Sexual harassment gets worse in post-uprising Egypt

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-2-11 12:45:55

Sexual harassment has become a more explicit phenomenon afflicting the Egyptian society after the country's 2011 upheaval due to constant protests and deteriorating security.

Women are deemed inferior to men in Egypt's male-dominated culture, said feminists and human rights activists, stressing that the state is responsible for sexual harassment due to general passivity toward the issue and the lack of security, lack of awareness of women's rights and lack of deterrent laws against harassers.

Mervat al-Tallawi, chairwoman of the National Council for Women said at a press conference on Sunday that the state was responsible for the phenomenon, particularly the prevailing group sexual harassment and rape.

She noted that the Council has filed a lawsuit against such an "organized crime" against Egyptian women, adding that "the law alone is not enough to combat such an issue."

"If all forces unite, including the people, the interior ministry, the education ministry, the Muslim mosques and Christian churches, the phenomenon can be minimized," Tallawi told Xinhua, adding that changes need time.

Tallawi criticized the country's political leadership in this regard, urging executive institutions, schools and the media to cooperate in enhancing awareness and changing cultural blemishes that led to such "a dangerous phenomenon."

Feminists and activists said the phenomenon of sexual harassment was always there even before the uprising in 2011, but it shamelessly prevailed afterward and led to a new phenomenon - "the group sexual harassment."

"We do not have accurate statistic about sexual harassments in Egypt, but we made a survey during the previous Muslim feast and we found out that two out of each three girls are sexually harassed," Azza Kamel, head of Appropriate Communication Techniques (ACT) Center for Development, told Xinhua, warning it was an extremely high rate.

Human rights activists said that women in Egypt might experience various types of harassment by males, from teens, young men to men and even aged men. They do not care about the female's age and harass them with shameless verbal comments, grope, assault or even rape.

"The boys walk around recklessly, feeling there are no limits to their behaviors in the streets," a woman in the street told Xinhua. "I don't want to tell you what they do and say in public. We wish this would stop."

For his part, Fathy Farid, a researcher at ACT center and coordinator of "I Saw Harassment" initiative, blamed the government and the interior ministry in particular for the growing issue, arguing that police officers reportedly looked down upon females who dared to report sexual harassment cases and sided with the harassers or gropers.

"The police officer who arrests a harasser does not believe that the man is wrong and he sexually abused the victim," Farid told Xinhua. "If the culture of Egyptian police does not change, the girl will remain the victim, and she will have to find a different way to defend herself against harassers such as using violence."

The government said it will draft laws to reinforce the punishment on sexual harassment, but the activists doubt it.

"What's the use of a law that will not be actually in effect?" Farid wondered, noting that all the country's institutions, including the legislative, executive and judiciary authorities, the ministries of interior, education and culture as well as the Muslim and Christian religious institutions, should unite to combat the phenomenon.

The interior ministry, however, blamed the country's political turmoil for the issue, arguing that if there was political stability and there were no constant chaotic protests, security would gradually be restored on the streets.

"Political turmoil leads to security disorder," police officer Hossam Ahmed told Xinhua. "When the country gets more stable, not only sexual harassment but also robbery, carjacking and relevant crimes will gradually vanish."

Ahmed denied claims that the police mistreat harassed women, stressing they just had to verify the case as most of the time they got false reports for personal reasons.

Despite efforts, conferences and awareness campaigns, sexual harassment has grown to an alarming issue threatening social peace in Egypt particularly after the uprising, representing a real problem for women who think twice before going out alone or coming home a little bit late.

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