Egyptian women find solace as they tell their stories

Even though workshops help women process their issues, they do not present solutions for attendees on their own.
Sunday 08/07/2018
Unique experience. Participants at the “You Can” initiative workshop in Cairo. (Marwa al-A’sar)
Unique experience. Participants at the “You Can” initiative workshop in Cairo. (Marwa al-A’sar)

CAIRO - “Prevention is better than cure.” That’s how journalist Mona el-Kayal described “You Can,” an initiative that offers psychological support and empowers Egyptian women by helping them narrate their own stories.

Most Egyptian women, regardless of their status, suffer from some type of psychological problem or pressure that they are unable to cope with on their own, Kayal said.

“That’s why we created the initiative in the form of workshops where women can alleviate the pressures they face and exchange ideas and experiences through narration,” said Kayal.

Workshops are usually attended by a psychologist or a psychiatrist and moderated by Kayal. The workshops, which each have 15-20 women participate, are free.

“We don’t have a source of funding so we depend on psychologists or psychiatrists who volunteer to offer help in the workshops and bookstores or cultural centres hosting our events for free,” Kayal said.

Those who view the “You Can” events on Facebook for the first time may think they are cultural events rather than psychological support workshops.

“Our workshops depend on narration rather than storytelling. Storytelling is artistic while our events are more aimed at alleviating negative energy through women narrating their stories and life experiences,” she said.

Volunteer psychologist Amira Shawky explained that “You Can” workshops are similar to group therapy sessions.

“Every attendee has her own space to narrate,” she said. “The only condition is that everyone tells her own story unconditionally and does not give an opinion about others’ stories.”

Kayal educated herself in psychology to moderate the sessions.

“I took some courses online and I studied on my own,” she said. “I can’t claim that I am specialised in psychology but, in a nutshell, the ‘You Can’ workshops are not specialised group therapy sessions. Rather, they open the way for women to solve their problems.”

“Why should women wait until they are afflicted with psychological disorders to seek help?” Kayal asked.

The self-funded workshops discussed several subjects, including Egypt’s growing divorce rates, sexual harassment and effective goal setting, since the initiative was established two years ago.

“We decide the theme of every workshop after researching it and each attendee shares her experience and how she feels about it,” Kayal said.

Eman Hashad, a divorced working mother of three, recalled a drastic change in her life after participating in two “You Can” workshops.

“The experience has been remarkable. At some point I felt I needed a push to continue raising my children,” she said.

“I shared all the feelings inside me. The workshops helped me decide to dedicate some time for myself on a daily basis to be able to take care of my kids. It’s as if I got back to the old Eman again and now I got to know Eman better and I love her.”

Shawky said, the initiative addresses the “family as a whole since women, be they married or not, are wives, mothers, daughters or sisters who have a great influence on those around them.”

There have been workshops in Cairo and Alexandria.

“Women in other provinces communicate with us asking for workshops to be held in their localities but funding obstacles are curbing us,” Kayal said.

One of the most touching experiences Hashad said she has had with “You Can” was visiting nursing homes for women.

“I found that the elderly women, whether at luxurious nursing homes or others for the poor, were so optimistic to the extent that I felt ashamed of myself. I thought I can still walk and move around and I’m not as alive and optimistic as they are,” she said.

Even though workshops help women process their issues, they do not present solutions for attendees on their own, Kayal observed.

“At first, women did not fully understand the aim of the workshops. They think that we provide solutions for their problems. Gradually they get to know that, rather, we help them know how to solve their ordeals on their own,” she said.

“Our aim is to tackle these problems and help the affected women release their negative energy rather than proposing solutions. The target is that all attendees get out of the workshop smiling and feeling happy due to the derived positive energy.”