Taking A Stand: Speaking Out Against Female Genital Mutilation

Neama Mohamed is a mother and housewife living in Tellal Zenhom, a slum area in southeastern Cairo. Over the past few years she has become a peer educator, a video producer, and an advocate for girls' and women's welfare.

Neama's activism began when she volunteered as a nutrition teacher for CEOSS, an Egyptian non-governmental organization. Then she started leading life skills, literacy, and health education classes for girls. When CEOSS became a partner of Communication for Change, Neama gained new skills as a member of her community's participatory video team.

Initially, Neama was apprehensive and uncomfortable about stepping outside traditional women's roles - using a camera, interviewing different people, being publicly conspicuous in her conservative neighborhood. But as the videotapes created by Neama and her fellow team members gained the approval of community audiences, her confidence increased. After addressing such topics as literacy and women's roles outside the home, the team produced a tape on female genital mutilation (or "excision"), a near-universal rite in Neama's community. Despite its prevalence, the practice is not generally discussed. The video's playbacks gave local women the opportunity to talk about it - in some cases, for the very first time. In addition to helping plan and film the tape, Neama appears in it as well. Speaking frankly, she describes the difficulties she has experienced as a result of undergoing the practice, and declares her rejection of the custom for her daughters.

Not long afterwards, Neama and the team were asked to help videotape a conference on reproductive health issues. The event was attended by council members and other local officials, and was well-covered by the national and international press. Neama filmed the proceedings steadily, the camera held close against her white headscarf. While another team member took a turn filming, Neama followed the discussion attentively. When someone raised the issue of female genital mutilation, Neama responded, speaking earnestly against the practice. A Spanish TV journalist covering the event approached her and asked if she'd be willing to discuss the topic further. Neama agreed, and they taped an interview the next day.

Asked later what it was like to be interviewed by a foreign television crew, Neama replied: "Before I learned how to use video, I was very shy, so it would have been difficult. Now I have a lot of confidence, and since I feel that excision is wrong, I don't hesitate to talk to anyone about it."