Fouada Watch is a symbol of Egyptian women’s fight for their rights. Angy Essam reviews the initiative’s activities
“I have opened the floodgates”, this is the slogan of the Fouada initiative that appears next to the face of the famous Egyptian actress Shadia, insert. Fathi Farid, 26, the general coordinator of the initiative, said that Fouada is a character engraved in popular memory, the heroine of the Egyptian classic film Shei min Al-Khouf (Something to Fear). In the story, Atris who was a despot punished the inhabitants of a village by closing off access to a river, leaving them and their plants to die. Fouada, a simple girl, was the only one brave enough in the village to break the lock, allowing water to flow and drench the dry land. “Fouada in Egyptian folklore was the symbol of Egypt, freedom and bravery,” said Farid. “Fouada represented the simple, strong and brave Egyptian woman who challenged despotism and conquered it. Fouada is the Egyptian woman of all eras.”
Farid explained that in order to hold the presidency accountable for violations of human rights, the Centre for Advanced Means of Development (ACT Egypt) launched the Fouada Watch initiative in a press conference in June 2012 after Mohamed Morsi was elected president.
“Our main target is to monitor the performance of the president, the legislative and executive authorities towards human rights issues generally and women’s rights specifically,” said Farid. Janette Abdel-Alim, 33, the field coordinator in Fouada Watch, said that the initiative issued five reports about the president’s performance since he was elected. “We focussed on the difference between the promises of Mohamed Morsi, the Freedom and Justice party’s presidential candidate, and his actions and performance after he became president,” said Abdel-Alim.
She said the initiative publishes reports almost every month and sends them out to NGOs, political parties, the media and most importantly the presidency. Fouada Watch is keen also to interact with people on the street. The initiative held a march for Egyptian women. “We walked about three kilometres in front of Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace with the participation of 35 parties, revolutionary movements and women initiatives.” Abdel-Alim added that they demanded women’s rights in the constitutional draft and a law criminalising sexual violence against women and girls.
Like other women’s rights groups, Fouada rejects the current constitution due to its lack of support for women’s rights. Farid said that through their campaign Dostourkom Batel Batel (your constitution is void) they are currently mobilising public opinion to reject the constitution. “We disseminated 106,000 stickers and posters all over Egypt demanding people to vote ‘no’ in the constitutional referendum,” said Farid. The reason behind that he added, were controversial articles, like Article 64 that says women’s rights cannot violate the rulings of Islamic Sharia law and the lack of articles on women’s rights in general, banning torture, forced detention and trafficking. The campaign spread to about eight governorates reaching Upper Egypt. In governorates like Qena, knocking on doors, talking with people in the streets and holding seminars increase awareness about the constitution’s defects.
Farid said that one of their most symbolic, famous and expressive marches took place the day the referendum results were announced approving the constitution. This march started at 12pm. On that day Fouada’s women and girls volunteers cut their hair and demanded that Egyptian women cut their hair as well to protest against the constitution approval,” said Farid. The march was called Sawt Banat Masr (the voice of Egyptian girls).
Farid said the action was not new to Egyptian women. Women cutting their hair to express their objection is part of Egyptian heritage. He said women in Upper Egypt cut their hair when men failed to obtain for them their rights. “In Upper Egypt when a woman cuts her hair it means that she has no man to get her rights back,’’ said Farid. During Pharaonic times one of King Akhenaten’s daughters cut her hair protesting at the injustice of the temple’s priests towards her father. “We were inspired by these two stories,” said Farid.
Abdel-Alim added that the initiative works on the ground through a network of about 150 volunteers, males and females. Fouada has launched campaigns to fight sexual harassments in collaboration with other NGOs and feminist groups. Abdel-Alim said that they arranged a campaign that was very popular among young volunteers to prevent sexual harassment. “It was called shoft Taharosh (I saw harassment). Abdel-Alim said the campaign aimed at empowering women by informing them of the legal steps they can take to report harassment. This could be done by spreading awareness among harassers and by documenting harassment to help the government combat it.
Abdel-Alim said that Fouada Watch’s volunteers have a camp in Tahrir Square whose role is to secure and protect women in Tahrir Square from sexual harassment and violence. Fouada Watch in addition called for a march from Al-Sayeda Zeinab district to Tahrir Square in February to protest against violence towards women and girls in general.
Fouada called on women to boycott the parliamentary elections. Farid said they initiated a campaign entitled Ya Set Al-Setat Kat23y Al-Intekhabat (women of Egypt boycott the elections). There were a lot of reasons for women to boycott the elections. Farid said that several passages in the constitution relating to women’s rights were scrapped during the drafting process, including provisions which emphasised physical integrity and the rejection of violence towards women. Also, the way in which the constitution was passed with just over one-third of the eligible voting population was another important factor.
Farid added that the most important reason was the draft electoral law approved by the Shura Council without resubmitting changes to the Supreme Constitutional Court. It does not specify any seats reserved for women, nor does it ensure the presence of women in electoral rolls. Fouada Watch considered this a deliberate attempt on the part of the Shura Council to exclude women. Farid added that they stopped the campaign after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the election was illegitimate but will resume their efforts whenever the elections begin.
Abdel-Alim said that Fouada Watch staged a demonstration with other feminist groups on International Woman’s Day demanding the necessity of protecting women’s rights.
Abdel-Alim said anyone who is interested in joining the Fouada Watch volunteers team, whether male or female, can contact them through their Facebook page, website or on twitter. Fouada has a special number published on its Facebook page to report harassment, violence or any kind of encroachment on women.