In transit

In transit

On Tuesday morning two weeks ago, I arrived in Cairo with my colleague.  After a brief lunch at the one and only restaurant open during Ramadan…

Our driver Ibrahim, fasting at McDonalds

Our driver Ibrahim, fasting at McDonalds

… we arrived at our meeting with an AIDS service organization with whom we had the pleasure of working in the winter of 2009.  The organization in Cairo, which for the safety of their staff and beneficiaries will remain anonymous in this post, is doing truly incredible work with key populations in their community.  They began as the only outreach program for female sex workers in Cairo in 2006, piloted new programming in 2007 and, having gained experience and momentum in their work, are now scaling up their activities with generous support from The United Nations Population Fund, UNAIDS, UNICEF and the National AIDS Program.

In our meeting

In our meeting

Carrying condoms is not technically illegal in Egypt; but if you are unmarried and found to be in possession of condoms, they are used as evidence against you to prove that you are engaging in sex work (which is absolutely illegal). This makes it extremely difficult for anyone to have access to condoms when they might need them. This incredible organization provides legal aid and advice on how to handle the law if you are stopped at a check point and found to be carrying condoms, with lawyers who believe in their cause volunteering on their 24-hour hotline. They also provide condom distribution to the general public, as their belief is that anyone who may engage in sexual activity has the right to protect themselves.

Informational booklet about the Egyptian sex trade

Informational booklet about the Egyptian sex trade

During the Egyptian revolution, our colleague from this organization slept in Tahir Square for 18 days. He told us that the revolution actually made his job much easier – shouting about the cause was easier, the slum areas were more accessible for outreach, and reaching female sex workers for education was less restrictive.  They were able to further their interpersonal education initiatives and pubic focus groups, talking to bus drivers and sex workers about HIV, AIDS, safer sex and condoms.

Cairo at dusk

Cairo at dusk

But with the growing instability in Tahir Square, the organization had to eventually move its drop-in center back to a slightly less centralized location in Cairo.  Since the revolution, the government has been shutting down certain specialized initiatives, such as coalitions for MSM (Men who have Sex with Men), anti-stigma organizations and alliances for “out positives.”  But our partner organization is forging ahead, including guidance counseling for sex workers looking to transition out of the profession and into a new line of work.

Arabic anti-sexual harassment campaign on Facebook

Arabic anti-sexual harassment campaign on Facebook

After our meeting came to a close, I felt newly inspired.  I had a renewed desire to continue fighting for equality and the creation of a climate in which people can ask questions and discuss who they are and what they want openly, without fear of negative repercussions as a result of long-standing societal “norms.” 

I feel so privileged to be able to travel as I do for my work.  Meeting these incredible people who are fighting in nearly impossible terrain for rights that many of us take for granted is a constant reminder that our world has so much further to come.  And if we all continue to do what we canbe a positive influence on the children in our lives, encourage those around us to ask questions and challenge assumptions, offer support in any way we can to organizations and individuals striving toward these goalswe will get there.

Cairo, illuminated

Cairo, illuminated

In the marketplace

In the marketplace

Before sunset

Before sunset


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