A Conversation on Accountability with Zeina, @catcallsofcairo

In honor of 16 Days of Activism, Chalk Back and Cheer Up Luv are teaming up to highlight what accountability means to six activists around the world in a photo and interview series. The series will highlight the topic of accountability from the perspective of young activists in different contexts. We hope these interviews will help engage people of all genders in the conversation on gender-based harassment. This interview features Zeina, founder of @CatcallsofCairo.


1) What is the role(s) of men and boys in the movement against gender based street harassment?


Listening to women. Making room for us whether it’s online, at work or in public spaces. Amplifying our voices and starting conversations with other men. Men and boys need to understand that not being a harasser is not where the bar is set and it’s not something to applaud them for; we need action. If the “good men” start making it clear that street harassment and violence against women is unacceptable more men will have no choice but to comply.


2) What has your experience been with men and boys during your time running Catcalls of Catcalls of Cairo? What are their reactions? Have you gotten negative or positive feedback?


The support I receive from men privately is frustratingly way less than what I get publicly which I think says a lot. Many men are still intimidated to openly express their views about feminism due to peer pressure and toxic masculinity. I’ve definitely also had my fair share of negative feedback, which have spanned from undermining my work to making a joke out of it or just straight up verbal harassment.


3) What does accountability mean to you? Who needs to be accountable when it comes to gender-based street harassment? How do we hold harassers and abusers accountable?


I ask myself these questions every day and I might have a different answer tomorrow. But for today, accountability is a chance to learn, do better and fix previous mistakes. Accountability is justice and safety to all the women who have ever been violated. I believe perpetrators of street harassment, bystanders and anyone who enables a culture of street harassment even if through memes or films should be held accountable. The “how” is where it gets tricky and I believe in Egypt specifically we’re still figuring it out. I don’t think there’s a blueprint for all cases but my hopes are always about the survivors/victims feeling like they’ve had their justice.


4) In your context, what are realistic next steps towards accountability?


Less shame and stigma for victims of harassment. As pessimistic as it may seem, we can’t expect women to come forward and hold their abusers accountable if we don’t provide a safe environment for them to do so.


5) Anything else you want to add?


Just a reminder to myself and everyone that we’ve come a long way but still have so much ahead of us. I hope I get to witness a time where we won’t need to have worldwide campaigns to end gender-based violence.



Credit: Eliza Hatch/@cheerupluv