CAIRO – 28 September 2017: Capitalizing on the growing power of social media, an inspirational Facebook page, “Women of Egypt” (WOE), has been empowering Egyptian women and reshaping their future perspectives, one post at a time.
Over 2000 women of all ages and professions have been featured on the page since early 2016. The only selection criterion is that they are Egyptians; and each of them is a source of enormous inspiration, challenging all societal and western misconceptions, breaking the taboos and writing their own success stories.
We interviewed Alexandra Kinias, the face and mastermind behind “Women of Egypt,” who has embarked on a mission to change western misconceptions about Egyptian women, highlight the achievements of pioneering women throughout Egyptian history and empower all girls to pursue their wildest dreams.
Born and raised in Egypt, Kinias graduated as a mechanical engineer from Alexandria University. She later went on to pursue her passion for writing and advocacy as she moved to America. All of her work has since addressed women issues, in her books, short stories and even movies.
A dedicated women rights advocate, Kinias first started WOE Facebook page as a tribute to pioneering Egyptian women, who led the Egyptian suffragette movement with the turn of the twentieth century, she tells Egypt Today.
“It saddened me to see not only how the leaders of this movement were marginalized and some even perished from history books, but also how their efforts and the rights they fought for were reversed and how the Egyptian women’s movement that gained momentum in the fifties and sixties in Egypt not only came to a halt, but started moving backwards.
What was even more staggering was how these pioneer women became just names to the young generation, who meant nothing to them. Such women are idolized all over the world and became role models. In Egypt, it seemed there were organized efforts to drop them and their achievements out of history,” Kinias states.
WOE also carries on another mission, to address the West’s misconceptions about Egyptian women, Kianis says.
“Unfortunately, many in the west put all the women in the Middle East in the same basket. With this misunderstanding, they perceive Egyptian women through the same lens as other women in the region, which is totally false. Women in Egypt, and going back to more than 7000 years enjoyed more rights and freedoms that any of their peers in neighboring lands. The suffragette movement in the region started in Egypt. The fact that they encountered some challenges in the last few decades, doesn’t mean, with all due respect to women elsewhere in the middle east, that their status is comparable with them.”
“These two issues were always in the back of my mind. I wanted to start a page to address them. The swearing in of the 89 female parliament members in January 2016, the largest number of female presentation ever in the Egyptian Parliament, was the omen to put WOE in action.”
Women of Egypt features inspirational public figures and success stories of young entrepreneurs, as well as “stories from women whom are absolutely inspiring, but no one knows about them,” Kinias says.
“Due to various social and political changes in Egypt the last few decades, women have lost some of their rights, and their status had reached a point of stagnation. WOE initiative advocates and empowers women by featuring their stories … We are giving a voice to women to share their success stories with the world, to motivate, empower and inspire others to follow suit.”
Less than two years since it was first launched, WOE has already become an active and renowned actor in the field of women empowerment.
“The page became a source to several renowned television programs, newspapers and magazines,” Kinias says proudly.
Major women organizations like UN Women, UNESCO, and other local and international organizations and programs also reach out to WOE as a source, to make announcements or to share their news and programs on the page. “These global organizations approach us because they believe in our mission and message, and they view us as a reputable and informative source, not to mention that we have a huge audience, which is defiantly an asset,” she states.
Listing few of the many accomplishments of WOE, Kinias recalls that they helped furniture designer Shosha Kamal, whose Pharaonic inspired sofa won first place in the International Product Design Awards for the year 2016 in London, adding that UN Women requested WOE’s assistance to announce their need for volunteers for the Wikipedia Writing Workshops they organized - to develop and edit Wikipedia articles about women - .
“We read comments from fathers wishing for their daughters to become pilots or Olympic champions … A school teacher asked permission to print the material for her class to teach her students about the amazing women who fought and are fighting for women’s rights,” Kinias says.
For Kinias, all the women featured on the page and the affiliated website are impressive models. “Egyptian women are smart, hard-working, innovative, feisty, they are fighting very hard to break the social and cultural taboos,” she affirms.
“There is Esraa El Bably who was born with hearing impairment, yet she grew up to become a successful dentist. After we published her story, BBC featured her.
We interviewed Ghada Wali after she was selected on the Forbes’ List 30 under 30 Europe – Arts 2017, making her the first Egyptian to ever be included on the European list, Amany Khalil, the Ironwoman, the art teacher in Samanoud who founded an art center to teach kids how to draw and craft.”
“One of the impressive stories I would like to share is of Manal Abdel Hamid, an author from Upper Egypt who published 11 books, the first two without the knowledge of her family. Manal is still fighting her conservative society that believes that writing for women is an indecent profession.”
WOE started as a Facebook page but it has now developed into an initiative, including two online publications, one in English and one in Arabic.
It also published two e-books and offered them for free to the WOE page followers: “Pearls of the Nile,” offered in March 2017, in celebration of Women’s International Day, and “Pearls of the Nile – The Pioneers,” which was given away during the months of June and July to celebrate Huda Sharawy’s 136th birthday.
“WOE is not affiliated with any organization or campaign. It’s a personal initiative with an objective to motivate women to stand up and fight for their rights,” Kinias says.
“It’s a message for women to be strong and confident, to dream big and to break whatever taboos holding them back. The future of Egypt lies in the hands of women. We want them to be happy, to walk in harassment free streets, to enjoy a work environment with no gender discrimination. We want little girls to dream of becoming the president or an astronaut or a war correspondent or whatever their hearts desire, with no one telling them they can’t because they are girls.”
WOE has recently started a writing internship, to help aspiring writers to develop and improve their writing skills, by writing about women’s issues, Kinias reveals.
“We want to engage as many people as we can to become advocates for women’s rights, give them a voice and a platform to express themselves. We have writers as young as 17 years old. Our next step is to call on male writers to join. We need men on board who support and advocate women’s rights and equality.”