Issue No.1201, 12 June, 2014      11-06-2014 06:29PM ET

Doing as men do

The Igmadi women’s group has been spreading its message of empowerment for the first time in Alexandria, writes Ameera Fouad

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Salem showing women different WENDO selfdefense techniques.
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Zumba instructors all teamed up on stage.
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Zumba instructors all teamed up on stage and
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Let’s start with “be”. Be self-confident, be proud and most importantly be yourself.

Let’s switch to “don’t”. Don’t be ashamed, don’t get afraid, don’t be disappointed, don’t feel alone, don’t be embarrassed, don’t be forgiving and most importantly don’t feel broken.

These are concepts that should not be thrown about without understanding their underlying meaning, according to members of the women’s group Igmadi. For such women, “be” and “don’t” are designed above all to help Egyptian women in ways that the group has successfully adopted.

For those who are not aware of Igmadi, three months ago this group of women organised a happening in Cairo in the shape of a dance in the streets in Heliopolis. However, the women do not only use dance as a way of expressing themselves, since they also train in self-defence, boxing, ways of empowering women against sexual harassment and what they should do in threatening situations.

“We thought that the Alexandria community should be introduced to Igmadi,” said Radwa Nabil, a certified Zumba dance instructor and the group’s Alexandria coordinator. “I wanted to help relieve some of the stress on people’s shoulders through physical activity, and I am interested in ways of combating violence against women and sexual harassment. I wanted to find ways of raising awareness among women in the Alexandria community, which is why I decided to work with the Cairo group.” 

“In coordination with sponsors like GIZ (a German development organisation), NutriFit, FitPlus, the Tamareen Centre, Aphrodite and Fun Castle, we were able to publicise the event,” said Nabil, adding that they were able to bring the best instructors to Alexandria to launch an Igmadi dance event in the city.

 “How can you fight back against a harasser if you are not physically fit? And how can you be physically fit without Zumba dancing,” Emeline, Igmadi co-founder and Zumba instructor asked Al-Ahram Weekly. “The idea is a combination of Zumba dance to train women to get physically fit and then self-defence techniques to help them defend themselves.’’

“That’s why we start our events by making the women dance, as dancing boosts energy. Then we teach them how to make basic moves to deal with harassers in different situations,” Emeline said.

According to Sherine Salem, an Igmadi co-founder, “through the group women become more aware of how to address the problem of sexual harassment in Egypt. For this reason, we wanted to launch as many events as possible in different parts of the country, including in Alexandria.”

“We simulate situations in which women could get harassed, on public transport, for example, or in the streets. The idea is to suggest what women should do in these situations, offering them solutions like self-defence or fighting back.”

“Some women in Alexandria have also shown us the techniques they use, how they deal with harassers themselves, for example, by staring back or shouting out loud in the street.  Probably most women in Egypt follow the peaceful way of just ignoring harassers. But in some situations you can’t just sit there and do nothing. That’s why Igmadi is there to help boost self-esteem and increase self-confidence. You are not alone. You should do something.”

“Our main focus is to help women not to feel low, not to feel weak, and never to feel broken,” Salem added.

One problem Egyptian women can encounter is the blame and shame some women feel when reporting sexual harassment. Shockingly, instead of giving them psychological support, the male-dominated society they live in aims to crush them instead.

“If a woman is sexually abused, she may think millions of times before going to report it or even telling her own family. Women are blamed for everything. Society blames them for the clothes they wear, for the way they walk, for the way they speak and for the make-up they wear. The problem lies in men’s minds and not with women,” commented Farah Heiba, an AUC student and Igmadi media spokesperson.

“Although the law recognises the problem of harassment and sets penalties, fines and even imprisonment for the harasser depending on what the situation is, in many cases women do not report episodes of the harassment since they find them too troubling to confront directly,” she added.

In this context, Igmadi aims to help women to feel they are not alone. The Nadeem Centre, for example, an NGO, can help women file a case against their harasser and provide them with legal support. It can also provide psychological support and therapy for victims. “You are not alone,” Heiba said. “It is for this reason that women from all over Alexandria have come to our events.” 

“This is the first time I have been to a dance event or taken part in self-defence training. I am really impressed. I didn’t expect such a large number of participants and instructors and the vibrant schedule. They didn’t forget anything. They even didn’t forget a place for the children, which is important for a mother like me,” said Mona Abdel-Latif, one of the participants at the Alexandria event.

The Alexandria Fun Castle teamed up with kids in the Kids’ Corner at the Igmadi event to provide mothers with the time they needed to attend. “It’s a cultural activity centre which provides miscellaneous activities for kids. We have banned Ipads, mobiles and even laptops. Kids need room to create, so we teach hand-crafting skills, colouring, performing on stage, dancing, and much more,” said Dina Adel, the Fun Castle manager.

“It is my second time at an event only for women in Alexandria. The first time was two months ago for Zumba dancing. This time it is with Igmadi, which is far more useful. I can’t tell you how happy we are and how much I personally have learned. We came here as weak and helpless women; now we can face any harasser with self-confidence. I could even run after him and beat him up if need be. It’s good to know that women can help themselves by themselves,” said Khadija Bassem, an accountant and one of the participants.

“My dream is being able to walk along the Alexandria corniche without being harassed and without forcing my husband to accompany me every time I want simply to inhale the sea breeze. I wish I could walk in the streets like men do. Is that so very much to ask,” asked Bassem.

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