Today, the entire world is celebrating International Women’s Day. It highlights all the success stories from every corner of the world, all the bosses, engineers, students, mothers, entrepreneurs, wives, artists, and more. Facebook is celebrating International Women’s Day this year, by giving us the opportunity to conduct two interviews with two of the community leaders, that started Facebook Groups that are constantly changing women’s lives.
One of the leading Facebook Groups that affects women’s lives in our community is Confessions of a Married Woman. The group is a space where women in Egypt can discuss marital issues, including sexual wellbeing and sexual health, founded by Zeinab El Ashry.
When Zeinab ElAshry got married, around six years ago, she had “the shock of my life. No one prepares you for what married life is like,” she says. “It’s the norm in the middle east not to have pre-marital sexual relationships, so the wedding night is the first time that you’re intimate with a man, but also, there is the daily life and all the responsibilities that you now have.”
She remembers talking to co-workers shortly after her wedding, saying “you didn’t tell me it was like this”, when they, for the first time, had a full and frank conversation about being married. “We spent an hour over coffee sharing stories, it was a very funny conversation. Then afterward, someone contacted me and said, “that was the first time I’d ever discussed that.”
Zeinab created a secret Facebook group and added her co-workers, so they could continue the conversation online. “Because of our culture, people don’t share their deepest secrets with anyone in person,” she says. Friends of friends joined the group, and there are now more than 141,000 members sharing funny as well as heart-rending tales. “The group became a large support and therapy group, where people can speak about their fears, or vent their frustrations,” she says.
We had an exclusive interview with Zeinab on International Women Day to celebrate the influence that she’s having on women from her community.
What are the most common issues that come up a lot in your group?
The group started for married women, to share their problems but later it became a safe environment for all women regardless of their marital status or age. Now we have women ages 21-65+, all sharing their problems and deepest fears. However, by default, because of the nature of the group, that gives every woman the opportunity to discuss all her issues, problems, and deepest fears anonymously.
The nature of problems are very sensitive topics, you can find stories about sexual problems, sexual harassment, cheating husbands or wives and how to talk about my kids regarding sexual matters/ problems or even financial problems and delicate matters such as who should spend in the house, man or woman
What are some of the craziest issues you’ve seen?
I would not call it crazy, to be honest, but more as shocking and revelation to what happens around us behind closed doors, that might be happening for years and no one knows! Over the years, I received problems about:
Harassment cases for women, been abused since they were children, maybe sometimes by family members and close acquaintances of the family. Educated women accepting to live in an abusive relationship physically and emotionally for financial reasons (though they live in a reasonable social standard yet they still can’t afford handling all the financial burden for her family)
Girls spending years married and still virgin with no intercourse happening because of medical condition called “Vaginismus”, not knowing the reason, or being misdiagnosed though it can be treated, but most of those girls had no idea HOW Sexual problems and orientations by being exposed to the modern world, social media or porn movies, which are affecting the marital life.
How do you come up with the rules of the group that keeps the members safe?
It is more of a trial and error process, over the years we problems would arise and I would act upon it by creating a rule to regulate it. Starting from banning any debate related to politics or religion to the banning of any rude/ offensive comments. The list is long of our rules, but the main aim all the time is to maintain a safe environment for women to feel safe and not bullied for speaking up about their problems
How do you think the group influenced the lives of women in your community?
We try all the time to add more value to help more women, but I always say that this group helped influencing women in its simplest form to give them a safe place to vent out, speak up and find support! Support could be by a piece of advice, help from someone who passed through the same problem to give her hope that all this will pass, or even just a virtual tap on the shoulder and telling the confessor that we are all praying for her. So it’s a huge 150,000 women support group to discuss topics you can never discuss with your friends, mother or anyone.
How did the idea of the group come to you?
It started six years ago when I got married and started facing many incidents (good or bad) but certainly not, what I expected! As all newlyweds; I thought it is only me, then after small chitchat with friends, found out the horrible yet relieving truth; it is not just, me it is marriage.
The fact was that we all faced the same/exact problems.
Yet no one talks about it, every woman was trapped inside a horrible thought that “it’s just me”. This was the trigger to start the first therapy/ support group, where you can get to know others’ experiences and get educated by sharing, but we had to regulate it in a way that women would feel safe and protected by sending their problems anonymously. After years, problems nature changed and it’s no longer related to marriage only, but now it concerns every woman, whether married, single, mother…etc
On International Women’s day, what’s your message to all the women in your community?
Women have been pushed all their lives towards a specific path, work, stay at home, be blond, sexy, modest….etc. In the midst of all this, we lost our paths, we no longer know what makes us happy over what is correct, convenient or appealing to others. That’s why in our community we knock on all closed doors, open untapped topics to educate women about their health, relationships, sexual education, parenting, how to excel at work….our aim is not to “empower” women, but to let them know what they are capable of first and how to use their own capabilities