We get to know the movement behind the mask, as we speak to the anonymous founder of one of the most striking and creative women's rights campaigns to come out of Cairo...
Despite new laws against sexual harassment, it still remains prevalent on Egypt's streets. It’s far-fetched to imagine that, as a woman, you can walk on the busy streets of Cairo without being subject to some form of harassment, to the point that there is a specific tactic you always rely on to escape those torturous moments; keep a stone cold face as smiling leaves you an easy target; the walk itself has to be fast paced, as if on a mission to kill...and look angry. Always look angry. Such an issue reflects on how society reacts to women in the public space and it takes more than the implementation of a law or two to change such a detrimental perception.
We meet with a young woman who doesn’t think of problems, she thinks of solutions. Having initiated a movement on Facebook called, El Otta El Mighamada (The Cat With Closed Eyes), she aims to create a haven for women to claim their rights in the public arena. How so? By putting on a cat mask and holding up a speech bubble that says how she really feels. The masked activist is redefining the catcall; calling out men on their behaviour.
Otta Mighamada is a term used to describe a girl who is innocent and virtuous so the movement plays on that societal perception. “This is an expression insisting that women remain unexposed and hidden. So we want to reclaim the term where every woman can be an Otta Mighamada whilst still being free to do what she wants,” says the curly-haired pioneer who wishes to remain anonymous. “The reason I want to stay anonymous because it will take away from the movement and will be about an individual if a face is assigned to it. It’s nice to think that it can be any girl and keep the focus on the cause itself.”
Smiling and cheerful, the girl behind the cat mask is one that is strong willed and optimistic. “The idea came about when I was working on a contemporary dance piece that we would perform in a public space. The choreographer not being from here kept asking me questions about why women seemed constricted with their attire on the street. I looked at Egyptian women and their relationship with the street and participation in civic life; their personal freedom of expression and sense of belonging to the society and if they feel safe in their community,” she explains. “If you think about it, we don’t currently have a strong, Egyptian female role model that every woman can relate and look up to. If we can’t have one, why don’t we have several by creating a positive community where women can inspire and encourage one another? When you see a girl riding a bicycle in the street and this is something you want to do, you see this and this is a form of encouragement...she becomes your role model.”
Interestingly she explains that her movement is one that is calm and positive, so unfortunately no women in herculean outfits storming the streets of Egypt with swords in the air screaming: “ya can take our lives but ya can not take our freedom!” She insists that this is a wholesome and “cheeky” movement where women help themselves by refusing to allow the argument of culture and tradition to mould women to be a certain way. “When you look at most western media and NGOs, they label Egyptian women in such a negative manner, painting us to be these helpless, ignorant, oppressed females instead of highlighting our potential and possibilities. So we should step up for ourselves and take control. This movement creates a visual character of young Egyptian women who encourage social change.”
The initiative is also very much an artistic one - we want to get ourselves some of these cat masks for everyday use. “As a graphic designer, I didn’t just want to work with just graphic design. I like using different medians and working on multiple things at once.” The page offers high resolution speech bubbles and cat masks so you can simply print them out, write what you want, take to the streets and send your photo to the group.
Check out their Facebook page here.