Friday, February 1, 2013

Streets of Hell: Sexual Harassment Against Women in Egypt

I see them dragging her again, in the dark alleys of Alexandria, with the cheering crowd in a mixed of melancholia and revenge, grabbing her, stripping her of her clothes, but never getting to her unadulterated soul  in a scene that comes naturally in classic Shakespearian ends. I see this beautiful, pure and revolutionary, the Hellenistic philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria is alive.
Today, her granddaughters (although many of them now value her murderer`s values more than what she stood for) have been facing the same hate, prejudice and violence, Hypatia once faced bravely alone.
Almost every girl, woman (even female cat) that ever swept the streets of Egypt, rode its transportation, or ever breathe the air of its polluted skies, had experienced some form of physical, verbal, psychological sexual harassment.
The harassment is an ever-lasting chronically problem in Egypt, however the rate had spiked reaching epidemic proportions lately, with savagely and severity of incidents taking the shape in many times as a mob-like attacks. What is even worse about it, is both government and society turning blind eye to it, making it even acceptable, inevitable and allowed to be that worse.
Sometimes, I think women in Egypt are very brave to be able to still hit the road everyday and they know that spying eyes and dirty words are at every corner, all age groups are condemned, and all classes, men tightening more and more the grip leaving no room to breathe, so times it is even hard to stop and bend to tie your shoe`s ropes as people might attack you on bending and doing so, making it a daily struggle only topped, if not by bread lines that stages Egypt`s streets.
Although there is no reliable, clear-cut statistics of number of sexually assaulted women in Egypt, which is due to many factors mainly that most women are either too ashamed of reporting these incidents, or pushed by their families to hide these incidents due to humiliation that will be caused to the family (with the culture of blaming women for everything, and on the wrong side whatever that is), however all numbers indicates its a ‘disaster’ by all means.

According to the latest demographic study, issued by the Egyptian Information and Decision Support in 2011 Center, stated that 44 per cent of the females in the country are subjected to sexual harassment, and in another 2008 survey, the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights surveyed 2,000 Egyptian men and women and 109 foreign women in four governorates in the country, including Cairo and Giza, about eighty-three percent of Egyptian women reported experiencing sexual harassment on the street at least once and nearly half of the women said they experience it daily. Ninety-eight percent of the foreign women surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment while in Egypt. Wearing a veil did not appear to lessen a woman’s chances of being harassed.
Honestly, I'm not surprised. About 62 percent of Egyptian men admitted to perpetrating harassment, Egyptian men view women as objects, sex objects made to serve in house and bed! Women in Egypt, and I dare to say the Arab and Islamic countries enjoys extremely low rights, mostly considered as second-class citizens, with no rights and obligations to fulfil. According to Egyptian mainstream Islam, Muslim women should helplessly stay at houses, obey husband`s orders, doing housework with no participation in both public and political rights, with now voice.
Other nonsense men excuses that includes the dress of women in Egypt attracts for them these harasses, which is very untrue since most Egyptian women are modestly if not called very conservative in their outfit, and statistics showed no difference in harassment rates between and unveiled women, also even Niqabi women (with full-face veil) are targeted, other stupid excuse include the high price of marriage,  revealing dress of superstars on TV that arouse them
In an article I did two years ago, I interviewed male harasser who confirmed to me proudly that they harass these women as they are ‘indecent’ women, “a woman should stay at home, and if she goes out that means she is a whore and deserve that/ or even ask for that”
Just few days back, in the second anniversary of Egypt`s January revolution, a date for toppling regimes, now groping breasts. More than 19 cases where reported on that day of 25 Jan 2013, where even more violence was used, where now weapons like knifes and sticks are used in such cases where mobs of tens, if not hundreds, of men come together in a extraordinary solidarity to rape these women.
Here is one of the testimony that appeared was reported by “Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH)” is an initiative by a number of Egyptian human rights organizations and individuals set up to combat sexual formed November 2012
She describes what happened: “I ran inside the circle of men to try to save her; the men let me through. Once I was in the middle of the circle, I realized that the person being attacked was my colleague and that the reported attack was a ruse to get us to the scene to intimidate and assault us… Suddenly hands were on my breasts, inside my bra, and squeezing my nipples… I was trying to defend myself and heard my colleague screaming. Her chest was bare and they cut her bra down the middle… In the middle of this, they were insulting us and calling us whores who were asking for this by squeezing ourselves in the middle of men… At some point I could feel 15 hands on me… Someone grabbed me by my clothes and was dragging me on the ground… Another guy put his hand down my trousers.
The incident took place in Tahrir Square at about 8:30pm on 23 November 2012, during protests against President’s Mohamed Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration.
The horrible recount of the testimonials of these attacks, shows the severity of the problem, and the lame response of authority, making it as guilty as the harassers, is typical and reflects a culture of denial, and the state of indifference (that is dominated) in all issues.
Different explanations and analysis given by activists involved in addressing the increasing phenomenon of harassment in protests: a culture of denial when it comes to violence against women; with criminal elements and slums people filling the political scenes in times of protests, and the current climate of political instability; given them golden opportunity to harass and rape women amid chaos and disappearance of state and authority.
Although authorities announced a new sexual-harassment law in October, but never implemented it. It does not seem to have been a priority for the authorities. Instead, a new constitution passed in December refers to women’s role as homemakers, and does not explicitly ban discrimination against them.
I can`t imagine that women in Egypt until late 1970s, it feels as it is a distant dream now, that women were predominately unveiled. They wore modern clothes that with mini-skirts, short sleeves and went to the beach and swam in the sea wearing swimsuits that showed off their legs. And despite all this, there was never any harassment. Before we went to Bedouins and got their ideologies and adopt the Wahabi interpretations of religion and customs.

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