Sexual harassment in Egypt escalates

Although sexual harassment has always been present in Egypt, the issue has escalated in recent months. Reports of extreme verbal and physical abuse are finally sinking in and causing awareness to spread.

Early this June, over 20 women’s groups came together for a protesting demonstration. Men with rocks and glass shards attacked them. Thankfully, no one was severely injured. Likewise, on International Women’s Day in March, more protesters were assaulted. Many were injured, leaving one woman with eight stitches in her head.

In December 2011, Egyptian military forces stripped and beat a woman who was protesting in her traditional Islamic garment. Her blue bra, which was exposed, became a symbol of protest for Egyptian women. The symbol’s significance triggered a march in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and marks one of the largest female protests in Egypt since 1919.

The severity of harassment also shows in the stories of female journalists visiting the country for their work. In 2011, Lara Logan of CBS was assaulted while reporting, and British journalist Natasha Smith was stripped naked and beaten in Tahrir Square while attempting to film a documentary. She had to be disguised and escorted out of the area in order to escape.

“I found myself being dragged from my male friend, groped all over, with increasing force and aggression,” she wrote on her blog. “I screamed. I could see what was happening and I saw that I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t believe I had got into this situation.”

Mahmoud, a bus driver interviewed by a France 24 reporter, confidently stated, “Harassment? Personally, I do it! I do it every day on this bus! And between you and I, what does a girl expect when she goes out in the street dressed in tight clothing?”

Many men justify their actions by blaming the victims, saying their clothing or location was the cause. Some also claim that girls should not go outside unless they have a male relative or husband with them for protection. Counter to those claims, even women dressed in conservative Islamic or traditional dress become victims of sexual assault.

Egypt’s National Council of Women Chief Mervat Tallawy claimed that women are harassed seven times every 200 meters. An additional study found that over two thirds of Egyptian women are harassed daily.

For years, sexual harassment has been considered playful in Egypt, something that could not be avoided. Slowly, things are beginning to change. In December 2010, a movie entitled “Cairo 6, 7, 8” came out in the country, revealing the presence of sexual harassment in various settings. This, paired with social media outlets like Facebook and YouTube, has helped to spread awareness.

“It exceeds personal bitterness to grieve what Egyptian women have to face daily … from the systematic violation of their dignity, and the male-enforced twist of the catastrophe by a very bad vindicatory (type of) speech,” said Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political scientist, in reference to the common practice of blaming women for their harassment.

Protests and assaults have both been rising in number as women assert their freedom even more fervently. While the issue remains critical, the world’s growing knowledge of the problem will hopefully help to improve the nation and end the suffering of women in Egypt.