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New documentary uses art to resist sexual harassment in Egypt

people'sgirls

Promotional still from the upcoming documentary “The People’s Girls.” (The People’s Girls)

An upcoming documentary film, “The People’s Girls,” has become one of the latest efforts to combat gender violence in Egypt. The film follows three Egyptians — one young male “tuk tuk” driver and two young women — through their experiences with sexual harassment, and how they are fighting the dominant patriarchal views that are still prevelant in Egypt.

The film’s creators, Tinne Van Loon and Colette Ghunim, stated that their inspiration to make this film came from their own experiences as students in Egypt and a desire to show what average Egyptian women endure on a daily basis. Van Loon said, “It often deters us, like many other women, to walk outside or take public transportation, seeing as we don’t want to deal with the intimidation and anxiety. Everywhere we’ve been in the world — the United States, Latin America, Europe, South Asia — we’ve experienced various levels of sexual harassment.”

The title of the film, “The People’s Girls,” carries a heavy and significant meaning. In an interview with the blog Egyptian Streets, Ghunim explained, “[In Arabic] the saying is commonly used to describe a well-mannered, cultured, respectable girl … When people blame victims … they often argue that if only the girl was a ‘people’s girl’ then she wouldn’t get harassed.”

Last month, a short video Ghunim created entitled “Creepers on the Bridge” went viral. It showed, from the camera’s point of view, the uncomfortable and even predatory looks she would get when crossing a highly trafficked bridge in Cairo.

In advance of the release of the full documentary, Ghunim and Van Loon have published six excerpts that show the wide spectrum of experiences, thoughts and opinions on sexual harassment. One woman named Sahar, spoke of her frustration that, despite the fact that she wears a niqab, she still gets verbally harassed by men when going out. Another girl named Asmaa explains why she believes women are partially to blame for being harassed. If these videos are any indication, the film looks like it will be a multifaceted portrait of life for Egyptian women in public spaces.