بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
"Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother"
I decided to contact Reda through social media and we have become friends ever since. He is one of the leading figures in the fight against FGM in Egypt, one of the rare male figures in the women's movement and an intimate friend of Nawal al Sadawi. For this Friday Ghutba I will tell you about my recent interview with him. It gives an insight in the stunning female struggles in the Muslim world and how these heroines are changing the Middle- East from within.
Reda el-Danbouki is an international women’s right’s lawyer who works in Dakahlia , which lies north east of Cairo. His father is a high ranked policeman and his mother was a housewife who died four years ago. He remembers his mother as an inspirational woman who taught him to always respect and help women. She was a stay at home mother, but she had a University degree and raised four successful children. She always insisted on helping women and stopping the FGM practice. She helped the poor women in the streets, and inspired others to take action as well. Despite this, in her past she still let her daughters undergo FGM. At that time she thought that giving the girls FGM would be a safe way to protect them from haram (sin). But when she got older she educated herself on the matter and learned that it was unsafe and very dangerous for girls. Since then she became an activist against FGM.
Her name was Oum Alsaad (the mother of Hope) and she studied commerce at a University in Cairo. She came from a poor farmer’s family. Her father and mother were illiterate. The family had 9 children, but only Reda's mother went to school. The reason for this is that as a child his mother didn't stop crying: “I want to go to school”, she kept on fighting for it and eventually her parents gave in. She was 4 year years old at that time and was the middle one in her family which consisted of five boys and four girls. One brother tried to follow in his sister’s footsteps and started going to school as well, but after two days he didn’t want to go anymore.
How did she find the money to pay for her school ?
Her parents had no money, but she was good at school, so the teacher taught her for free. Later when she went to high school she had a girlfriend whose parents were wealthy and decided to pay for her education as well. Then after she got allowed at the university she went to work as a seamstress to pay for her education herself. After finishing university she fell in love with a fellow student, Reda’s father, and got married. They had a very good relationship.
What kind of things did your mother tell you to inspire you ?
She told me “Reda you are my one man in this family, you have three sisters, you must give hope and help, not only to your sisters, but also to all women of Egypt. I want to see you have the power to help women in all of Egypt. I asked her how ? She told me: “If you want to do something you will do it”. So every night he read books on how to be a messenger, how to be a good man etc. She was happy when I went to university: “Now you can take action and give legal assistance to women."
Who inspired your mother ?
“She had no messenger, she was naturally a feminist”.
Two years ago Reda founded the Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness. Before that he worked for another human rights organisation for both women and men.
Are there other centres in Egypt that give guidance and legal assistance to women ?
Many of his clients tell him they don’t get any help from other organisations. So he called the organisations that have more funds, but they tell him that they can’t help the women, because they have limited funds. "But they already have funds, so they can help them more then I can, but they decline. They don’t care. My organisation is good, but we have no funds.” Sometimes I can help, but sometimes I can’t.
So other organizations don't give sufficient help to the women. Does this mean that the women have nowhere to go except to you ?
Some organisations give support to homeless women who are in a critical situation. My heart breaks when I see women go from wall to wall asking for money, because the state has to protect women and not let them go from wall to wall. Even though the law says that women need to get government support, they don’t get it in practice. There is a lot of corruption inside the government. The money doesn’t always go where it should go.
What does your centre do on a daily basis ?
On a daily basis 4 to 6 women call him directly for help. "They know my centre fights for women’s rights." The centre also gives political education, runs election campaigns, lobbies for equality and criminal justice, and fights against violence against women, including female circumcision, early marriage and child marriage. It also strives to empower women and help them. It works on political education, runs election campaigns, urges for equality and criminal justice and fights against the corruption of institutions. The centre is open from 9 to 5. At night they can call 24h a day. The centre has 6 volunteers, they don’t get money. Sometimes my colleagues lose hope, because of the lack of funds, but I try to keep them motivated and tell them that the people need their help. The other volunteers are all women because women feel safer with women. Some volunteers are also lawyers and some are social workers. He pays the rent of his centre from his own money. His mother told him to do it. She told me: “Reda you must do it form my soul, the rent will give me a good life in paradise.”
When the women need legal help, he goes to court, when the women need money, he gives them money. Sometimes he talks to other organisations to try to get the money from them. But now he has no funds to give all the help the women need.
His organisation also gives training to women who want to campaign to get into the Egyptian Congress of People (which is like the Knesset in Israel) . We give training for these women. We have a unit in our centre that gives political education and election campaigns. Participants are girls in last year university and women who want to be elected. Political Education is complex. We give them education about how women can be a good governor for example. Thirteen women who followed his training have been elected in the Egyptian Council of People. Sadly this council has been delayed from getting into effect since 25 January 2011. We still wait. Mursi had the council for one year, and then stopped it. Since then nothing happened.
"One month ago a girl talked to me, she had relationship with a fellow student in the university and wanted to marry him. When her parents discovered this, they stopped her education and told her she must marry her cousin. She said "No I want to complete my education and I want to marry my friend." Then her parents hit her in the face and gave her a blue eye. She called his centre crying. I asked her what happened ? She kept crying, they attacked her in face and body. He couldn’t go to her home to help her, because that would bring her life even more in danger. So she called the police, only to hear them tell her that her parents were right and hung up on her. "After this incident I lost my faith in the police." They said: "Your parents attack you because you made a mistake." They blamed the victim. So the police needs to be reformed. We need female police in the office and in the street. When a women is harassed here, she goes to police and they will harass her too. If there are woman in the police then there will be no harassing."
What kind of help does Egypt need now ?
"We need equality, equality, and equality. We need to fight FGM and child-marriage. I ask the International community to help small NGO's like mine. The old settled organisations in Egypt are political, they are corrupted and the money doesn’t go where it should go. But we are younger; we use the money for those who need it. We can do more, we are not just words."
This interview was brought to you by:
The Healthy Muslimah
Donations are highly welcome and will go to the women 100%. The Healthy Muslimah has sent her Eid sedaka to the center.
Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness
Bank name: Arab African International Bank AAIB
Account Number: 701247
SWIFT Code ARAIEGCX
Fiscal (Tax) Code: 484-392-174
Legal Adress: 12 Gomohria Str, Mansoura, Dakahlia
Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness