By Hadeel Hegazy
A new Facebook campaign has been launched calling for Egyptian women to take back their right to dress as they please: Hanlbes Fasateen, or We Will Wear Dresses. The event is set to take place on 24 August and encourages women to wear a dress or skirt as they go about their days without being harassed or deemed inappropriate.
“The aim behind the campaign is urging girls to feel free to wear what they want; it’s their basic right,” said Michael Nazeehs, one of the campaign founders. The slogan of the campaign stems from the fact that many women feel restricted in their attire due to prevalent sexual harassment on the street. “We want them to say, ‘we are not afraid; we will wear what we want,’” Nazeehs said.
It is not the first campaign the group that Nazeehs is a part of has launched. “We have launched the No To Harassment campaign to push girls to speak of the harassment incidents they face on daily basis, and to spread awareness that the girl here is the victim,” he said. Another initiative is the Understand Me and Don’t Hurt Me campaign, which calls attention to female genital mutilation (FGM) and calls for women to embrace feminism.
Many times the blame for sexual harassment has been squarely put on the victim, often claiming she was dressed inappropriately, completely disregarding the fact that many modestly and conservatively dressed women are sexually harassed and assaulted. We Will Wear Dresses was launched after an incident in the Delta city of Tanta where a young woman who objected to harassment by standing in front of her harasser’s car was run over in response. The driver was arrested, but released not long after. This latest campaign is yet another social media initiative launched by young Egyptians to bring attention to the terrible situation women are facing in the country today.
The accompanying hashtag was picked by Twitter users, and hundreds of tweets expressed support for the idea. The campaign became popular shortly after it was launched, with 2,100 people confirming their “attendance” of the event to date, meaning they will wear a dress or skirt on 24 August.
We Will Wear Dresses received strong supports from Egyptian writer and poet Fatma Naoot, who noted the changing attitude towards women’s dress while sharing old black-and-white photos of her mother, aunt and grandmother from the middle of the century. “Dresses used to be an icon for elegancy and femininity at this time,” Naoot said. “People never behaved but with polite words.”
Nazeehs said that people’s feedback was mostly positive, and said: “the campaign was released right after Eid and it’s ongoing,” adding that he expects it to last longer than the 24 August, since many people are responding so favourably towards it.
The reactions on twitter discussed the background to the campaign, and the underlying problems that women face. One of the female tweeps said “wearing a dress in Egyptian streets nowadays is a heroic act; Egyptian girls struggle for their personal freedom.”
The campaign has also had its detractors. “What religion and which country’s traditions allow women to walk in streets with such outfits?” one of its opponents asked on Twitter. “Being free means free to take off your clothes?”