When you hear the name Hawarah and if you’re a fan of Egyptian drama, you spontaneously think of the Egyptian soap opera “Ze’ab Al Gabal” translates to Mountain Wolves. Ze’ab Al Gabal tells the story of Warda, a girl from Al Hawarah. Warda falls in love with Hatem, a man who’s not a Hawary and her brother Badry –who holds a bachelor degree- doesn’t approve their marriage. So, Warda runs away from her family with Hatem to England to start her new life. Badry, the brother, keeps looking for her insisting on killing her for challenging their traditions. Unfortunately this wasn’t a dramatic cliché or the imagination of the author; the story of Warda is the story of every Hawarah girl who thrives to claim her basic rights.
I got the chance to meet Hawarahs in Dar El Salam –south Souhag- where I worked with the most challenging group of female trainees. The group was diverse in terms of educational backgrounds, age groups and marital status; yet they faced the same destiny. They have to obey the laws of Al Hawarah, the ones that deprive them from practicing their simplest rights such as choosing their future husbands or even pursue their education.
Al Hawarah -a major tribe that belongs originally to Amazigh, who came from Al Maghreb & Libya-, is distributed among Upper Egypt, mainly in Souhag and Qena. They are very proud of their origins, history and their vast agricultural lands from which they extend power and exercise patronage over their families. Al Hawarah has very strict rules when it comes to marriage. Endogamy is the only approved form of marriage, yet men can occasionally marry outside the tribe; but if a woman did the same she is exposing herself to punishment which could even lead to death. This story actually happened before –according to Hawarah girls- when a girl broke the rule and got married to an outsider;her family kidnapped her and killed her.
How can they do that and why? Well, the answer won’t make you feel better. It’s because they won’t allow outsiders to take control over their lands –on the long run- and thus affects their extended power.
The most challenging factor in that group was rigid mindset concerning customs and traditions; they were very sensitive when it comes to endogamy, FGM, child-marriage or any issue concerning women rights.
Hawarahs degrade women and treat them as second class humans. They are not allowed to go out of their village for high education, they are not allowed to get married to anyone who is not belonging to Al Hawarah and in some villages, women go out of their houses wearing masculine Galabeya in order not to catch the attention of men. But for men, it is different. Based on Al Hawarah testimonials- the number of female Hawarahs is pretty higher than the number of male Hawarahs, and out of “generosity” male Hawarahs sometimes marry 2, 3 and maybe 4 women. Having many options to choose from makes men tend to marry younger girls which propels child-marriage. The problem is –in my opinion- that women are surrendering and not fighting for any of their rights, as they really do not know any better.They turned to be passive, unambitious and are only keen to get married before they reach their mid-20s, or their chances will be limited to old married men, if there would be at all.
It’s worth mentioning that our program offered for the first time to most of the attendees a chance to learn about reproductive and sexual health from a medical –yet simplified- point of view. It was interesting for them. They were actively participating in open discussions, debates and open Q&As. They were also keen by the end of the training to transfer the knowledge they gained to other women in their village.
Finally, I’m addressing development workers to go to the villages of Dar El Salam, and similar where there are many brand new beneficiaries that have barely received any awareness campaigns, social services or development projects. That does not mean, it is a piece of cake, but it’s totally worth accepting the challenge as we are doing.
Note: The stories about Hawarah are based on stories we heard from some Hawarah leaders and people.