Meet 3 Boys Who Are Defying Normal to end Sexual Harassment in Egypt

Sexual harassment is a ‘normal’ part of a girl’s life in Egypt. According to UN figures, 99 per cent of Egyptian girls and women have experienced it.

When cities aren’t safe for girls, it impacts their access to opportunity and ability to decide their own futures because they aren’t safe enough to pursue their goals.

Plan International is working in Egypt to Defy Normal – to combat harassment and dispel myths that blame girls for their experiences based on their clothes or behaviour. And through the Safer Cities project boys are being engaged, educated and inspired to work with girls to create a new normal in their community.

Meet three boys from Cairo who are ready to #DefyNormal and advance equality for girls.

AHMED, 17

Ahmed isn’t embarrassed to admit that he used to harass girls. In his community, cat-calling or touching girls is common and many believe that girls and women actually welcome harassment, especially if they leave the house without a man or without a head covering.

But Ahmed won’t be harassing girls again. He’s experienced a major change in attitude.

“Before I used to perceive girls differently,” he says. “I used to harass them when I saw them in the street, thinking they had loose morals. But now, I treat them like sisters. If I see someone harassing a girl, I protect her.”

Ahmed attends a weekly boys’ club that is facilitated by Plan International as part of the ‘Safer Cities’ project. The club works hard to challenge the harmful gender norms that contribute to harassment in Egypt. Using sport and the arts as a teaching aid, it provides a safe space where boys can talk openly and explore the reasons why they may harass girls or treat them unfairly.

“We had a sports day for both boys and girls – a football match, with mixed teams,” says Ahmed. “I hadn’t imagined that girls could play football at all. But then during the match I saw that some of the girls were playing better than some of the boys. On that day my perceptions about girls started to change. I started to realize that girls have a lot of potential.

“Boys often need to talk to other boys to realize the impact of harassing girls. Sometimes they don’t realize the hurt they are inflicting – they don’t think of harassment as a form of abuse. The Safer Cities project helps them to realize the harm it causes when, for example, girls are forced to drop out of school because of harassment.” – Dr. Jacinthe Ibrahim, Program Manager

Since the implementation of this program, not just the youth but all community members have noticed the benefits.

“Boys were behaving badly before the project because they lacked awareness. They used to harass girls. But since doing the project, boys and girls have started to recognise that they have equal rights and that they need to respect one another. Harassment has started to decrease in our community.” – Yousry, Ahmed’s father

HASSAN, 14

“I often feel bad when I walk around the streets…because I see boys and men harassing girls,” says Hassan.

Hassan didn’t always feel that way. “Before taking part in Safer Cities, I used to think of girls as inferior and that I was better than them.”

Like Ahmed, Hassan attends a weekly boys’ club where he has the opportunity to interact with girls’ club members. He goes to a boys’ school during the week so this is the only time he spends with girls outside of his family.

“Activities include doing drama plays – we did a play about a mother who preferred her son to her daughter,” he says. “We also play football together with girls and have discussions about dangers in our community. They teach us that we shouldn’t harass girls.”

Now that he counts several girls among his friends, Hassan thinks it’s deeply unfair that girls in Cairo are treated so differently to boys.

Hassan has a five-year-old sister and he has high hopes that she’ll have a life free from harassment when she’s older. “I hope my sister and her friends will grow up to feel safe while they’re out and about,” he says.

Hassan’s mother, Marwa, has noticed a big transformation in her son since he joined Safer Cities.

“Soon after he joined the project, I saw my son standing up for a girl who was being harassed,” she says. “He asked the boy to stop what he was doing and I was so proud. Safer Cities is trying to do something good by teaching children that harassment is wrong. It’s creating a new generation who will be able to eliminate harassment from our communities.”

MOHAMED, 16

“I used to think about girls differently,” he admits. “I never used to allow my sister to go out – I used to tell my dad to beat her when she did. I used to stop her from getting involved in conversations with my parents and tell her she should stay at home once she finished primary school.

But when Mohamed started going on excursions and taking part in sports days alongside girls, his attitude changed.

“Through Safer Cities, I learned about girls’ rights,” Mohamed says. “I learned that girls have the right to express their opinions. I learned that girls have the same right as me to take part in activities. I learned that girls have the right to receive an education and to be able walk down the street safely.”

Now Mohamed feels frustrated by the attitudes he sees among other boys and men who don’t respect girls.“There is clearly discrimination against girls in my community,” he says. “Boys are allowed to do anything they like. They can go out, they can go to school for as long as they like, they have more freedom. Girls are kept inside and forced to drop out of school early.”

If it were up to Mohamed, girls would enjoy a harassment-free future.

“I hope one day girls will be able to play a full role in society,” he says.

Championing youth to #DefyNormal

Normal is children denied their rights and girls denied equality. But who better to Defy Normal than our youth?

Plan International believes in the power and potential of every child. Whether it’s working to create safer cities or making education more accessible, we’ve been building powerful partnerships for children and youth for over 80 years and are now active in more than 70 countries.

We refuse to accept the loss of any child’s potential and the violation of their rights as “just the way it is” – and we hope you will too.