This article was originally published on Egyptian Streets by Farida Ezzat on July 13, 2014. There are many things that surprised me in this article and some things that I have personally experienced. The line that struck me the most, however, was this one:
I live in pain. I live in oppression. I live as a second-class citizen.
Dear Mr. President,
I hope this letter finds you well. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am an Egyptian woman.
Let me begin by telling you why I am writing this letter. I have absolute faith in my country. I not only believe in the power of my people, but I also believe in the pillars that hold together our society. As an Egyptian, I believe in Egypt.
This letter holds no political value. The purpose of this letter is not to stir controversy or threaten national security. I write to you today as a citizen to its President. I am keen on strengthening ties between us for the benefit of Egypt. In other words, I just want you to get to know me better.
Mr. President, as I mentioned above, I believe in the pillars that hold together our society such as honesty, respect, and patriotism, yet, I am baffled and beyond dismayed at the way society chooses to treat me.
I live in pain. I live in oppression. I live as a second-class citizen.
I live in pain every day as I wake up to prepare myself for school, university, work, or merely to tend to my daily duties. When I walk in my country’s streets, I feel degraded. I feel out of place. I feel unsafe. In our country, eight out of ten Egyptian women feel unsafe on their streets, and even more feel unsafe when on public transport.
My pain is derived from the way I am treated on our streets. I have to suffer through penetrating stares, vulgar comments and unfortunately at times, several kinds of violence.
I live in pain because the only place I feel safe is at home. That’s if I am lucky enough to find solace at home, because unfortunately in Egypt nine out of ten girls are disciplined violently. What is even more shocking is that female teenagers in our country are beginning to think that domestic violence is justified, so much so, that three out of four female teenagers think that a man is justified to beat his wife if she argues with him.
Metaphorically so, my people, or what has become of my people, have denied me the right to freedom, the right to safety, the right to live.
This is only a part of the hell that has become my life. Violence against women in Egypt continues to be a never-ending battle, 91 percent of females in our country have experienced female genital mutilation. The dangers of such outdated ideologies pose a threat to our advancement as a nation due to the fact that the majority of our society accepts such a murderous practice.
It seems as though as the days progressed Egypt has regressed in women’s empowerment. Recently, our beloved country Egypt was titled the seventh worst regarding political empowerment of women; out of 135 countries Egypt came number 128. Economic inequalities limit women’s abilities to empowerment themselves. A woman in Egypt is four times as likely to get unemployed than a man.
Education, in Egypt, is still a struggle for females; female adult literacy is 58 percent compared to 75 percent in adult males. Those numbers do not shock me as Egypt has recently acquired low-level statuses in studies including access to education, job opportunities and economic participation for women.
Furthermore, close to 50 percent of women in our country would tell you that they face problems at work that their male colleagues don’t.
The mere basics of a dignified life such as education and healthcare have become privileges in our nation. Proper healthcare and health education are almost non-existent. In Egypt, with every 100,000 births, 66 women die to causes related to maternal health and delivery, and 460 women’s lives continue to be at risk of maternal death after delivery.
Health education, especially sexual health education, is almost non-existent. In Egypt, 14 percent of overall births are unwanted; they were either untimely or unwanted from the start. This is an indication of the sexual inequalities and the profound unmet needs of women in Egypt. The lack of literacy and education concerning sexual health such as the use of contraceptives limits women’s ability to plan their pregnancies.
Meanwhile, several misconceptions about women’s health and health in general like ‘cancer is contagious’, causes men to divorce their wives if they fall sick with breast cancer.
Maybe those numbers can begin to explain to you why I live in oppression.
I live in oppression because when I was born, like so many others, society chose my destiny for me. I was destined to grow up, get married and have children. I was not destined to be lawyer, a teacher or even the President. I was silenced. I was told that what I had to say was not important because I am a woman. I am an emotional being that has no control over itself.
In a world that lives under inhumane circumstance, my ‘emotions’ have been interpreted as a sign of weakness. I am not weak. I was not born weak. And I will not be called weak. My ‘emotions’ are a sign of strength and integrity. My passion for society and for a brighter future fuels me to change. It fuels me to become the change I want to see in society. This is why I am writing this letter. I want to change my stolen future and I want you to help me.
Mr. President, if you may, try to understand the situation I am in. Despite my god given right to freedom, I was enslaved in a world that crippled every hope I had for my future. I was stigmatized. I was labeled. I was stereotyped into characters that do so little to express the beauty within my being. The names I was called, the labels I have acquired and the characters society drew for me do not, in their best form, capture the potential that is me.
So, I had no choice but obey society, for I continue to be a captive of society’s insidious torture on my gender.
I live as a second-class citizen. In our beautiful glorious nation, I am deemed unworthy of respect, unworthy of admiration and unworthy of freedom.
Despite everything mentioned above, I still rose to be the best I could be given the circumstances I grew up with. Despite being told otherwise, I knew my potential lied far beyond the dimensions of my house. I knew I was destined to change society, I knew I could save Egypt.
This is why when I chanted and shouted at the top of my lungs for freedom, when I marched in my country’s streets with pride, I wanted freedom for my country, because I knew that a free Egypt would entail freedom for me as well.
Mr. President, I have a request to ask of you. However, before I ask, let me be clear on something. I do not want your pity, for I may have been a victim, but I will not live as one. I do not regard myself as a victim. I am fully aware of what I am capable of as a woman. All I ask of you is to come to terms with my potential.
The issues I face lie beyond sexual harassment and violence. With that said, I appreciate the efforts our government has taken to ensure that such acts are not present in Egypt’s future. Yet, education, empowerment, health and social equality, just to name a few, are equally important.
Mr. President, I want to help build Egypt with you. I want to help build my country. I want my stolen future back and I will not rest until my future returns to me. All I ask of you is to grant me my right to live in my country as a free woman. I not only want to be a free woman, but I want your promise to support, uphold and respect my wishes until the last day you serve as my president. I want you to support my fight. My fight to equal pay, my fight to equal rights, my fight to equal opportunities and my war against terrorists that lurk my streets hungry for my body.
Last but not least, my last request of you, when you speak of me in your thoughtful and well written speeches do not call me “the mothers, wives and sisters,” because the truth is I am equally a family member to a male as I am to him a boss, a doctor, an engineer and even their source of protection like a policewoman.
I want you to support me. I want you to support me, an Egyptian woman.
Yours ever so truly,
An Egyptian woman.