Behavioral campaign "Taa Marbouta" encourages women to break through the barriers and realize their potential while raising society's awareness about how much even the slightest of infringements on women's rights really cost us.
History is definitely not on women’s side in Egypt. If you live in Egypt, this won’t come off as a surprise to you: studies show that a variation from 83 per cent to 95 per cent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in their lifetime, whether in public spaces, work or home. In another study, it’s estimated that 7.88 million women experience gender-based violence in Egypt, and the figure is probably a lot higher since most cases are tabooed and therefore, aren’t reported or discussed publicly. Egypt, was also found to be the worst country for women to live in from the 22 Arab states surveyed. Yes, that’s right, we’ve even outdone Saudi Arabia when it comes to impeding on the humanity of women.
The degradation of women’s rights and the prominent sexism and misogyny openly displayed in Egypt, coupled with poor measures taken by the government to elevate women’s status, has caused a surge in the efforts of civil society and non-governmental institutions in order to battle the crisis. The National Council for Women of Egypt – in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women, the United Nations Development Program, and the Swedish Embassy – launched a media campaign in the form of television ads under the slogan “Taa Marbouta is your Strength”. The Taa Marbouta, in the Arabic language, is a letter, but more importantly, it is used as a feminine pronoun added to the end of a word. It not only denotes the feminine, but interestingly, it calligraphically looks like two arms bound together. The initiative aired in Ramadan strategically to capitalize on the huge viewership of television shows during the holy month, as to reach more people on a national level.
We spoke to Mohamed Megahed, Communication Officer of the UNFPA in Egypt, to elaborate more on the aim of the campaign, he explains that, “it’s the first behavioral campaign of its kind; as many forces in the women’s rights scene join together to create a whole and overarching campaign that tackles many different issues women face due to sexism and ingrained discrimination, instead of handling one subject at a time in separate shattered campaigns. Taa Marbouta combines all movements in a united singular vision.”
Egyptian society perceives women as second class citizens and lesser human beings in comparison to their male counterparts. The patriarchy is maintained through actively seeking to confine women to traditional gender roles that are limiting, and mainly domestic in nature; as a result, this notion is internalised by women and weighs them down. Therefore, Taa Marbouta hopes to help women realize and unleash the strength within, to come out and claim that their power lies within their femininity in a country where the mere burden of existing as a woman is exhausting. Many feminist campaigns aim to help mitigate violence afflicted on women like sexual harassment or genital mutilation – however, Taa Marbouta is not limited to that, as in its mission is to empower women, it changes the rhetoric and addresses microagressions, the implications of gender roles, and showcases the social constructs and how they affect women's psyche, and limit their potential and ability to dream big and actualise those dreams. Also, when addressing the harasser, the campaign makes sure to point out the criminality and immensity of his action, and that violence begets violence; therefore, a possible ramification for the hatred that he extends is bound to hurt him.
“Taa Marbouta addresses not only women, but the community as a whole, and seeks to alter how society views women’s roles, while also handling subjects like sexual harassment in an effort to empower women not to be afraid to take actions against the perpetrators, and break the cycle of victim-blaming that stops the bystander from actively trying to help,” says Megahed. The videos in the campaign depict women in many situations facing daily challenges in Egypt, and it shows them breaking through the shackles and standing up for themselves, in spite of being born into odds that are against them. It shows an understanding of women's experiences and how they're systematically oppressed through institutionalised sexism and misogyny.
The epitome of women empowerment is for women to feel unashamed of their femininity, and to be unhindered from achieving their own individual dreams. The campaign seeks to highlight how women’s status in society affects the country politically and socially as a whole. Countries where women are more empowered are found to, statistically, perform economically better. A recent study estimates the economic cost of gender-based violence in Egypt alone to be around 1.49 billion pounds, ranging from direct obvious costs, to indirect costs of women being excluded from certain fields and losing the skills that women have to add to the workplace.
While the effectiveness of behavioral campaigns can’t easily be measured, there is no doubt that such efforts affect the community and its perceptions immensely on the long run – you can’t undo hundreds of years of systemic sexism easily.
The Taa Marbouta campaign has other phases to come; look out for them on TV or check their videos out on UNFPA, or their hashtag سر_قوتك#.