During a discussion with a group of ten teenage girls on the issues which affect their community in Manshiyat Nasr, a poor urban area in Cairo, it was revealed that many of them are being harassed on a daily basis and this is having a huge impact on their lives. The harassment usually happens on the street or on public transportation, for example on the metro or on buses. The girls felt that society is generally silent on the issue but this is not something that can just be brushed off any longer because it is affecting their self esteem, their freedom to wear what they want and worst of all, some of them have been stopped from going to school by their families out of fear of them being harassed on the way.

According to Mira*, 16 years old, “When I get ready in the morning to go out I try to make myself look as ugly as possible so that no one looks at me. And then once I’ve left the house I spend the whole time trying to stretch my blouse down or make sure I’m fully covered up because girls are made to feel that it’s their own fault they’re being harassed for the way they dress or walk, and I don’t want to be blamed for it.”

In November 2016 Save the Children conducted an animation workshop with 10 teenage girls in Manshiyat Nasr. Animation is a powerful tool through which children can express themselves creatively and it works particularly well in expressing ideas around sensitive subjects. In a conservative society like the one these girls are living in, it works perfectly as many are afraid to be publicly identified speaking out about a topic which is considered to be ‘shameful’ in their society. Through a five-day workshop which involves the production of animated films completely produced by the children themselves, they are able to discuss their concerns, report on their situation and educate other children and adults about the issues important to their lives.

The fact that the children are fully responsible for making all parts of the film is empowering. As one of the girls participating in the workshop said, ‘Whenever I watch films I never think about the work that goes into them, I always thought it was so easy, but now I’ve seen how much work goes into just making a one minute cartoon I can’t imagine! It’s amazing to think that I took part in making a movie!’

During the five-day workshop, the children write the story, draw and colour the characters in thefilm and give voices to the characters they create. The technique embodies one of the guiding principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, child participation, which affirms that children are full-fledged persons who have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them and requires that those views be heard and are given due weight. There’s a role for every child to play in the animation workshop, whether in the discussion leading to the development of their stories, or in the writing of the story, or in the drawing and cutting out of the characters, or animating their characters, or acting as one of the characters, and this is usually why children enjoy the workshop so much, often opting out of breaks to continue working because they’re having so much fun! At the end of the workshop one of the girls said ‘The workshop was way too short, I wish it went on for longer!’

For various reasons, many of the girls participating in the workshop are not enrolled in school. Some of them have to work to support their families and some are not being allowed to go to school because in Manshiyat Nasr there are only 5 primary schools, and the secondary schools are outside the neighbourhood. In order to reach them they would have to get public transport which is either unaffordable for their families or their parents are stopping them from going due to harassment. It meant a lot to a number of the participants to get to spend five consecutive days with other girls their age in which they had the opportunity to express themselves freely, discuss issues which they are all affected by, make new friendships, and learn something new.

The girls were aware of the power of their messages because they know it’s an issue which widely affects the Egyptian community – according to a UN study conducted in 2013, more than 99% of women in Egypt had experienced sexual harassment. According to the girls, the harassment comes in various forms, whether it’s words said to them or looks or touches in public, but also more and more commonly they are being harassed with prank phone calls and over social media by anonymous men who are targeting young girls.

The stories the girls wrote for their animations contained messages for parents to empower their daughters to speak out about harassment, messages to teachers to make sure that all students, especially boys, know how harassment makes a girl feel, and messages to boys so that they understand how detrimental harassment can be to a girl’s life. The animations are being used as part of a 16-day social media campaign led by UN Women from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to 10 December, Human Rights Day. In the words of 15-year-old Mariam*, “We could make an entire soap opera out of this issue, not just a one minute animation, but I hope people do hear our messages through our films. When we’re silent it encourages men to harass us more, so we have to speak up about it whenever we can.”