VIDEO: Unwed woman breaks taboo, roams Cairo's streets in wedding dress

Ayat Al Tawy , Saturday 17 Jan 2015

Defying traditional stereotypes shunning unmarried women, Samah Hamdi threw the spotlight back on social norms in an award-winning video, but to little avail in her personal life

Samiha Hamdi sitting in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, staring into space

Life in Egypt can be particularly tough for women, suffering a multitude of enduring social ills, on top of which the stigma of being unmarried.

Samah Hamdi has moved to disrupt the silence and break free of the traditional mould that casts marriage as an ostensibly overriding goal for females, conversely shunning those who are unwed.    

Tired of being put in a pigeonhole by her family, the 27-year-old donned a mock wedding gown and veil as she roamed the streets of Cairo, in a bid to shed light on the issue.

Photos and video show Hamdi going through her real daily routine, from walking down the street and taking the subway, to arriving to her office, window shopping, and having leisurely lunch with friends at a restaurant — all in wedding attire.

The stunt was aimed at highlighting the unfair cultural paradigm woman are being cast into, along with the intrusion of society into their lives.

"I just want to appear in the way my family and mother, a microcosm of society, have always pushed to see me in," says Hamdi, an interior designer who is pursuing a Master's degree in performance arts.

"No matter how accomplished you are, that won't count if you aren't married or haven't undertaken the mission you were purportedly created for: getting married and establishing a family," Hamdi adds.

"[Society] believes that any other women's plans or aspirations should serve that end: you become a doctor or pursue Master's so you can land on a doctor or a better prospective groom; you dress this way so you appeal to and attract men, etc."

And, she regrets, if you aren’t married, then you’re flawed.

According to figures from the state's census agency in 2011, almost nine million Egyptians had reached the age of 33 without getting married, nearly half of whom women.

Hamdi said she was spurred by recurrent family squabbles over the fact that she is "late" for marriage and their unrelenting nagging that she get betrothed.

What became a prize-winning video installation project at first was only meant to be an amateur footage in which Hamdi voiced her "resentment and rejection" at that pattern of thought that she believes is embedded in the country's patriarchal, conservative culture.

The antics undoubtedly raised eyebrows, with some passersby whispering about the bride whose groom seems to have run away, others scrabbling around to take photos, vendors staging her a zaffa (a musical performance staged before the entrance of the bride in common wedding ritual) and men catcalling with sexual innuendos.

The video art project, a five-minute video and 56 photographs, were shot in three days over a span of almost a year.

The project only came to light when it was shown in the Cairo Opera House's 25th Salon of Young Artists in November 2014. There was a screening of the video, with the photos displayed on an adjoining wall coupled with twin-texts representing Hamdi's replies to the negative conventional image of unmarried women. The project won the Ahmed Basiouny prize for video installation.

Hamdi says her move has prodded young women of her age into coming forward, rethinking marriage stereotypes of women, and speaking out against them.

But as deep seated cultural norms are not that easy to challenge, Hamdi's mother has not budged an inch. She thinks her daughter, whom she views as a "spinster," played in the stunt a role she has "failed to accomplish in real life" — getting married.

Hamdi waiting for a train at a metro platform

She walks down the street in Giza's Mohandiseen district in her wedding attire

She checks herself in the mirror as she does her shopping

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