Sexual harassment is a problem for women, and men, all across the world. One country that has received widespread criticism over it for years has been Egypt. A beautiful ancient country and culture, but one sadly that does not view women as equal to men. However a group of Egyptian women are striving to take the power back and are reclaiming the streets of the country’s capital Cairo, through the power of dance and photography.
For a bit of background, in 2013 the United Nations released a report saying 99.3% of Egyptian women and girls have been sexually harassed. 91% had been sexually assaulted. These are shocking statistics and it’s little wonder females don’t feel safe walking the streets of Cairo alone. More recently in 2017, 43% of Egyptian men interviewed by the UN said they believe that women like the attention and they admire being sexually harassed.
Photographer Mohamed Taher has a love of beauty, and equality, and sought a way to have a conversation about safety for women in a culture that predominantly doesn’t want to listen to them. His idea to start Ballerinas of Cairo was then born. What started out as beautiful photos against the grittiness of Cairo, evolved into social commentary about women’s rights in Egyptian culture. “There’s a huge problem for women in Egypt streets,” Mohamed tells Upworthy, “There’s a lot of sexual harassment … so now this was a layer of the project.”
If seeing a woman without a head covering or in tight clothing is a shock in a Muslim country like Egypt, imagine the stir of seeing a woman dancing and twirling down the street. Mohamed explains that the dancers feel more empowered and like they have a right to be there as they claim their space on the street through their art. “We have to give some voices for these women because we tell stories through their dancing,” he continued.
The reception for the project hasn’t been negative like Mohamed suspected it would be, considering Egypt has jailed several female singers over the last few years for breaking ‘decency’ laws and making ‘suggestive’ music videos for their songs. Mohamed was surprised though, he says, “I thought people were going to have some bad comments about it because it’s kind of a conservative community here, but I was kind of amazed when people encouraged us to continue more and encouraged the girls to dance more.”
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A lot more work needs to be done in this space in Egypt. Jen Tse of Times Magazine described it as, “To be a woman in Egypt is to live with the crushing inevitability of sexual harassment. The magnitude of the problem is epidemic.” However Ballerinas of Cairo is a positive place to start and Mohamed is looking at introducing it to other Egyptian cities in order to continue breaking down barriers and igniting a conversation, and space, where women are free to be themselves without fear of harassment.