Lina Geoushy: “I wanted our voices to be heard, but also made visible”

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine: Tradition & Identity. Available to purchase at thebjpshop.com.

In Shame Less, Geoushy creates space for participants to voice their experiences of sexual assualt, challenging the pervasiveness of gender-based violence in her home country of Egypt and beyond

In December 2020, Egyptian photographer Lina Geoushy embarked on a project titled Shame Less, delving into the web of factors and settings connected to sexual violence in Egypt. She was responding, in part, to the emergence of an Egyptian #MeToo moment earlier that year, which had gained momentum across social media. Countless women shared stories of sexual assault, amplifying the pervasiveness of gender-based violence in the country and establishing a space where individuals could voice their experiences and concerns.

Geoushy splits her time between Egypt’s capital Cairo and London, recently graduating from London College of Communication with an MA in photojournalism and documentary photography. The photographer is no stranger to sexual assault, having experienced it throughout her life, on the streets, at home and at work. “Sexual violence and gender-based violence are universal,” says Geoushy, referencing a 2021 report published by the World Health Organisation. The report found that during their lifetime, one in three women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner.

In My Childhood Home. "I was ten or 11 when this started happening. My cousin used to live with us and he is ten years older than me. He would touch me occasionally in inappropriate ways when my mother and brothers were not around. I would wake up during the night to find him in my bed next to me touching me with his penis. As soon as I would wake up he would runaway. I was too young, I couldn’t process it and felt angry and scared. I didn't feel safe, not even at home. The hardest part was my parents’ reaction, or the lack of reaction. I felt I didn't matter, not even to my family.” © Lina Geoushy.
Public Transport (Bus). “I am now 64 years old. When I was in university, I used to live in a hostel. At the end of each week,I used to go to my grandparents’ house. One day, while I was coming back from my grandfather’s house to the hostel, I got onto a bus full of people. One of the men on the bus started moving towards me and standing very close, stuck himself to me. I felt something abnormal was happening. I felt ashamed of what happened to me.” © Lina Geoushy.
Chasing Pavements. “While I was walking alone in a long street, a man in his fifties started following me with his car for a long period and making hand gestures for me to get into the car with him. I was afraid so I crossed to the other side of the road, and he went around with his car and continued to follow me saying, ‘Come in and I will satisfy you and give you what you want’. In fear of him getting close to me, I tried to walk away from the car and deeper into the pavement.” © Lina Geoushy.

Honing in on Egypt, where a 2013 United Nations study revealed that 99.3 per cent of the Egyptian women surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment, the photographer attributes its intensity to “a culture of impunity”. Individuals are reluctant to speak out about assault, let alone report it, due to an unwillingness by police, institutions, and even friends and families to take appropriate action.

Shame Less, in contrast, creates space for its participants to be heard, spotlighting Geoushy’s experiences and those of others. It is as much a show of solidarity with other women as an investigation of gender-based violence’s prevalence across the world. The ongoing series comprises portraits of women in places where they feel safe – terraces, living rooms, gardens – embellished with text articulating their experiences of assault and reflections on it. “I wanted our voices to be heard, but also made visible,” says Geoushy

Walking Home. “Walking home, a man on the street walked towards me and stroked my vagina. I just froze and continued walking home. Walking home from work, a teenager on a bicycle grabbed my chest and quickly cycled away before I could scream." © Lina Geoushy.

Almost a microcosm of the #MeToo community that developed on social media, the photographs provide a forum where their subjects can speak out with the support of others. Gold brushstrokes embellish several participants’ eyes: “Gold has been a potent symbol of authority, and power or prosperity, and here I’m using it as an intervention to protect identities. It’s a form of protection not censorship,” says Geoushy. While this chapter of the project centres on women’s experiences, future iterations will delve into other aspects, including sexual violence from a male perspective, and if and how men can be allies.

Ultimately, it is the “matrix surrounding violence against women,” as Geoushy articulates it, which Shame Less endeavours to take on, confronting the complexities and deep-rootedness of gender-based violence in Egypt and beyond.

Shame Less by Lina Geoushy is one of the winning series of Female in Focus 2022

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.