Last Friday, Ted X Women was held in Marriott Zamalek, sponsored by Marriott and MBC AlAmal Satellite channel and seeing a large, enthused, female-dominated crowd. As the title implies, most of the speakers talked about barriers they had in life as women and how they crossed them or helped others do so.
Though the speeches were inspirational, there was a depressing cloud over many presentations, which covered personal issues and deaths, making the crowd tear up at least once or twice. It was the first time I heard people taking about death so publicly. Maryam Nouh, the singer who came to sing two songs, dedicated her performance to her recently deceased father. A major theme was also empowerment. Many speakers talked about the importance of empowering women to make their own choices by giving them the tools to do so, rather than helping them financially. "Listen to your inner voice," was also the theme of many talks.
The first speaker was Yasmine Mostafa, who spoke about how her grandfather was the first to believe in her since she was born prematurely at 7 months. "Even though I was premature and many thought I wouldn't make it ... And since then he was my support. I was so stubborn for many people because I needed to be convinced before doing as I was told even at 5 years old, but he saw me as independent, smart and strong ... I was lost in between the two ideas, but my grandpa's love made me believe his vision of me." Now Mostafa has her own mobile human development center, were she goes on the metro and talks to women about how they can change their lives.
Then Racha Anrest spoke, a wheelchair user from South Egypt, about the day a rail accident changed everything changed in her life, causing her to need a double amputation of the legs. "The strange thing is, I was comfortable in the chair, unlike many. I looked at myself and I loved myself as is and thought the hard part was over and that I would be able move on just fine. But later I discovered that there was an atlas of barriers out there," she said, describing Egypt's lack of physical accessibility. Only her church had made their venue wheelchair accessible. "So I had to shift my interests, started writing more and worked at my church."
She talked about how social and physical barriers in Egypt makes life harder on people with any type of disability, as when she lived in Italy for a year, things were a lot easier. But she made it her life mission to try and help others. "First I used to move around the barriers, trying to avoid them, but then I felt the need to fight to remove them as other people might not have the ability to fight for them selves. So if I can, I should." So whenever she is in a place with limited accessibility, she makes a point to talk to the people in charge about it.
Iman Bebars, who has been working in the development field for 32 years and works with very poor people, explained that "I consider myself a feminist. My main role is empowerment, I think about how we can give the power to a person to choose what they want? That is what I really aim for ... The password is hear her out. Don't judge, listen to her story, with your heart, mind and soul."
When Bebars started working, 70% of informal neighborhoods had female heads of household, so it was natural to want to empower them. She talked about the problems of skills lacks and poverty. "It's all to empower them to make their choices willingly not because they have to or because they don't have another choice or because they are scared."
May Abdelazim then spoke about losing her faith and optimism, and how they were shaken by the revolution and the illness of her daughter. Seeing her daughter in pain at only 11 months "... was very tough. I felt so helpless as I couldn't do anything in the back of the ambulance ... I didn't feel like God was listening to my prayers." But even though her child survived this incident she still lost her faith. This among many incidents contributed to her anxiety about religion. "I was like a robot, I tried to perfect the world around me as much as I could, as this was something I could control. But my body felt otherwise because of all the pressure and lack of emotions." She then went on a journey of self discovery to regain her faith, and bit by bit it is coming back.
Emad Karim from Luxor and works with UN Women, and as the only male speaker, talked about how male dominance and misuse of power harms women and men alike. He said that 40% of the women over 60 years old today were married underage. His mother was married in fourth grade and gave birth to him a short while after, but still he talked abut how his father was very cooperative with home chores and how he taught them how to treat women respectfully.
He then gave some shocking numbers, including that: in 2015, 7.8 million women faced abuse of some kind, a million wives left their home because of violence, 2.5 million experienced sexual harassment. "Because of the wrong understanding of being a man ... Men abuse their power against women, men and kids ... In every male union, males compete to be the worst, to be the leaders of the gang, as if it's cool." He explained how, according to a recent Harvard School of Medicine study, those who have experienced violence are more likely to enact violence themselves.
Then came the most emotional talk of the day, by Tandiar Samir. She started her talk by saying: "Death is a truth, and not an enemy. The enemy is in killing the person's humanity in the process."
She talked about how people with terminal illnesses are left to suffer physically and emotionally waiting for death. "They still deserve a good happy life. With people to support them and make them feel at ease till the very last moment."
So her foundation, Josaab, is offering the first hospice in Egypt. The building is nearly complete, but 85% of their services are mobile, so they go to the people at home, to help with emotional aspects, medical aspects, financial problems, legal documents and in just about every way possible. Their volunteers include doctors, nurses, care givers and just normal volunteers. They even offer emotional support to the family up to six month after the family member dies. It was just amazing to see how they deal with people on their last days, granting them their simple wishes and just helping them for no reason rather than the goodness of their hearts. It is just a noble cause for absolutely no return. "We don't add days to a patients life. We add life to his days."
Yasmine El Sahzly, an Egyptologist, talked about how she wishes to keep her name written in history forever through her work. "I want to leave my footprint ... I want my name to be written." She also talked about how Ancient Egyptians were true artists and told their stories in all different forms and left their imprint for eternity through their writings, and this is what she aimed for when she published her book.
Then Amina Khalil, a young Egyptian actress, talked about her struggle trying to become an actor due to the unreasonable beauty standards of the industry. "Directors would tell me to my face, you are perfect but your nose is ugly." She became so obsessed with how 'ugly' her nose was, "I would look in the mirror and only saw my ugly nose." She was about to have surgery to enhance her nose, but chance intervened the day before, when she had an accident and had to postpone. "I felt so relieved, I was just so happy. And then I thought, why am I doing this to myself?" She also advised everyone to really listen to their inner voice, and not to try to fit in or change who they are for any reason. Now, she has a promising career ahead.
Image: Vladimir Pustovit // CC BY 2.0