When Mariam Mohamed was murdered in Maadi by two men attempting to steal her purse, 24 year-olds Mennatallah Magdy, national Kung-Foo champion, and Hebatallah Mahmoud, basketball and karate player, decided to launch their initiative “Boot Camp انتي اقوى”, offering free self-defense classes to all Egyptian women. Their aim was to stop what happened to Mariam from ever happening to a woman again. We talked to Menna to know all about it.
What inspired you to start the initiative ‘Boot Camp انتي اقوى’?
The increase in the cases of sexual harassment and the high rates of mugging and harassment victims were our main motivation. As women, we’ve all experienced sexual harassment and know what it’s like, it’s become a natural part of our day.
I’ve personally experienced it. A man once followed me from the street all the way up to my building where he tried to assault me. He was very surprised when I stood up to him and fought back until he fell down a whole flight of stairs. As soon as he managed to get up, he ran away.
This incident deeply affected me and then after hearing about the Maadi incident and Mariam’s death (peace be upon her) which took place close to where I live, I called my friend Captain Heba and told her we had to teach girls how to defend themselves against harassers.
We started contacting women and training once or twice a week. The trainings took place in gyms and running tracks. We found a lot of people needing our help and needing to improve their self-confidence. They started achieving this when more and more women started to join and encourage each other, telling stories of how they learned to defend themselves and put harassers in their place.
What are the goals of your initiative? What do you hope to achieve with Boot Camp?
Our goals are to take our fight against harassment to the streets. Furthermore, to teach women how to defend themselves and to raise awareness about the importance of physical exercise for women because it is not optional, it is a necessity for maintaining physical and mental health. Our goals also include supporting and empowering each other. Solidarity strengthens our voices when supporting victims and alerts society to the severity of its biggest disease, harassment.
Our most important goal is to encourage women to know their true power and that they are fully capable of protecting themselves by themselves without anyone’s help.
We hope to have a big enough space to teach millions of Egyptian women means of self-defense such as kick-boxing. We also want to reach zero sexual harassment in Egypt. Furthermore, we want to raise our voices against harassment apologists too, they are even more dangerous than harassment itself in our opinion.
From your perspective, how would physically empowering women impact their experiences of violence?
We believe that if a woman utilized her true power she can minimize the violence she experiences. If a harasser sees a woman fighting someone who’s trying to harass her and stopping him in his tracks, don’t you think this will scare him? Of course such a thing would significantly reduce the number of harassers.
This is possible and tangible because..
scientifically and in reality, women aren’t any weaker than men. In fact, women have a higher pain threshold and patiently take on hardships.
That’s why there are female athletes and champions in all kinds of sports both group and individual.
How has Boot Camp انتي اقوى been perceived?
A lot of people support and help us and of course, a lot of people criticize us too. That’s what we expected from the start though. We are facing people with a victim-blaming mentality that excuses the aggressor with justifications about women’s clothes, the places they visit, or the timings at which they visit them.
This perspective is extremely widespread in society and it must change.
What must replace it as the norm is the notion that self-defense is every person’s right (be it man or woman) and every woman should be free to decide what to wear and how to live.
How many people have signed up to your trainings so far?
So many! More than a thousand. However, so far, those who were able to attend are a 150. They actively learned many moves and are trained to handle different scenarios.
What are the challenges you face?
One of the challenges we face is that we want to reach all the women who contact us from regions far from Cairo and Giza. We are ready to train women every day but sometimes it is difficult to find the right place in every area so that’s why we’re trying to reach those women in remote areas by holding online classes through live videos and our YouTube channel. We also need to have a fixed place for trainings that are held here in Cairo.
How would you respond to those who believe physical strength is not for women?
We would say that this is untrue. There are many female Egyptian champions in individual sports and in boxing, swimming, and many others. Those women are just as feminine and they win medals and raise the Egyptian flag wherever they go.
Reserve your free self-defense training with Boot Camp through this What’sApp number: 01149288590. Follow Boot Camp on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube to keep track of where the trainings are held and stay updated on the fierceness!