Two weekends ago, I attended the Help Reception, which is an even that the Help Club, which is community service oriented, puts on every year with different skits, short films, speakers, and photos. Pretty much all of it was in Arabic so I had a friend translate that big ideas for me. While the show itself was very excellent and brought up many interesting criticisms into the Palestinian issue and Egyptian politics, what struck me the most about the evening was the glaring gender divide.
The club is entirely segregated into male and female groups. All the pictures of club events and activities either featured either all girls or all boys. The entire show itself appeared to be entirely made by the boys. All the skits featured male actors, all the movies features male actors, all the speakers were male. The only girl on stage was one of the announcers and even she spoke less than the male counterpart. A majority of the pictures too were of the boy’s group and their activities. As I watched the program progress, I was constantly wondering when the girls would appear. Also, while I didn’t realize it at the time, the audience seating was segregated, or at least it was strongly encouraged to be segregated with guys on one side and girls on another. I asked my friend why it was like this, why was the club so segregated? She told me one reason was for the girls to feel comfortable. If they are doing some project and want to dance or something, they can be more free and do not have to worry about unwanted attention or being inappropriate. After the program was over a little celebration by club members took place. The boys in the club and their friends all swarmed the stage. They began clapping, cheering and chanting, carried each other on one another’s shoulders, and threw some members in the air. After they calmed down, they gathered near the front of the stage for a group picture. The girls, meanwhile, were in quiet, happy group by the stage. They received flowers and were hugging or taking pictures with each other…a big contrast from the boisterous and exuberant time the boys were having.
It seemed that boys were having a lot more fun, had more energy, and creativity. If I were to participate in that club, I would want to join the boy’s group, since it seemed much more lively and engaging than the girls. I began wondering why they even were in one club together, why not just make two separate clubs since they seemed to be doing different things anyways.
After the program had ended, the club members and audience had the chance to mingle, eat food, and drink coffee. I saw another one of my friends there who was a member of the club and she invited me to a service project the next day at an orphanage. I agreed to it and she told me that they would be meeting at the McDonald’s in Tahrir Square. Although I came on time the next day, I arrived well before anyone else did. Eventually, I saw a group of young adults gathering a little down the street. “Are you the Help club?” I asked two girls. They looked at me with surprise, and appeared almost offended. “Uhhh…are you helping out at an orphanage today?” I asked. They said that they were, but they were not Help, they were VIA or Volunteers in Action. My friend is in several clubs and neglected to tell me that it was VIA nor Help that we were joining that day. The reason that they seemed offended when I asked them they were Help is because there is some dislike between the two groups. I began talking to the girls about the Help Reception that I went to the night before and brought up the gender divide that I had seen. They were very critical of that divide and that was the biggest reason that they did not like that club and did not participate in it. They said that there are several other service clubs on campus like that. Also, since the majority of the girls in those clubs are veiled, they were perceived by the VIA girls I was talking to as being less accepting and critical of unveiled girls in their group, especially if they were Muslim. Then today, I saw that my friend had a Help folder and asked her is she was part if the club. She emphatically said that she was not. They were too religious she said. This comment was really interesting since she wears a hijab and normally is clad in a black abeyya (robe). Anyone that looks at her would probably assume that she too was very religious.