Saturday, February 2, 2013

Egypt's Sexual Harassment Phenomenon

The past few weeks have seen mass demonstrations, protests, and outbursts of violence throughout various cities in Egypt. As people continue to struggle for their democratic rights, as a woman I am left wondering are we really fighting to progress forwards, or is society here regressing backwards at a great rate of knots?

In Tahrir Square, Hardees is known as an infamous local for continued sexual harassment. Many women have fallen victim to the predators in the area, who will leave them stripped, vulnerable, and violated. Reports from a few days ago indicated that one mob attacked a group of women, leaving one woman with stab wounds to her genitalia. Al-Ahram published the following account from a member of the anti-sexual  harassment team during one of their live feeds: “Usually when we find the girls they are topless or their trousers have been removed. In a couple of cases volunteers have had to take off their own clothes to clothe the attacked woman. Establishing trust with the victim is very important - we keep saying our names and who we're working with to reassure them. We're hoping today we won't see these violent attacks.” Ahmed Aggour, 25, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment volunteer."

I have written blogs previously about the attempts to combat these increasing incidents of sexual harassment in Tahrir, particularly through the group calling themselves the "Tahrir Bodyguards," which has evolved into "Operation anti-sexual harassment and assault." Pictured below are a group of volunteers who went into the midst of things in Tahrir to try and combat the sexual harassment.

Courtesy of Op-Anti Sexual Harassment's FB page

Firstly, you'd think as a woman you would have the sense to stay away from Tahrir. That's my immediate go-to thought process. But then when I really consider it, as this is a country fighting for their freedom why should women *not* be able to participate in that fight? Why should women be frightened away from the struggle towards democracy because of the actions of a group of predators? Why is it that women are being subjugated to this gross perversion of society, and rather than standing up and fighting back are meant to sit at home trembling for fear of any future incidents?

Here in Hurghada a friend of mine was recently out walking her dog and was attacked by a man wielding a stick. Although it wasn't entirely clear, it appeared that he had been following and watching her through the desert, as well as sticking his hands down his pants while observing. This man has apparently been a repeat offender of attacks in the desert, and has allegedly been spotted with his hands down his pants in the same location on a number of occasions. Again the first reaction here would be to stay away from the desert. But why? Are we as women not entitled to the same protection and freedom as that man in the desert?

After the attack my friend considered reporting it to the police. However, after speaking with her consulate here, she was advised that "unless you want to spend the night in the police station waiting for a judge's order, it's best to let it go." Let it go. An attempted sexual assault on a foreign woman here, and she was told to let it go.

This problem crosses any ethnic or national boundaries, as Egyptian women face the same problem. And the immediate response is always the same. "Don't go into that area." What message is this sending to any potential abusers out there? You can not only get away with attacking a women, but you can plan to wait in the same location and actually prey on them on a daily basis, and know that you will get away Scott free unless someone happens to actually catch you in the act itself. So to avoid that, you'll recruit a group of friends to prey on the women with you as there's a greater protection in numbers and you're less likely to get caught out as an individual.

Where is the logic! Where is the protection for women! Why is it that we are constantly seen as being the lesser sex, the sex incapable of being out there fighting for the rights of future generations, or able to simply enjoy being outdoors without the fear of potential attacks, and at the end of the day being made feel that it is your own fault as a woman for daring to step out of your own front door. This has to stop! 

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