Following a spate of attacks on women during recent anti-government protests, hundreds of people marched through downtown Cairo on Wednesday, including a few dozen women brandishing knives and batons. The march culminated in the symbolic Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the Egyptian revolution, where a shocking number of attacks were recorded in a single day two weeks ago.
According to local anti-harassment groups, 19 sexual attacks took place on January 25 alone, during protests marking the two-year anniversary of the revolution in Tahrir Square. In one of these cases, a mob raped a young woman using a sharp object, severely injuring her. These incidents have shocked many in a country where attacks on women are widespread. According a study by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment; the problem is particularly pronounced in large cities.
Amnesty International released a statement on Wednesday calling on Egypt to bring perpetrators to justice and asking Mohammed Morsi to take “dramatic steps to end this culture of impunity and gender-based discrimination.” Egyptian activists have suggested better police protection as well as the creation of a special entity to handles cases of sexual violence.
Video of protesters' march, viewed from above.
“The goal of rapists and harassers is to scare us off the streets”
Sally Zohney is a women’s rights activist. She lives in Cairo.
The way the Egyptian media covered the spate of mob rapes on January 25 made it sound as though women should just stop going to protests in Tahrir Square. But of course, that’s the goal of rapists and harassers: to scare us off the streets. So we wanted to show them that we won’t be scared away, and called on the government to protect protesters.During our march, women chanted, “As long as a woman’s body is cheap, we will keep chanting against every president.” Today, there is no rule of law: police will generally tell you that you deserve whatever happens to you in Tahrir Square or at protests elsewhere, because you chose to go out in the first place. That’s why many protesters blame the government for creating a climate of impunity that fosters sexual harassment."Protesters at the start of the march. Photo courtesy of Kandil.“We sent a strong message: the women are back on the streets, even those who survived attacks”I also saw dozens of women marchers carrying batons and kitchen knives, brandishing them in the air to show the world that they would fight back if attacked. That was a bit scary, to be honest, but I understand where they’re coming from. No one attacked the march, thankfully; it was guarded by volunteers, many of them men from OpAnti-Sexual Harassment, who formed human shields around the protesters to protect them. We were all a bit paranoid, since protests for women’s rights have been attacked in the past.Photo courtesy of Kandil.I was so heartened to see older men and women join the protest; enraged parents yelling and telling us how proud they were of us. A rape victim who had told her story in the media came out too; it meant a lot to us for her to be there. I think we sent a strong message: the women are back on the streets, even those who survived attacks.An elderly protester. Photo coutesy of Kandil.Protests aside, sexual harassment is an everyday occurrence here. For example, as I was on my way to the march, a man tried to reach out and grab my breasts. I managed to push him away, but it’s exhausting, having to be on the lookout for such men all the time – having to pay attention to who’s walking behind me, in front of me, beside me.