ve talked to the inspiring feminist about the issue of dark-skinned women in Egypt based on her experience and here’s her insights.
When and how did you realize your interest in feminist studies?
This started in college. I took a course on political theory, and hence got introduced to feminist theories as well. From there, I was really interested in the topics and started reading more.
My graduation research was about women’s rights in Islam. There was definitely a personal aspect to it. I remember when I was younger, the female genital mutilation debate. Of course, I didn’t understand it much then, but it sparked my curiosity. Islamic feminism, identity politics; intersectionality.
What do you think are women’s most pressing issues nowadays?
Identity. Unfortunately, we have this mentality that we all have to be the same. There has to be a specific set of criteria that people shouldn’t break. For instance, if I walk into an area that isn’t used to non-hijabis –with my hair uncovered, they don’t just see you differently, but they reject you as well. It’s especially prominent in areas that host refugee communities; the dark-skinned get bullied a lot.
Have you ever been subjected to street bullying, harassment or discrimation just because of your skin color?
The kids in my school once took me to the washing room, and kept washing my hands, trying to remove the black color from it. I was astonished. When I used to work and use means of transportation in Bulaa Al Dakror, I encountered a lot of sexual harassers, and racist harassers too. They used to tell me “Shica Balla or Jamaica” and other weird, sarcastic comments to mock my color.” I was also once in a microbus, and a lady tried to touch my hair for some reason.
Do you think that Egyptians now are more aware of the issue? Do you think there are some improvements in this regard?
It’s already a step that our constitution condemns discrimination based on race or color, which provides a base for combating the issue –but it still needs implementation. Awareness in general is increasing.
What kind of issues do girls or women go through solely because of their skin color?
Sexual harassment, discrimination, and more. When I was taking my passport picture, the photographer gave me a weird look just because my hair wasn’t straightened.
What was the harshest reality you had to encounter since you started working in this field?
There was Nada Zatouna’s story; she’s a photographer and director. She went to buy medicine from a pharmacy, and they told her, “Get out! We don’t give medicine to the black!” Refugees get allowance through an organization that provided health care, but they refused. She then demonstrated in front of them, and forced them to apologize.
Where do you think we can start in order to fully abolish the issue of racism?
Awareness. We need to understand that we are one and equal.
What would you tell the girls who face bullying, discrimination, violence, and other issues just because they have a darker skin color?
Always stay strong. Understand that it’s not your mistake, it’s theirs. Always report through any means. This is the most important thing.
What are your ultimate aspirations with regards to this issue?
I wish that the streets become safe. I wish that workplaces have equal and healthy work environments.
What do you think is social media’s role in tackling the issue?
People are now watching over and critiquing any racist acts on social media. Yet, social media itself sometimes can be a platform for cyberbullying and discrimination.