We Chat With Zeina Dessouky, the 19 Year-Old Who Created a Platform for Girls to Share Stories of Their Harassment

By: Amina Farouk

To all you social media geeks out there who know @CatcallsOfCairo, you’re in luck, and if you don’t know what that is, what are you? Living under a rock? Recently, I had the chance to chat with and interview Zeina Desouky; the fabulous 19 year-old activist behind the account, who just so happens to be 1/3 of teen foodies @ThreeFullBellies, and an occasional writer here with us! Zeina and I talked sexual harassment, feminism, and the power of using your own voice to speak up and create change. Read on to find out what she has to say.

Okay so, for those who live under a rock and have no clue what @CatcallsOfCairo is; it’s basically an account that’s judgement-free where you can share your stories of sexual harassment and your experiences too, from getting catcalled by strangers to being nonconsensual-y groped and various other forms of harassment our society refuses to speak up about. It’s a space where you can share your experience with no shame and truly come to understand that it is never your fault, Catcalls of Cairo went from just an Instagram page to a full-blown community.

Zeina was inspired by @CatcallsOfNYC to start the account, she’s very passionate about feminism and says that it’s really hard not to be when you’re a girl living in Egypt. Zeina’s currently taking a gap semester and working as an account executive in her father’s agency while she figures out her place. Catcalls of Cairo was created over 6 months ago to try and make a change and create a safe place for women AND men to speak openly and share their stories; ones that really need to be heard.

Personally, I agree wholeheartedly with Zeina; street harassment is something we’re taught to deal with ever since we were children, we were taught to shut up and keep moving  and we were never allowed to question, reply or attack the sexual harassers. As Zeina stated, getting catcalled daily is literally “امر واقع” and simply trying to stop it is never an option.

It was always one of the points I brought up when discussing feminism with anyone and it was almost always dismissed using excuses like ‘guys who actually do that are a few’ people are really delusional to think a few men are going around harassing each and every egyptian woman.
– Zeina Dessouky

She was instantly relieved when she stumbled upon @CatcallsOfNYC, eager to find something similar in our country, hell, our community, she was quickly disappointed. So, she took it upon herself to start, while doing so was scary at first, Zeina she put aside her doubts and shouldered on; and one of the safest and most powerful communities among Egyptian teens (especially girls) was born.

According to Zeina; the power of using your own voice is a great gift and the amount of sexual predators out there is an utter nightmare, some women are traumatized to the point they’re terrified of speaking out, and it is up to us as a community to decide to take action, the problem is – our safety is always at risk.

Zeina has a super busy schedule, so when I asked her how she manages to run @catcallsofcairo, she said that she simply made it a habit to post at least once daily both on facebook and on instagram and she’s subtly trying to educate people through instagram stories.

I asked her to tell us more of what she sees/hears on the daily and she responded with:

One thing that has been kind of a surprise is how common victim blaming is; among men AND women! We’ve internalized so much shit throughout the years that literally most girls share details about their outfits just to make sure they don’t take the blame
– Zeina Dessouky

She’s  been getting a ton of support for making such an account that allows people to open up freely without anyone judging them. A lot of girls open up and confide in Zeina and she can sense how much better it makes the situation when they vent about it; which goes to show how we rarely address street harassment. It’s such a shame, to be quite honest, that it’s up to a 19 year-old girl to help countless girls open up, but it’s also such a powerful thing, that Zeina’s doing so in the first place.

Surprisingly, many guys also hit Zeina up with enormous amounts of support telling her they didn’t know how common street harassment was until they stumbled upon her account, and she’s proud to have made an impact on so many people.

She noticed that at first, she wasn’t getting any DMs or stories from people, so to make the process more comfortable she made a google form which would be anonymous to help people express their views without fear. Nowadays, after many have shared their stories it inspires more people to share their stories and now she gets around 100 stories through DM on monthly basis.

Zeina ended our little chat claiming that:

I’ve never felt more proud of anything I’ve done! However, I need to mention that it makes me so angry at men. I honestly didn’t know it was that bad. I’ve received like 15 stories revolving around the same scenario: men masturbating in public. I’m not mad at men only, I’m mad at everyone who isn’t doing something about it. The fact that girls can’t even wear what makes them comfortable and men are free to traumatize us for life makes me sick.

– Zeina Dessouky

Honestly the moral of the story here is to cut the crap and stop street harassment, because if one more person uses one of those phrases: “asking for it” or “you shouldn’t be wearing that in the first place” to justify sexual and street harassment, I may actually combust. Kudos to Zeina for being a young badass teen who is promoting and achieving positive change in our community on a daily basis while juggling corporate work, a super successful food blog, CatcallsOfCairo, and soon – uni.

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