An Egyptian woman’s rights activist is taking advantage of the fact that face masks are likely here to stay.
Hadia Abdel Fattah decided that if she was going to wear a mask every day to protect herself and others from COVID-19, she was also going to use it to make a statement.
Abdel Fattah recently launched an initiative called Kemama Naswaya, which translates to "feminist mask," according to Daily News Egypt. She’s been affixing phrases and photos that champion women’s rights on masks that meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) health standards and wearing them to raise awareness.
Around 7.8 million women suffered from gender-based violence annually in the country before COVID-19 hit. Now, with women trapped at home with abusers and support resources limited, gender-based violence is on the rise globally. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights has seen an uptick in violence complaints from women in recent months.
Abdel Fattah, an outspoken anti-sexual harassment advocate, had the idea to create the masks when government lockdowns prevented her from continuing to run educational women’s rights workshops, cultural events, and training sessions. When she started wearing her masks in public, strangers would stop and ask her about the messages on them.
"From there, I became more aware of the face masks’ ability to raise awareness on the need to stop violence against women, and that I was able to spread awareness among passers-by," she told Daily News Egypt.
When the activist's masks grew in popularity, she enlisted a graphic designer to help with the images. She also started taking graphic design classes herself and branching out to create masks that include popular cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Batman to promote happiness during the pandemic.
Outside of Egypt, people around the world are also using masks to stand up for their beliefs — from encouraging voting to protesting police brutality. While graphic clothing can’t solve human rights issues on its own, experts say it can spark important conversations, which are an important first step toward creating change.