My Teacher My Hairdresser

by Laura Boushnak


While going through my friends’ Facebook posts, I came across a story about a fully veiled Egyptian teacher who decided to cut the hair of two of her elementary students, simply because they were not wearing the hijab (head scarf) like the rest of their classmates. According to the article, she punished the two girls in front of the whole class and made them stand facing the wall with their hands raised in the air, before she applied her beliefs on them.

The post made me furious. Firstly, because the only action I could take right at that moment was to abstain from clicking the “like” button, and add a few words expressing my sympathy for the girls. Secondly, because it reminded me of the outdated teaching methods still being used by schools across the Arab world, where I myself had to experience some of those humiliating moments 20 years ago.

The article also reminded me of a photo I took two years ago at a school in the suburbs of Cairo. More specifically, it reminded me of a girl in the background of the picture. I snapped the subjects of the picture, Asil and Abir, as they read their books, and I saw the girl in my viewfinder. She was clearly being punished. She was being made to face the wall with her hands raised in the air. I decided not to say anything to the teacher but I should have. I might not have changed anything but at least I could say that I let my thoughts out.

I’m documenting Arab women and literacy across the Arab world and this is not the first time I see something I can’t stand.

Many educational barriers stand in the face of girls and women across the region. But as long as there are no serious educational reforms of what both girls and boys are being taught and, above all, how they are being taught, we will still be stuck in the same place for many years to come.