She is a young woman with long brown hair and a shy smile who mourns the inexorable passing of time. Aged 29, Basant Motawi looks 10 years younger, but could be 10 years older given the impressive length of her resume.
She was born and raised in Cairo, a “world” city of 15 million – “exhausting” she says, although she would not think to live elsewhere very long. The women in her family are all educated. Her mother is a doctor, her sister majored in political science. As for Basant, she took both courses. She studied at Ain Shams Faculty of Medicine in Cairo, then Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she graduated with a master’s degree in public health. She is currently doing a PhD at the University of Maryland. She says:
“I was interested in working in public health, but there was no such specialization in Egypt. I applied for a scholarship to be able to study in the United States.
The selection process was quite strict. Academic results, career project, motivation interview… Everything was scrutinized. I think I was the only Egyptian to be admitted that year.”
Her doctoral research documents how children are impacted by the violence perpetrated against women in Egypt, Afghanistan, Jordania and Pakistan. When she was a medical student, Basant Motawi saw far too many female victims of sexual fondling, rape and beatings coming to the hospital. She has since decided to dedicate her life to helping them.
Four years ago, she and her friends from Ain Shams University envisioned Aspire, a platform to recruit and train volunteers to work with the police, conduct watches in public places, gardens, subway stations, set up preventive campaigns in universities and businesses and take care of women victims of sexual harassment or violence. Operational since the beginning of the year, Aspire has already helped dozens of women in Cairo.
When we met in Marrakech in late September, Basant Motawi had just won the 2018 Gold Award from Women in Africa, out of 54 women shortlisted.
Basant Motawi hopes that this distinction will give her some clout and visibility. In her country, she said, “violence against women, which already ranks among the highest in the world, has further deteriorated since the Arab spring”.
ENTREPRENEURS IN AFRICA. “L’Obs” publishes a weekly portrait of a young female business leader. Today’s focus: Basant Motawi, founder of Aspire.
As part of a partnership with Women In Africa, L’Obs Magazine publishes a weekly portrait of a young woman entrepreneur from Africa. Women in Africa has shortlisted 54 young women from among 1,200 applicants. They all gathered at the 2nd WIA Summit on 27 and 28 September 2018 in Marrakech, with one specificity: their respective company had to be in its infancy, no matter the area of expertise (digital, health, agri-food, finance, energy, etc.).
In this article, “L’Obs” meets Basant Motawi who started Aspire hoping to fight violence against women in her homeland.