In a male-dominated society, there is a disproportionately small representation of women. In Egypt, women are underrepresented in political and legislative bodies, such as parliament, the judiciary and the Constituent Assembly commissioned to draft the Egyptian constitution. Women also face a variety of obstacles in their day-to-day lives, from finding a job to receiving a high-quality education. In an effort to combat that, a group of students have launched an initiative called Heya (She): The Women’s Initiative to provide women with the tools for realizing their untapped potential and encourage the community to appreciate a woman’s worth in society.
“I want to voice my opinion about issues that concern me as a woman in the Arab world,” said Yara El Razaz, co-founder of the Heya
initiative and a business administration junior. “This is something I
have been passionate about since high school, and I believe an
initiative working for the good of women is an important addition to
The Heya initiative, co-founded by El Razaz and economics
junior Heba Hesham, aims to express student views on women's issues and
give others that same platform through raising the question, Heya meen? (Who is she?).
“My co-founder Heba and I had a vision and wanted to see it materialize
on and off campus,” said El Razaz. “We’re not trying to dictate a
certain template that we believe the ‘empowered woman’ fits, but rather
we want to provide women at AUC, as well as those in our community, with
the tools to discover that themselves.”
The initiative, divided into two phases, will focus first on
empowering women in the AUC community through awareness. The goal of the
second phase is to give women the tools to help themselves succeed and
then reach out to other women in the community. Students will assist
women in various communities by providing job opportunities or enhancing
employment through small-scale projects. This semester, the initiative
will mainly focus on workshops, lectures and campaigns, hosting
influential women from the local and international spheres to encourage
civic engagement in the community.
Heya’s first on-campus appearance was the Heya Meen?
campaign, which helped to formulate an understanding of how the AUC
community views women. During the campaign, students involved in the
initiative approached other students to explore how they view Egyptian
women. Male and female respondents wrote their answers on the back of
campaign T-shirts, and responses were classified according to gender.
The two groups of responses were then displayed in a cloud map on
International Women’s Day. The size of each response presented
correlated with its frequency, with the more popular responses appearing
larger on the map.
“We received a wide range of results, ranging from ‘kitchen’ to
‘independent’ to ‘strong,’” said El Razaz. “Overall, I think the results
were a great way of seeing how the AUC community views women – both how
men view women and how women view themselves.”
The initiative’s upcoming on-campus event in May will be a dialogue
in collaboration with Beyond Borders, a student organization that aims
at building mutual understanding among students from various cultural
backgrounds. The dialogue will revolve around the theme, The Best and
Worst Places to be a Woman, focusing on a cross-cultural analysis of
womanhood in different parts of the world, touching on laws, culture and
norms with relation to education, marriage and divorce.
In addition to on-campus activities, Heya is pursuing a
number of off-campus projects. The first involves AUC students working
closely with a group of 9-year-old girls. “Our project is basically a
tutoring and mentoring program with the girls at Amalna [Our Hope]
Orphanage in Nasr City,” said El Razaz. Each girl is assigned two
student associates who visit on a weekly basis to tutor them in order to
create a long-term, sibling relationship with the girls. “The student
would be someone the girls will hopefully be able to trust and look up
to,” added El Razzaz.
The students are now in the planning stages for three other
off-campus projects. The first is an entrepreneurship program for women
who have graduated from public universities, providing them with English
language and computer training. They are also planning a health
awareness campaign in Shubra to teach women about personal hygiene and
contraception. The final project is a rehabilitation program for women
who were injured or lost a family member during the revolution.
To encourage open discussions about issues facing women in Egypt, the Heya
Initiative is in the process of creating a blog, That’s What She Didn’t
Say, featuring weekly discussion topics and articles by students. AUC
community members are encouraged to read the blog and participate in the
discussions. The blog will be launched in Fall 2012.