It’s still March and we're still celebrating all women. So, this time, we decided to meet one of the most influential women in the past few years, Jihad Hamdi, founder and CEO of the non-profit Speak Up feminist initiative that advocates for all women who are victims of violence in all its forms. The 28-year-old Jihad was not content with being a doctor but rather found that she could defend every woman and be a means to communicate the voices of these women who are subjected to daily and hourly violence. We talked to her about her journey in launching the Speak Up initiative and the challenges she faced.
The Speak Up platform was eye-catching from the beginning. Tell us more about it; when did you start? And what urged you to launch it?
Let's go back about three years ago on July 6, 2020, when people (mostly men) started talking about the relationship between harassment and clothing, which was pretty disturbing to me and many others. So, I wrote a post on my personal Facebook account asking people to share their experiences with sexual harassment to prove the failure of this theory and that the harassment has nothing to do with the girl's clothes, as some claim. And it was a surprise! I received a lot of messages and comments telling about the situations women were exposed to until their number reached more than 8,000 in two days. Most of them felt better by sharing their stories, but others needed psychological support or legal aid or both. So, I asked my friends for help and here was the start of the Speak Up page to help any victim of violence.
Being one of the followers of Speak Up, I find that it is not just a side initiative, but I think that you devote a lot of your time to raising awareness. If so, how do you balance Speak Up with the rest of your life?
Indeed, it is true. As you mentioned, Speak Up is not just a side initiative, which is precisely why I find it almost impossible to balance it with the rest of my life. Sometimes, I need to take days off from my work to handle specific cases, such as the case of Michael Fahmy, in which I took 6 months off!
We noticed that most, if not all, posts are in Arabic. Can you explain the reason?
When we launched the Speak Up platform, the focus was on the Egyptian audience only, which is already our current audience. So, we preferred that most of the posts be in Arabic so that their impact would be stronger and easier for many. In the end, we aim to raise awareness about issues that concern every individual in society. But after increasing our audience, we are working on translating the posts to publish them in both Arabic and English in the future.
Dealing with a feminist initiative to combat violent behavior requires psychological and mental stability to a large extent. Can you remember any situation that imposed a heavy psychological and mental burden on you?
I think that until today the worst case ever was the case of Michael Fahmy! It was full of intricacies and every detail was unimaginably nerve-wracking.
We understand how difficult it can be to help someone who has experienced violence. In response to such cases, we would like to know what actions you take when someone asks for help.
We do not deal with everything at once; however, we divide each case into phases. First, we deal with the victims of violence at the psychological level, providing them with the psychological and moral support they need. Then, we move to the next phase, which is offering them the available options. After all, we cannot take a step or action without the consent of the person. Finally, once we've settled on a particular option, we start taking action on that option, and so on. It is done in stages.
As a woman who launched a feminist initiative, did you face any violent reaction from people or society?
Certainly! The abuse never ends. In the past, for example, many people made threats and insults at us, and our personal information, including phone numbers, was leaked.
Have you ever wanted to give up Speak Up? If so, why? And if not, what makes you feel more passionate about completing what you started?
Yes, I have already considered stopping Speak Up, simply because it takes too much time and effort. We are not a funded organization, and all of our work is done on a voluntary basis. I remember many times when I get home from work I spend another 8 hours replying to hundreds of messages and then get another message attacking us for not responding sooner or not discussing a particular case. It gets frustrating sometimes. But over time I learned not to take things personally and focus on what I believe in. Helping people and seeing how we can change things has kept me going for the past three years.
Since the launch of Speak Up, you have witnessed many victims of violence, but what do you think is the same thing or factor that all of them have in common?
The common thing or factor is that “violence can happen to any woman, from any social class, and at any age.” Moreover, there is another common thing among the victims of violence, which is that all of them lack a supportive environment around them.
Speaking of women who are victims of violence, do you prefer to call them “victims” or “survivors”?
We use both, and the preference between them can't just be up to us. We must ask the woman with the problem in the first place, which one she prefers. Would she prefer to be called a “victim” or a “survivor”? Did she really overcome the experience and move from the stage of a victim to a survivor, or is she still there? All these factors affect the term that we will use with each woman who has been subjected to violence.
Translation by: Mariam Youssef