Two years ago, Somaya Tarek chased down a man in a mall in Cairo, Egypt, after he sexually harassed her. His response was to physically attack her until mall security came to stop him. Tarek shared the details on a local talk show, where the host accused her of wearing revealing clothing.
In an article published by Shahira Amin (2017), the host, Reham Saeed, stated that “it is no surprise she would get harassed.” Two years after Tarek was attacked, the same man came after her again and slashed her face open with a razor blade. She was shamed by her family and friends for having revealed what happened to her.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in Egypt. According to a 2013 survey on sexual harassment released by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 99.3 percent of Egyptian women are sexually harassed. (Mashad, 2015). Women who are harassed and report it often are not taken seriously by the police. In an article published by The World Post, a woman named Amira who dragged a man to the nearest police station for inappropriately touching her on the bus was laughed at by the police (Meerman).
“Black Wednesday” occurred on May 25, 2005, involving a group of people hired by the Ministry of the Interior to rape and assault female journalists and protesters in an attempt to deter them from future demonstrations. Attacks such as these have happened continuously throughout the years, where the government hires people to commit sexual harassment acts against others. An article published by The Guardian reported that in 2013, more than 80 women became victims of sexual assault in Tahrir Square, where people were celebrating the forced departure of Mohamed Morsi. (Kingsley, 2013). These mass assaults of women in Egypt are not sporadic – they happen often and continuously, even after new laws have been put into place to prevent them. People in crowds have become conditioned to these attacks, and when reported, they are not taken seriously by the police.
According to a Thomas Reuters Foundation survey Egypt is ranked as the worst country in the Arab world to be a women. Women are themselves blamed when they report sexual assault, and they are then shunned because of it. Moreover, a survey conducted by UN Women and Promundo revealed that 43 percent of Egyptian men believe that women like the attention of being sexually harassed.
These mass sexual assaults in the capital of Cairo have been the subject of many news stories and have caught the attention of activists across the world. However, little is changing in Egypt regarding the status of women. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2017, the Egyptian Interior Ministry appointed Brig. Gen. Nahed Salah, a woman, to combat violence against women. She encouraged women to “avoid talking or laughing loudly in public” and to be cautious with what they choose to wear.
Sexual harassment in Egypt has been criminalized since June of 2014. An article by The Guardian reported that sexual harassment is a crime punishable by a minimum of six months in jail and a fine of 3,000 Egyptian pounds. However, this has not done a sufficient job of stopping the attacks.
According to data compiled by UN Women, about 120 million girls worldwide have at some point in their lives experienced some sort of forced sexual acts. Violence against women is still extremely prevalent today.
Women around the world have recently began campaigns to help women speak out against sexual harassment. In the United States, women started the hashtag #MeToo after the Harvey Weinstein allegations. The hashtag became the voice of women who have experienced harassment or assault, and are together taking a stand against it. The #MeToo campaign has spanned 85 countries, with more than 2 million participatory tweets sent worldwide. That hashtag resonated especially with Egyptian women, who cannot walk the streets without fear of being harassed on a daily basis.
Despite the progress the rest of the world has made on the issue, , Egypt still has a long way to go. The impact of sexual harassment and assault for women in Egypt is extremely severe. As with other women, it can cause physical and emotional damage. For Egyptian women, it can cause them to change their entire lifestyle, and avoid certain types of public transport in order to avoid harassment (which can restrict their movement to places such as work). A study done by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights states that “10 percent of Egyptian women find that harassment has a direct impact on their productivity.”
While many efforts toward reform in Egypt have begun, it may take years before we see results.
Colleen Edwards (San Diego, California)