The first person we spoke to was a bus passenger at the Abdel Moneim Riad station, one of the busiest in the capital. We got on the bus in the hope of interviewing female passengers, but most of them didn’t want to talk. Finally, one woman accepted, on condition of anonymity.
“I constantly have to deal with sexual harassment. There’s not a single public place I can go to without risking being groped or verbally abused. It’s something that every girl and woman in Cairo has to deal with, regardless of age, physical appearance or how they’re dressed. Men don’t care who they harass, as long as they can harass.”
For Mahmoud, a bus driver whom we met several minutes later, harassment is provoked by the way some young women dress. He readily admits to flirting with some of his female passengers.
“Harassment? Personally, I do it! I do it every day on this bus! And between you and I, what does a girl expect when she goes out in the street dressed in tight clothing?”
Next, we take Bus 154. We talk to the ticket controller, who is also named Mahmoud:
“One day, two young women got on a crowded bus. One was wearing a very tight shirt. A boy on the bus started to rub up against her, and she started screaming very loudly. Of course, I intervened to calm things down. I gave the girl my seat and asked the young man to get off the bus.”
For most of the passengers we spoke to, this behaviour is mainly the result of girls’ poor upbringing and new “provocative” styles of clothing that “encourage harassment.”
But for passenger Mohamed Salem, it’s a question of backwards morals. “If harassers stopped to think for a second that this is something that could happen to their mother or sisters, they’d think twice before behaving this way.”
So what can women do? Not everyone shares the same view. For some, women have to defend themselves. For others, the unequal balance of power simply does not allow women to speak up.
At the final bus stop, a young woman was waiting, alone. She told us about an incident of harassment that had recently happened to her.
“A young man insulted me in very crude language. But do you really think that I can do anything facing a man alone? I’ve had to deal with this kind of thing since I was 12. Harassment is a problem as old as our country itself!”
A few minutes later, we met a girl in a tight red t-shirt who single-handedly embodied all the criticism directed at young women’s fashion. She says she views her choice of clothing as a matter of personal freedom.
"I’ll continue to wear what I want. In reality, I’m really more embarrassed for the men doing the harassing. At first, when I was harassed, I preferred not to say anything and keep my head down. Today, I feel that it’s my duty to speak up."