A recent study showed that 99.3% of Egyptian women are sexually harassed at some point in their life. This issue has received increased attention since the Revolution because Egyptian women have stepped up to speak out against mob sexual assaults. In 2011, three friends living in Cairo, Nihal, AbdelFattah and Hassan, had had enough, and so they formed Bassma in an attempt to challenge the status quo. Its mission: to end discrimination against women and stand up against the forces that allow it to continue. Composed entirely of unpaid volunteers, Bassma bravely confronts the issue by taking to the streets of Cairo. Their two grassroots initiatives involve working one-on-one with the locals in an attempt to change the way men think about and perceive women.
Bassma street patrols bring their non-violent message to crowded events, from religious festivities, like Eid al-Fitr, to revolutions, where the rates of sexual harassment are dramatically increased. The patrols are led by 16 men who canvas the area looking for signs of potential threats against women. Once spotted, the street patrol engages the perpetrator in a dialogue about the issue of violence against women, while other members of the group offer the woman support. The idea is to change the man’s perception of women, so that he appropriately places them in a position of respect in society and feels a sense of social responsibility to protect them. This method is targeted at countering the discourse on the vulnerability of women, and replacing it with the belief that men that stand up for women are courageous and respected.
The metro program, which is also intended to change the prevailing views of men, brings Bassma volunteers down into the metro. Prepared with folders containing information on metro regulations and relevant laws, they hit the metro platforms with the goal of talking to as many people as possible. Armed with techniques and approaches learned over the course of several training sessions, Bassma members distributed folders to over 9,000 people. Almost 90% of these interactions resulted in successfully engaging the passenger in a 2-3 minute dialogue about how this pervasive sexual harassment is a societal problem, with implications far outside just the incident itself.
Although difficult to obtain measured results in this line of work, Bassma had taken many strides to record the success of their programs, including a formal monitoring and evaluation process for the patrol teams. Through the metro program, the sheer number of folders they were able to distribute and people they spoke to indicates the progress they are making. Tangible evidence includes the successful operation of the women’s only metro car. As a result of the hard work of the Bassma volunteers, women have been empowered to instruct men attempting to board the women’s-only car that their presence is unacceptable, and they will be fined. Another indicator of progress for this young organization has been their ability to attract many new volunteers. The fact that there are more men than women members is a true testament to the success of their efforts.