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Fighting Sexual Harassment with Art Therapy in Egypt

A group of tuk tuk drivers works in silent concentration

In a room at a community center in Egypt’s capital of Cairo, a group of tuk tuk drivers works in silent concentration. One is using modelling clay to create a miniature tuk tuk complete with driver in green, while another has moulded a love heart pierced by a Plasticine arrow, noting his initials and those of his sweetheart alongside.

Tuk tuk drivers are participating in an art therapy session run by Plan International.

The scene might look like a straightforward art class – albeit with an unlikely group of attendees – but something more profound is taking place. The tuk tuk drivers are participating in an art therapy session run by Plan International, in partnership with the Cairo authorities, in a bid to combat the city’s sexual harassment problem.

In Egypt’s capital of Cairo, girls are often harassed when using public transportation.

In Egypt’s capital of Cairo, girls are often harassed when using public transportation. Girls surveyed by Plan said that the tuk tuk is the form of transport they find the most dangerous because drivers often harass them at the school gates or when they’re riding inside their vehicle. Some girls have even been kidnapped.

Many girls drop out of school because the tuk tuk is the only mode of transportation.

Yet for girls living in some communities, the tuk tuk is often their only way to get to school, which is a reason many girls drop out of school, according to the local authorities.

Plan is using art as a way to teach tuk tuk drivers that girls in their community deserve respect.

“I sat beside one driver who kept touching my legs every time he moved the gearstick,” one girl said.

“A tuk tuk driver once grabbed my breasts as I was walking down the street with my friend,” another said.

As part of its Safer Cities for Girls project, Plan is using art as a way to teach tuk tuk drivers that girls in their community deserve respect.

Art therapy helps the drivers express their feelings and explore how they can interact with girls more effectively.

“We inform drivers about the safety issues faced by girls and how they can play a role in protecting them,” says Azza Mohamed, a Cairo government official whose department helps run the training. “Art therapy is used to help them express their feelings and explore how to interact with girls more effectively.”

Two hundred drivers have taken part in the 2-day workshop.

A total of 200 drivers, mostly in their teens or twenties, have taken part in a two-day workshop where art is used to enhance their knowledge of gender equality and discrimination in transportation systems; gender-based violence and sexual harassment; and a girl’s right to safe mobility.

“I now understand that women are equal to men and harassment is something that hurts and annoys women,” says Islam, one of the drivers who participated. “I made the decision there and then that I won’t wait for girls at the school gates anymore.”

Plan is committed to expanding on this work to eradicate harassment by tuk tuk drivers in Cairo.

Plan is committed to expanding on this work to eradicate harassment by tuk tuk drivers in Cairo once and for all.

“Tuk tuk drivers present a major risk factor for girls on their way to school,” said Jacinthe Ibrahim, program manager at Plan Egypt. “When girls are in their tuk tuks or they see them on the street, they verbally harass girls and get into their personal space, making them feel uncomfortable.

“Through art therapy and other forms of training, we’re slowly changing [drivers’] attitudes so that they see girls as their equals and realize that harassment is something we all have a responsibility to stamp out.”

Plan and the local authorities are also incentivizing good behavior by awarding permits.

A group of trusted drivers has also been identified, and they can be relied upon to transport girls to school in safety.

Plan and the local authorities are also incentivizing good behavior by awarding permits, allowing drivers who receive no complaints to operate outside Kharaillah. Previously, tuk tuk drivers were restricted to operating in a single community, which limited their earning potential.

“Tuk tuk drivers have started to change the way they are treating girls because we’re already receiving less complaints from girls,” says Khaled Hamouda, who chairs the board of the community center where the Safer Cities project takes place.

“Change is happening so we are optimistic,” he said. “We are creating a new generation that will abandon harassment.”

Find out more about Plan’s Safer Cities project in Egypt.

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