“Because I’m a man … I will protect her against female genital mutilation FGM, also known as female circumcision; I will respect my female colleague; I will protect her from harassment; I will defend her against any form of violence; I will encourage her to play sports; I will urge her to be well educated; I will support her to rank in the highest posts; I and will help her inside and outside the home.” These are the seven objectives of the campaign “Because I’m a Man”, launched by the Egyptian National Council for Women (NCW) in December 2017 in Cairo, and touring Egypt’s 27 governorates.
The initiative calls for equality between men and women through acknowledging the pivotal role men play in the empowerment of women and establishing gender equality. It is led by young men who address other young men with the perspective of raising their awareness of the significance of women’s rights.
In Egypt, women suffer discrimination owing to entrenched centuries-old practices that foster violence against them. Such practices include FGM; child-marriage; curtailed schooling, domineering male attitudes that dictate whether or not women may work outside the home and, in some cases, exclusion from high ranking posts. Because women’s issues are concerns of the entire society and not of women alone, and because advancement of women invariably brings about advancement of the community as a whole, the NCW decided to recruit men in the fight for women rights. It is implicit, however, that men should believe in women’s rights in the first place.
“The initiative aims at achieving tangible positive changes regarding practices harmful to women in the Egyptian society,” says Isis Mahmoud, General Director of awareness and training at the NCW. She believes that “a positive change in the attitude of Egyptian men towards women’s issues can only be achieved through the support of youth and men.’
Ever since it was officially launched in 2017, the initiative has been met with a remarkably positive response among university youth, and was supported by numerous public figures including football star Mohamed Salah and Tunisian actor Dhafir L’Abidine, which served to give it an edge.
The initiative has not been restricted to Egypt’s big cities, but had extended to villages and hamlets in streets, universities, sidewalk cafes, churches, mosques, and sports-clubs. So far, the message has been delivered to some 460,000 youth and men, and realised a great success on its social media platform, reaching ten million followers, male and female.
Recently, “Because I am a Man” concluded its latest activity, held in cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The NCW had decided on football, the most popular game in Egypt, as a means to effectively deliver its message to Egyptians in general, and young men in specific. A futsal competition was launched in all of Egypt’s governorates, and used as a vehicle to transmit the message of women’s rights to the masses. It succeeded brilliantly, most impressively because it depended on the youth and their personal communication skills to deliver it. The youth also resorted to innovative activities in parallel with the futsal competition, including interactive theatre, and playing collective games.
Through 3149 activities held from January to April 2020, the futsal competition succeeded in delivering the “Because I’m a Man” message to some 20,000 beneficiaries.
Nihad Abulkomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, noted that “men and women are partners. To men, women are sisters, daughters, wives, and colleagues. Men’s concern for women’s well-being and happiness leads to more stable, content lives.”
Ms Abulkomsan stressed that men should not be the source of offence to women such as in violence, harassment, and oppression; but should rather treat women with care and respect. “Men should accept their partners, the women, as the full human beings that they are, respecting their thoughts, inclinations, and will,” she said.
Mina Ashraf was among the young men who actively participated in the initiative. “I took part in the initiative because I loved to talk to youth, man-to-man, about women’s rights. Everyone urges women to interact and engage in societal activity, education, and politics. Sometimes they forget that many women are simply not allowed to do so. They are under the dominion of the men in their lives: the father, husband, brother, or even colleague,” Mr Ashraf noted.
“When we talked to university students,” Mr Ashraf said, “we were frequently struck by the extremist thought that prevailed among them vis-a-vis women. We had to argue with them, upholding reasonable thinking till, in many cases, we succeeded in changing their minds about women’s issues and rights.”
On the other hand, not a few university males were well aware of women’s plight, and supportive of their rights.
“Our talk was met with great interaction by university students,” said Ayman al-Effendi, lawyer and coordinator of “Because I’m a Man”.
12 October 2020