From Where I Stand: "I learned to defend and protect myself"

Date: Sunday, July 7, 2019

Heba breaking a piece of wood during the self-defense training.

Heba breaking a piece of wood during the self-defense training. This activity gives women a sense of power and strength. (Photo: UN Women/ Nada Ismail)

Heba El-Sayed is a young woman living in one of the marginalized areas of Alexandria, Egypt. After joining a self-defense training under UN Women’sEnding Violence against Women” programme, she learned about her right to public spaces, her right to feel safe in them and how to protect herself against sexual harassment and violence.

 “On the streets, I am verbally harassed all the time and I always hear catcalls. In buses, men “bump” into me and try to touch my shoulders or hands. I always try to give them a stern look as a warning and most of the time they back off because they are afraid that I may cause a scene. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Once, I was on a bus and the man next to me kept bumping into me and he tried to touch my hand several times. I tried to warn him but he wouldn’t stop so I yelled and the bus driver kicked him off. You even find young boys sexually harassing women - once a child came and pulled me from my skirt.

I work as a graphic design freelancer and a lot of the time men ask for my number pretending that they are clients, but they then end up calling and harassing me. They even keep sending me Facebook messages and requests. I keep on blocking them.

To protect myself, I have become very stern and aggressive with everyone, even with my family at home. My parents tell me that I should act differently when I am inside my house and let go, but this has become my personality.

I attended a self-defense training and it has pushed me to become more confident and more courageous to speak up and ask for my right to safety. I learned to defend and protect myself in a healthy way that would not affect myself and my relationship with everyone around me. I also learned to deal with harassers in a manner that would not harm me or put me in any dangerous or humiliating situation.”


Heba El-Sayed took part in a self-defense training provided by UN Women to girls and women in order to empower them and increase their sense of safety in public places. This activity is organized under the framework of the “Ending Violence against Women” programme, which is implemented by UN Women, in partnership with The National Council for Women, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, CARE International in Egypt, and five local NGOs in the intervention areas, and with the generous support of USAID/Egypt.


Heba’s story relates to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres.


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