Colette Ghunim is of Palestinian descent, and created a documentary, “The People’s Girls,” to showcase what it’s like for a woman to walk by herself down a bustling street in Cairo, Egypt – the blatant stares, the ongoing harassment. The momentum from her short film led to her creating a community, where no one has to walk alone in fear, and a stage for more cinematography on the issue. In her story she shares why this is such an important issue for her and why it should be a concern for all around the world.
I am 24-year-old independent filmmaker, born and raised in the U.S. While attending Northwestern University in Illinois, I produced videos and short films for various non-profit organizations in the U.S, Egypt, Central America and India. Because of my own experience facing sexual harassment in Egypt and worldwide, after graduating in 2014, I returned to Egypt for one year to direct my first documentary, “The People’s Girls,” with my friend Tinne Van Loon.
Egypt has been identified as the worst country for women in the Arab world, largely due to the recent, staggering United Nations statistic that 99 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed. Due to the extensive media coverage on the issue, the Egyptian government introduced anti-sexual harassment legislation, making it possible for harassers to face years in prison.
After constantly hearing stories of women who faced sexual harassment in Cairo, as well as enduring harassment ourselves, we created a short video titled “Creepers on the Bridge”, which secretly filmed what it’s like for Ghunim, an Egyptian-American, to walk down one of Cairo’s main bridges, Kasr El-Nil, for just five minutes on a Friday. It went viral, quickly gaining more than two million views worldwide.
With all this momentum, we created a Kickstarter campaign to fund our full documentary, “The People’s Girls,” on sexual harassment in Egypt. Over the following month, we were interviewed by Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, France 24, El Mundo, and many other international news sources. We were able to receive contributions from more than 500 backers worldwide and gain a fan base of more than 11,000 people on Facebook. The outpouring of support and excitement to watch the film reflected just how much the issue resonates with individuals globally.
Sexual harassment is a longstanding issue internationally, yet it has only recently gained more attention. By intimidating and objectifying women in public spaces, harassment is discouraging women from going out, working and living their lives normally. In our documentary, we speak with harassers and survivors of sexual harassment to figure out the root of the problem. We talked to women who have fought back and conducted our own hidden camera social experiments.
We recently finished post-production for the documentary, and we are planning to host screenings internationally. Tinne and I are also in the process of submitting the documentary to international film festivals. “The People’s Girls” is meant to serve as a catalyst to spark discussion, challenge perspectives on who is to blame and explore how to fight harassment. The stories of Egyptian women are an inspiration for men and women to think of creative ways to tackle this global issue in their own communities.