Egyptian women dream to 'crush' sexual harassment

Article Summary
Although Egyptian women had hoped that the "new Egypt" following the January 25 Revolution would end harassment, it continues, and new campaigns aim to stomp it out.

She stopped and reprimanded the two young men. One of them looked at the other and exploded with laughter. He said to her: "Run, run … Don't you have a man to [take care of you]?" As for the second man, he was kinder and recommend that she head to the nearest clinic to undergo psychiatric treatment. But she didn't run, nor did she head to a clinic. Rather, she surprised them by resisting, not only to the obscene sexual words they said, but to the even more obscene way they were looking at her body. Here, the dialogue took a religious turn. The first man accused her of being a prostitute, saying that respectable girls wear a full face veil, or at least a hijab. Meanwhile, the second began repeating that women "truly lack both brains and religion."

As for the rest of the scene, it was very stereotypical, but it also offered something new. The stereotypical part involved the advice given to her, and the attitude that her boldness in objecting through looks or words was a disgrace. Meanwhile, the new aspect's power resides in the forbidden — not that the two young men harassed her, but that she publicly objected to it.

Young men — who are the pillars of society and served as the spark for revolutions of change — are today being accused of harassment of various forms, numerous violations and varying levels of violence. While it's true that there are harassers over 40, and that those who are harassed belong to all socioeconomic groups, youths remain the primary culprits of harassment. Even worse, the phenomenon has expanded to include children harassers.

Harassers can be seen daily on the Nile Corniche in Cairo. A woman cannot walk by without being subject to harassing words, being groped, or even having a small stone thrown at her. The vast majority of women react in one of two ways: completely ignoring the situation as if nothing happened, or avoiding going to areas known for having harassers. In the rare instances where a woman dares to get angry or object, she will inevitably face more harassment, accompanied this time by a great deal of sarcasm and descriptions ranging from questioning her honor to claims of iniquity or immorality.

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The dawn of the new Egypt, following the January 25 Revolution, led to something that women and girls did not want: an increase in harassment from thugs and the first and second generation of street children, in addition to harassment carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, when the former was in power, with the purpose of scaring women and girls to keep them from heading to Tahrir Square to protest. Furthermore, there is the usual harassment from those who think it is their right to harass women. Some men go as far as to stress and swear that "flirtatious" expressions will delight any woman or girl, that they are "doing them a favor" and "raising their morale."

There is not much interest, time or effort invested in studying the psychological effects that harassment has on a girl. The same is true for studies of the causes for the explosion of harassment that is faced by the overwhelming majority of Egyptian women and girls. 

The Egyptian women that expected the new Egypt — despite its slips and failures — to be a safer place and a more humanitarian refuge to accommodate them (after they had fallen victim to Islamist expansion for many years) were surprised that various parties agreed that they were "the weakest link." 

Under new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the "weakest link" had been promised a restoration of dignity and a return of their status. The latter has been seized by poverty, overstepped by unemployment and affected by the departure of families from education, as school teachers became involved in private lessons. Meanwhile, the state was preoccupied with corruption and protecting itself, opening the door for the Islamized parallel state to provide medical treatment, education and support through its own Islamic standards.

The debate that has been ongoing since the harassment incidents in Tahrir Square during Sisi's inauguration reveals how much sexual harassment has become a hot topic in society. There are those who mourn that chivalry has fallen by the wayside and no longer a characteristic of the youth today. Others plead for "family upbringings" that no longer exist. Some are surprised by the emergence of a second generation of street children, with whom there is no sense of shame or sin. Still others blame the girls who headed to Tahrir Square, as in their opinion proper girls don't frequent crowded places. And some gloated in what happened to these girls, believing that anyone who voted for Sisi or took to the streets to celebrate deserves to be crushed.

Crushing harassment is a dream of Egyptian women, but it will remain a dream until it is realized through learning the motivations behind harassment, far removed from the justifications of poverty and eternal unemployment or claims that it is caused by repression and innate desires, the Internet or pornographic films. Shehenda, 26, an Egyptian woman who has been a victim of harassment during two demonstrations in the past three years — in addition to normal everyday harassment — said, "Many countries suffer from the same conditions, but the door is not open for anyone to express his desires or disease on God's creation in the street. We have to face ourselves, our reality, no matter how painful or shameful." 

The majority of young harassers do not admit that they are harassing. Their responses to accusations range from sarcasm to denial, throwing the blame on the girls. They say, "Their clothes have become extremely inappropriate," "They laugh loudly in the street" or "If girls are free to wear what they like and laugh as they like, I, too, am free to do what I want." 

But there are two glimmers of hope on the horizon. The first comes in the newly passed law toughening the punishment for harassment, and it mentions the phrase "sexual harassment" for the first time ever in a law. The second comes from the young people themselves, but this time from those who object to harassment via youth initiatives and awareness campaigns. The latter began timidly a few years ago, but returned actively in light of the horrid cases of harassment in Tahrir Square. There is a renewed hope for the state to support a long-awaited confirmation that Egyptian women are full-fledged citizens entitled to all the rights and duties as men. 

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Found in: women’s rights, women, january 25 revolution, egyptian youth, egyptian society, egyptian revolution, egypt, abdel fattah al-sisi
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