Monday, October 19, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Taking a Stand

Taken on my way home from work

I officially have 31 days left until I visit the US, my first time back home since I arrived over 15 months ago! And I am ever so ready. However, I must say I have some anxieties about visiting. I hear that your first time back, you realize just how much you and everyone around you has changed. Sure you expect some change, but I guess there’s always that hope that it will be like you never left at all.

That aside, now back to life in Egypt. Just when you think you’ve had enough of something, someone shows you that there is still hope. I will not sugarcoat the gender issues here, as I know you have already been introduced via my blog and many others. What I will tell you is about one of the sweetest, strongest Egyptian women I know and what she’s doing in her own life.

Iman* was married about five years ago, but it was just something to do as she was nearing 30 and already an anomaly by Egyptian norms. She had one child and while life hasn’t always been easy, it was what it was. Atypical from most Egyptian men, her husband Rafeet* was anything but the bread winner. In fact, he relied on her for almost everything. And while she wasn’t happy, she wasn’t unhappy.

She went to an event one night and what Rafeet is very typical for is how she would need permission to do anything. Long story shorter, he came into the gathering, grabbed her – although she’d gotten permission, because he didn’t want to go he wanted her to be quick – and took her to the parking lot where he continued to verbally assault her in front of everyone. I cannot comment on physical abuse as I am uncertain, so I want to remain as true to the story as possible.

Unlike what I had previously thought (mostly that women just put up with almost anything), Iman has decided to divorce Rafeet. Slight problem: he took the child. Families got involved and once again to my amazement, Iman stood her ground. She informed the soon-to-be ex that it was over. He was no longer permitted in her residence and if he wanted to keep the child, he could but she would have at least two days a week, the child would continue with her schooling and he would pay. She knew he couldn’t comply with these necessities. He returned the child.

Iman is currently filing for divorce and her mother is her strongest ally, but Rafeet refuses to sign the papers. She’s in the process of getting a lawyer, and just so you know, she doesn’t have a great deal of money so these things are not so easily attained.

She said, “I know it won’t be easy, but I’m prepared to continue fighting.”

What you also have to understand is the social stigma that comes with a woman that is divorced with a child. Her chances of ever being with another man is slim to none. I think that’s a risk that she’s willing to take. She says that she doesn’t ever want another man in her life anyway.

This is extremely important because Iman isn’t from the higher Egyptian class, yet she exemplifies women standing up for themselves – which evokes hope in me that one day, things will be slightly different. She continued, “Tonight I will go to a wedding and I will dance the night away. I am finally free and feel a great weight has been lifted.”

So, Iman – here’s to you!

*Names have been changed to protect identities

***CAIRO SHAME***

There has been a website created for women to report incidents of harassment based off an online project in NYC that encourages women to snap pictures of their aggressors with their mobiles to report them online for other women as a method of precaution - please visit Cairo Shame.

If you are able to snap a picture, please feel free to email the site at cairoshame@gmail.com.

***There are some things that you must compromise when moving to a foreign country, but there are some things that you should NEVER compromise***

Take care.

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