The Imprint Movement was formed and began its mission in the summer of 2012. While the Revolution in Egypt brought a new sense of hope and optimism there remained a great deal of work to sustain the ideals that characterised it. Committed to promoting mutual respect and cooperation amongst all members of Egyptian society, Imprint began by focussing on sexual harassment and assault. The name ‘Imprint’ stems from our desire to leave a positive mark on the world we live in. We believe that society must be engaged in solving this issue and urge people to do so through non-violent intervention and open dialogue. People are encouraged to imagine the resolutions and strategies to combat sexual harassment and assault themselves and in so doing they also realize the extent to which this problem affects their lives and those of their friends and families. Our short term goal is to see a marked decrease in occurrences of harassment and assault on the street and for women to feel able to go about their business without fear.
Best known for our patrols and awareness campaigns in Cairo’s metro’s and city streets, Imprint has reached out to universities across the country to inform and motivate others. One the 4th of April 2014 Imprint went to Suez University and in cooperation with student groups held a workshop with the goal of enabling these groups to raise awareness and combat sexual harassment both in their daily lives and as student groups on campus. Students were given a definition of sexual harassment and asked to brainstorm causes and contributing factors. They were then asked to place themselves ‘in the shoes’ of both harassers and the harassed and to imagine the expected social response to situations as part of envisaging their effects and the way they affect others.
Students then campaigned with Imprint, engaging other students in activities geared towards rethinking the impact of sexual harassment. In one activity, students were faced with a mirror that had a specific message aimed at the male participants and then at the female participants. Males were asked “Why are you wearing this today?” and females “Who will take your rights back other than you?” Student reactions to activities varied. Initially they were uncomfortable but gradually became more comfortable in voicing their opinions. Many fell back on culture as an excuse for the prevalence of sexual harassment while others began to take apart the phenomenon itself.
” Why are you wearing this today?” is a question women face before leaving the house and the aim was to get men thinking about the positions their actions put women in to generate a sense of empathy. Women are faced with the question of who is going to take their rights back for them in order to motivate them to act. Another activity was the Theatre of the Oppressed, which uses theatre as means of promoting social and political change, during which acting becomes a method of urging the would be audience to think and become ‘spect-actors’ who would in the future move to intervene if they witnessed someone being harassed or attacked. The audience is drawn into a scenario that is acted out related to harassment and assault and asked to take a position within the story. The students were asked to construct an ending to the story and through this realise their power to change the status quo and the reality in which they are living.
It is important for Egyptians to be proactive and engage with the world both prepared to defend their rights and knowing that harmonious interaction is the key to eliminating many social problems especially gender based violence.
*Sandra A Fernandez is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology from University of St Andrews. She’s currently a research Fellow at the American University in Cairo. She is part of the Fundraising Team of The Imprint Movement and Co-Founder of The Turn Left.