Collecting herstories in Egypt

In the words of Maissan Hassan, a 29-year-old Egyptian woman who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Cultural Heritage Studies. She is Programme Manager for the Women and Memory Forum (WMF), a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality.


I grew up listening to my mother's stories of her hard-fought battles against the inequalities she was subject to. As a young woman, she was told that she can't decide for herself, choose whom to get married to or pursue a career. My mother succeeded in overcoming so many obstacles. Now, she is a compassionate university professor, devoted mother and a proud grandmother. My mother's stories have been the inspiration for me to listen, document and –most importantly– appreciate women's stories and experiences.

Photo courtesy of Maissan Hassan

The Women and Memory Forum (WMF) has been collecting and documenting women's history in Egypt for almost 20 years through the acquisition of women's private collections, oral history projects, re-publishing our print books by pioneer feminists and establishing the Women and Memory Library and Documentation Centre; a specialized resource centre on gender and women's studies. Recently, WMF has launched the "Documentation as Empowerment Project", a WMF and Fund for Gender Equality (FGE)-funded project. The project sheds light on the experiences of women who are engaged in the political and public sphere in Egypt.

I wish that the stories we collect would be as inspiring for young girls and women as the stories of my mother have been to me. While working towards WMF Oral History Archive, I listened to many stories of young and older women, activists, artists and politicians. Listening to these stories is humbling and inspiring. While the stories highlight the uniqueness of each individual’s experiences, they show how structural social, cultural and economic causes of gender inequality affect us all.

The production and dissemination of alternative cultural knowledge on gender roles in Egypt and the Arab region is important to overcome the dominant negative stereotypes of women. Creative approaches to feminist documentation and gender education are the key to help disseminate this knowledge among researchers, students, activists, media and the general public.

During CSW 2014, WMF, in collaboration with other Egyptian NGOs, will hold two side events entitled "Women’s Rights and the State: Insights into the Egyptian Feminist Movement" and "Revolutionizing Gender Education: Lessons from Egypt". I hope that these events succeed at highlighting the efforts exerted by Egyptian feminist groups towards gender equality and to engage in a critical yet fruitful dialogue that would advance the work of women's advocates in Egypt and across the region.

The views expressed by CSW participants in these blogs are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of UN Women.