Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Holiday harassers

There was a marked increase in sexual harassment during the Eid, Reem Leila reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

From lewd looks to inappropriate touching, sexual harassment in Egypt’s streets has become a serious problem for women and families, especially during holidays when crowded places offer an opportunity for stalking and harassment.
The Eid, which usually marks a time of joy and coming together, last week turned into a holiday of fear, causing many families to prefer spending the holidays at home. The four-day holiday, which began on 26 October, featured, among the celebrations, mass sexual harassment.
Encouraged by the virtual absence of the police, a rabble of men went on a rampage in downtown Cairo, as well as in many crowded places elsewhere, sexually assaulting any woman they came across. More than 735 complaints of sexual harassment were reported at police stations in Greater Cairo. However, only 87 harassers were arrested in Cairo and 29 in Giza. The scenes of the crime were mainly in downtown districts, in cinemas and public parks.
Thirty-one more harassers were arrested in Fayoum governorate, 19 in Suez and five in Luxor.
According to a study released by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in July 2010, 62 per cent of Egyptian men admit sexually harassing women. Out of the 83 per cent of women reported being harassed, half say it happens every day, and 53 per cent of Egyptian men blame women for “bringing it on”.
Sexual harassment is experienced by 98 per cent of foreign women visiting the country at least once. “It was the first study of its kind,” said Nihad Abul-Komsan, head of ECWR. Abul-Komsan said harassment “is a real issue here, and it has got worse over the last 10 years. A lot of people say that up until the 1970s there was very little harassment in Egypt, but things are very different now.”
Abul-Komsan said most embassies in Egypt say the country has a relatively large number of cases regarding sexual offences against women visitors being reported to embassy staff. It warns them to be extra cautious in public places especially when alone because of the risks.
Abul-Komsan said Egyptians need to re-evaluate their values and school curricula and to ensure that the rule of law prevails and prevents offenders and criminals walking free “because of a breakdown of basic notions of right and wrong”.
According to the National Centre for Sociological and Criminological Research (NCSCR), 90 per cent of offenders are jobless men. There are many contributing factors to the increase in sexual harassment. Rising unemployment push some men to display their harassments on the streets. Azza Koraim, sociologist at the NCSCR, believes that the huge cost of marriage might also explain the behaviour. “Men take out their frustration, not just sexual, against women,” said Koraim.
Young bullies who sexually harass women on the streets often take advantage of mob situations and the anonymity such situations provide.
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil who condemned sexual harassment in remarks on his Facebook account, calling it a “catastrophe” that threatens society, announced that the cabinet is currently preparing a law to impose harsher penalties for sexual harassment.
Female activists have organised anti-sexual harassment campaigns, the most recent being “Catch a harasser” and “I witnessed a harassment”. Their efforts were supported by a number of youths who have created anti-harassment squads. Members of these campaigns reported that more than 60 per cent of women who were in downtown Cairo on the first day of the Eid were subject to sexual harassment.
According to Ingy Ghozlan, a member of ECWR and one of the leaders of the “Catch a harasser” campaign, governmental officials announced the setting up of hotlines for women to report any sexual harassment. Among them was that of the National Council for Women (NCW) which created a free hotline (0800 888 38 88) for harassment reports during Eid. NCW officials have urged girls and women to report incidents.
“Unfortunately, most of the hotlines were not working. Several women who were assaulted tried calling these number several times, but no one picked up. That was a common complaint,” said Ghozlan.
Before the Eid, the council called upon both the Ministry of Endowments and the Coptic Church to include this subject in Friday prayer sermons and Sunday church services.
Although there were groups from the anti-sexual harassment squads patrolling hotspots in downtown Cairo, activists reported several cases of mobs of men targeting women. “In one incident a group of 40 men attacked 50 girls,” said Ghozlan.
Women wearing the hijab, or head scarf, are sexually harassed, as are women wearing the niqab (women covering their faces leaving only their eyes visible). “Security officers are absent all the time. Almost none of them were around during the Eid. Most probably they were celebrating it instead of performing their duty,” said Ghozlan sarcastically.
Female activists have complained about police failing to take any action against a harasser even when given the details of the perpetrators. “Most police officers — if any, since they are rare on the streets — just ask about the identity of the harasser without taking any legal action against him,” said Ghozlan.
Some of the harassers, according to Ghozlan, belong to the police apparatus “although in some cases, police officers leave harassers and blame females for going down the streets on such an occasion.”
There were recent reports that the government was planning to create a network of surveillance cameras along the main streets and squares of Cairo to clamp down on sexual harassment. “Faces of perpetrators would be broadcast on TV and shown on the Internet,” said Kandil on his Facebook account.

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