For asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination.
Mozn Hassan is an Egyptian feminist activist and human rights defender. She emerged as a powerful voice raising attention to rampant sexual assaults on women during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Along with the organisation she co-founded, Nazra for Feminist Studies, Hassan documented human rights violations during the uprising. Despite sanctions and judicial harassment, Hassan continues to raise women’s voices in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Hassan and Nazra not only documented the alarming number of sexual assaults on women participating in the protests but also coordinated efforts to provide survivors with medical, psychological and legal support. This work became emblematic of Nazra’s overall mission to build an Egyptian feminist movement based on the idea that feminism and gender are political and social issues affecting freedom and development.
To bring feminist discourse into the public and private spheres, Nazra has engaged in a range of programmes, such as mentoring young women in politics, including candidates for parliamentary, municipal and union elections from across Egypt’s political spectrum. However, despite important gains for women, the Egyptian government has sought to stop Hassan and Nazra’s work. Since 2016, she has been under sanctions including a travel ban and an asset freeze. Nazra’s office was closed in 2018 due to an asset freeze, however, the organisation has continued providing assistance with the help of volunteers.
Mozn Hassan is a women’s rights defender in Egypt, advocating for the inclusion of women’s voices and gender perspectives along with the organisation she co-founded, Nazra for Feminist Studies. Their work is rooted in the realisation that women’s rights are integral to peace, freedom and democracy. However, women’s issues and feminism are among the most sensitive and complicated topics in Egyptian society. Despite challenges and harassment by authorities, Hassan and Nazra were able to successfully advocate for women’s inclusion in public life and bring feminism into the national and regional discourse.
The need for amplifying women’s voices
The issue of women’s rights has long been present in Egyptian society. However, the discourse has largely been marginalised, as it remains among the most sensitive and complicated topics in the country. The neglect of women’s rights came especially to the fore during the 2011 revolution against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when several protesters were sexually abused. To this day, women’s right and feminism are often considered taboo and sexual abuse is shrouded in secrecy.
Mozn Hassan is a women’s rights defender in Egypt, advocating for the inclusion of women’s voices and gender perspectives into the political discourse in the Middle East and North Africa region. After finishing her studies, Hassan joined ten other young Egyptian activists to found Nazra for Feminist Studies, a group that nurtures young feminists and aims to contribute to the continuity and development of the Egyptian and regional feminist movement.
An Egyptian feminist movement for the 21st century
Since its founding, Nazra has been working to build up nearly a dozen feminist groups across Egypt to create a decentralised feminist movement. The organisation also contributes to the production of knowledge, documenting feminists’ stories and producing position papers on the gender situation to strengthen the inclusion of gender perspectives.
Through its unique Women’s Political Participation Academy, Nazra has mentored female candidates from several political parties to enhance women’s political participation. Nazra also interacts with labour unions, professional associations, student unions and groups, political movements, and local councils to integrate women’s issues in their work and support female candidates running for positions in these institutions. During the 2011 parliamentary elections, Nazra supported 16 women candidates hailing from underprivileged regions of Egypt. Despite overwhelming challenges, one of these women was elected to parliament.
Another woman, assisted by Nazra, set up a union for bread sellers in Suez in 2011. Nazra also mentored five female candidates in the 2015 parliamentary elections, with one of them succeeding in becoming a member of parliament. Nazra’s annual Feminist Schools held since 2013 has introduced young women and men from throughout Egypt to gender issues. These schools have taken up issues that are often taboo in Egypt, such as sexuality and personal freedoms.
Nazra uses creative methods involving young people to address prejudices in Egyptian society. For example, in 2014, they worked with a theatre company to produce a play about the meaning of masculinity. Nazra continues to use visual arts and comedy to communicate complex issues of feminism to the general public. They have produced a feminist comic book and mentored a group of young women to start a feminist music band.
Responding to sexual assaults during the 2011 revolution
During the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Hassan and her colleagues joined protesters at Cairo’s now-famous Tahrir Square, joining the call for freedom and democracy for all Egyptians. However, they had a rude awakening when reports of brutal sexual assaults among protesters began to surface.
As upholding bodily integrity lies at the core of Nazra’s work, the organisation began to document human rights violations during and after the 2011 revolution. Hassan became alarmed by the systematic sexual assaults on women that became a widespread phenomenon. She and Nazra supported grassroots groups rescuing women subjected to violence at Tahrir Square and focused on taking up a coordination role to ensure that they received medical, psychological and legal assistance.
Nazra has arranged for the physical relocation of several survivors of rape and women human rights defenders under threat since 2012, while providing direct psychological and medical for sexual assault victims. Nazra has also arranged legal support for survivors of sexual harassment and women human rights defenders arrested for participating in peaceful protests.
Nazra’s legal team has contributed to some notable victories in the courtrooms against perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment, thus advancing women’s rights in Egypt. At a time of political turbulence, Nazra has stood out for documenting human rights violations and defending women’s rights regardless of the survivors and victims’ political affiliation.
Retributions for Hassan and Nazra’s work
Hassan is one of the first persons from Egyptian civil society to be interrogated and have official charges directed against her in Case 173 of 2011. Known as the “Foreign Funding Case,” she and Nazra were being investigated for illegally accepting foreign funding under a draconian Mubarak-era law designed to restrain civil society. She was subsequently prevented from leaving Egypt to attend an international meeting in June 2016 under a travel ban ordered by the general prosecutor.
In 2017, a Cairo court issued an asset freeze order against both Nazra and Hassan. As a consequence of this order, Nazra had to close its office in March 2018. Despite various attempts to appeal these sanctions, the travel ban on Hassan and the assets freeze against her and Nazra remain in place.
These measures have been described as part of an attempt to crack down on Egypt’s independent civil society and have been harshly criticised by international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders. Fourteen Egyptian feminist groups came together to express solidarity with Nazra, stating that they see any threat to the organisation as a threat to the Egyptian feminist movement.
Advocating for reforms at the national and international levels
Nazra has played a pivotal role as part of a coalition of women’s rights groups that ensured the inclusion of women’s rights in the Egyptian Constitution following the revolution. In 2014, Nazra was part of a coalition that successfully lobbied for amendments to the Egyptian Penal Code that expanded the definition of sexual crimes. For the first time in Egypt, men were recognised in the definition of survivors of sexual crimes, and sexual harassment was criminalised.
Hassan and Nazra continue to work on mainstreaming women’s issues in legislation and policies, including successfully advocating for the creation of a unit dedicated to combating violence against women within the Egyptian police.
They have also advocated for human rights at the international level. They took up difficult issues such as violence against women and discrimination during Egypt’s Universal Periodic Reviews at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, where Nazra’s engagement with the UN Commission on the Status of Women led the Arab League and the Egyptian National Council for Women to commit to adopting a strategy to combat violence against women.
In 2021, Hassan co-founded the Doria Feminist Fund to highlight the diversity of women’s voices in the Middle East and North Africa region.