Egypt Pulse

Despite risks, women continue to protest in Egypt

Article Summary
Although female demonstrators in Egypt are subjected to a number of risks, they have developed ways of minimizing these dangers and still insist on taking to the streets to protest.

CAIRO — Egypt has gotten no respite from demonstrations and protests by citizens demanding various rights and freedoms. Members from all social groups continue to take part in such demonstrations. The women and girls who participate confront specifically gender-related problems, so they have been taking special care and making arrangements for their safety before they join demonstrations.

Sarah al-Sharif, a human rights activist, has taken part in numerous protests, including prior to the January 25 Revolution. She explained to Al-Monitor that during such marches and gatherings, women face greater physical risks than men. Women not only have to worry about being arrested or hit by police gunfire, but they are also exposed to harassment, and worse, rape, as happened to a number of women on the second anniversary of the revolution. Sharif stresses, however, that these incidents do not stop women from taking to the streets. Rather, they make them more determined to demand their rights.

Sharif shared that she makes certain arrangements before taking part in a demonstration. First and foremost she makes sure that she will not be alone, and therefore is always accompanied by her friends. This allows them to assist one another in case one of them gets hurt. Furthermore, she does not carry a lot of money or an expensive phone, to avoid being robbed.

Moreover, she makes carefully considered decisions regarding the clothes she wears. Sharif chooses loose-fitting clothing to avoid attracting the attention of harassers, and she avoids bright colors so that she does not stand out in the crowd, potentially drawing the attention of police. She usually wears a bodysuit under her clothing to avoid being nude in case she falls down or is sprayed with water by security forces.

Hamas Gumaa, a female student and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, makes additional arrangements. She told Al-Monitor that she, like other women affiliated with the Brotherhood, is not used to wearing pants. She does, however, wear them when taking part in protests, because it is easier to move around in them, and sometimes she has to jump over fences when security forces storm a demonstration. She also notes that she wears sports shoes so she can run easily and faster.

As the security forces' counterdemonstration tactics have evolved, so have women's preparations. Gumaa said she now brings a mask to protests, which is necessary to minimize the effects of tear gas. Moreover, she carries a bottle of vinegar, which protesters douse on their masks to help neutralize the tear gas, as well as Mucogel, a lotion that helps mitigate the effects of the gas on the face and eyes.

Tips for women

Izzat Kamel, a women's rights activist, told Al-Monitor that female protesters are subject to harassment not only by uniformed security officers but also by plainclothes, undercover officers deployed by the Interior Ministry. Kamel provided tips for women participating in demonstrations: Wear a large ring that can be effective when hitting someone attacking them; keep one or more metal pins in their clothing to be used if approached by a harasser; scream loudly if hurt or attacked, to alert those nearby that assistance is needed; if apprehended, quickly contact someone and tell them what has happened before their mobile phone is stolen or confiscated by the police.

Kamel said that these steps are not to incite violence, but to protect women as much as possible. Female protesters do not use these tools unless necessary to avoid being hurt. She confirmed that the authorities, knowing that harassment and rape are effective means of breaking a woman's spirit, have always tried to intimidate them by dispatching thugs to sexually assault them so they will reconsider participating in future protests.

Women have been highly visible during demonstrations organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Nuran Abdel Fattah, a member of Students Against the Coup Movement at Ain Shams University, told Al-Monitor that the Brotherhood protests are different from those organized by non-Brotherhood activists. She said that based on her experience with both types of demonstrations, she believes that the Brotherhood marches are better organized, the routes are more defined and there is greater protection for female participants. In addition, men surround the marches to prevent females from being attacked, whether by security forces or the plants used by the police to break up demonstrations. Abdel Fattah stressed that Brotherhood demonstrations are also devoid of vulgar expressions or chants that offend women, something she says is not true of other demonstrations.

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Found in: women, violence against women, security, protests, muslim brotherhood, egypt

Enas Hamed holds a BA in mass communication and a diploma in journalistic translation from the American University in Cairo. She has worked in the investigations department at the Shorouk newspaper and as a program editor for Al-Sharq al-Awsat radio. She currently heads the news team for Shorouk's website. 

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