Keeping International Women’s Day in mind, our intern Nermine, has written this compelling piece about the silence surrounding sexual assault and harassment in her home country of Egypt. We find immense wisdom in her strength to speak out, to break the silence, and we are honored to share her words here.
By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015
Where I come from, we (women) are raised and taught that silence is just the other side of femininity: an essential quality you must possess as a woman. We are not to raise our voices. We are not to laugh too loudly. We are not to object too much, for a troublesome woman is less feminine and therefore less desirable. We are not to express bluntly what we want or desire, for audacity is a smear in your reputation that will forever haunt you. Our silence is always taken as our approval and acceptance, when in reality we often keep silent simply out of fear, helplessness, or a deeply-rooted conviction that this is the best we can get. I know I have been silent for all of these reasons, and more.
Being labeled loose or slutty is the price we as women in Egypt have to pay if we chose to speak up and fight against this society. This society that taught us that domestic physical and sexual abuse must be kept behind closed doors. This society that taught us that this abuse is a normal part of our lot as women. This society that taught us that sexual harassment and rape are our fault and we must remain silent as these stains of shame will never go away.
It is a terrible fact that I consider myself lucky because I was only sexually harassed once. I was quite young and I never spoke about it. I shoved the memory out of my mind as there was nothing but guilt, shame, and helplessness. The memory has not been forgotten.
Looking back, a part of me wished I had screamed and fought, but I didn’t. But now I raise my voice about this ugly reality that women in my country are facing on a daily basis. Although lots of awareness has been raised lately, so many voices are still silent about abuse, harassment, rape and oppression against women in all its forms.
I know that sometimes silence can seem easy and safe; we think it will save us from more pain and help us avoid battles that we think we won’t be able to overcome. But this silence is poisonous, it is painful, it is haunting and it must end.
I salute all the strong and courageous women in my country and elsewhere: those who chose to speak not only for themselves but for others too. And my heart goes out to all women who still cannot and I pray that we may have the courage to speak up and fight even among the piercing eyes and pointing fingers that are ready to blame us. I pray that we may always know our value and our strength and believe that we deserve better, and I pray that we may together defeat this silence that was not our choice.