Fighting sexual harrassment in Egypt

Asser Yasser, a young Egyptian woman, was insulted and brutalized by a group of young men in Cairo on her way home from work. Although incidents of sexual harassment happen daily in Egypt, the prominent blogger decided to press charges to draw attention to the widespread problem. Her case was filed by the police, but ruled out in court. However, she and various women's groups are determined to pursue their anti-harassment campaign.

According to a 2008 survey of 1,010 Egyptian and foreign women conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights "83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women reported being sexually harassed, regardless of age, class, style of dress or appearance."

The study's conclusions emphasize that harassment, contrary to what is often believed, is not linked to the way a woman is dressed: 71.5 percent of women who reported sexual harassment were wearing veils and covering clothes(19.6% were in fact wearing full burkas).

The problem is tarnishing Egypt's reputation as a tourist destination to the point that the Tourism Ministry has released video clips warning men of the consequences of harassment. The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights launched a nationwide campaign called "Making our Streets Safer for All", lobbying for a law which would crack down on harassers.

Contributors

"The whole country has to lose", a video clip by the Ministry of Tourism

The clip shows a typical scene of a vendor harassing a European visitor in a market. At the end, a man's voice says: "If you harass visitors, you're not the only one who loses. The whole country has to lose."

"Hands groped us everywhere we went"

Julie Marquet is a French graduate student in history. An avid traveller, she has backpacked across a dozen European, Asian and South American countries.

I travelled to Egypt with a girlfriend of mine for two weeks in the summer of 2003. We were both 19. It's my worst travel memory ever: Egypt is not a place you can travel to individually, especially not for two young girls!

Everywhere we went there was some hand groping us, in the street, in buses or trains... They weren't even shy about it: they grabbed our butts, sometimes even went under our shirts! This happened even if we were careful to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, even when it was 40°C out! We were told by Franco-Egyptian friends that women weren't supposed to be too exuberant in public, not to laugh, not to talk loudly, not be noticeable in any way. We tried to be as discreet and invisible as possible, but that didn't change anything.  If we lashed out angrily at them it didn't help at all: they would just laugh and never took us seriously.

People tried to con or harass us at every occasion. Once we tried to change a train ticket, and the vendor told us he had to take us to see the station manager, and instead began leading us to a seedy back alley... Who knows what he was up to, we didn't stay to find out.

We met a young female journalist in Cairo who told us that Egyptian society as a whole has become much more intolerant of women who wore Western-style clothes since 9-11. Even young working girls have reverted to wearing veils, which wasn't the case several years ago.

I got the impression that the vision of western women there is damaged by the lack of modesty and discreetness of many tourists who travel in organized groups or get off cruise ships. Since they're accompanied by guides and even guards, they run no serious risk of harassment, and women sometimes walk around in beach dresses or bikini tops, which shock many Egyptians."

Anti-harassment protest in Cairo

Egyptian anti-harrassment protest, November 2006. Photo posted by Gregory Keske on Facebook for the group "Stop sexual harrassment in Egypt".

Comments

EGYPT

I can only agree, sadly. But this is the reality of societies which hold women as second class citizens. So much for "Muslim" respect for women. You should do a story about how gays are treated in Egypt.
I was in Egypt in 1991, and remember an Austrian/Egyptian friend being reduced to tears in the street because men were calling her a whore and worse as she walked in broad daylight. Like most Middle Eastern countries, I find Egypt a very unpleasant place. Authoritarian, badly educated, bad mannered, often lying people who will say anything to make a buck or treat women like filth. Uncouth cultures.

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