Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

#MeToo’s Egyptian impact

A report on harassment in Egypt has prompted an awareness campaign on the need to protect the country’s women, reports Dina Ezzat

 

#MeToo’s Egyptian impact
#MeToo’s Egyptian impact

“I am not sure that we are seeing an unprecedented debate on the issue of harassment, but I would agree that we are seeing a moment of serious reflection that needs to be taken up on a wider scale with a serious awareness campaign against the harassment of women,” said Dalia Abdel-Hamid, head of the women’s division at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an NGO, in Cairo this week.

Speaking a little over a week after the launch of a report by the Western agency Thomson Reuters addressing anti-women harassment in Cairo as part of a wider examination of the assaults against women in the world’s capital cities, Abdel-Hamid said that she was following with attention “the debate that has spread over social media and beyond during the past week and since the report came out.”

“It is really empowering that middle-aged women, some of them public faces, are coming out in the open, beyond fears of stigmatisation, to admit on Facebook and Twitter that they have been subjected to harassment in the past. Young women are also coming out openly, also on social media, to point the finger at those who have assaulted them and defy the pressure of intimidation,” Abdel-Hamid said.

The statements of women on social media on disturbing-to-traumatising incidents of assault, at times verbal but in many cases physical, have appeared on the hashtag #MeToo.

#MeToo was launched in the US on the eve of the launch of the Thomson Reuters report. It was the idea of a US actress who wanted to encourage women in the cinema industry to speak up about the reportedly aggressive harassment pattern of Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

The campaign picked up fast, and all over the world women began sharing lines about the pain — some wrote “shame” — they had had to go through as a result of harassment, especially repeated assaults to which many had to succumb for fear of losing their income or even their families’ acknowledgment.

In the case of Egypt, the social media campaign was more reserved — with many women just writing the #MeToo hashtag or a few lines about pain and the need for greater awareness.

Some men have had the courage to join the campaign and to acknowledge their involvement in verbal harassment, some of them saying that they had thought the latter to be “harmless” admiration.

Very few had the courage to acknowledge being involved in incidents of physical harassment.

“Yes, some men have come forward about this, but only within a limited section of the population. We cannot say that the campaign has prompted serious soul-searching on the part of all men. I have no indication that this is the case,” Abdel-Hamid said.

 “Neither the report nor the hashtag offer a new beginning to an already ongoing debate and ongoing campaign on the matter of harassment,” Abdel-Hamid said. “This has been an issue that civil society has been busy with for many years, and recently the government joined the movement and issued anti-harassment regulations,” she added.

During the early weeks of the presidency of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in 2014, a woman was assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. She was hospitalised as a result, and the president made an appearance at her hospital bed. He also made a public commitment for the state to work on containing what had been a growing trend of harassment and one now underlined in the recent Thomson Reuters report.

In her comments on the report, widely criticised by the media as “false” and “deliberately stigmatising of the country”, head of the Egyptian National Council for Women Maya Morsi condemned it as “misleading”.

Like other officials, Morsi spoke of “a considerable improvement in the status of women in Egypt due to the dedicated attention of the president.”

Mozn Hassan, an internationally recognised women’s rights advocate, suggested that the state should act more boldly to empower women to report harassment and to see that convicted individuals are duly punished by law.

According to Hassan, “we need to see a special division on anti-harassment at police stations and more women police officers to make things less daunting for those who wish to report complaints of assault.”

Abdel-Hamid emphasised the need for a more effective legal apparatus to help what she said was “a slow beginning to act against harassment”. She added that what could be essential in winning the cause for anti-harassment would be for the state to work on a national campaign that would include awareness-raising among students in schools and the wider public through the media.

“We are seeing a change in the tolerance of harassment, with the blame in the past always falling on women and even on young girls physically violated by family members,” Abdel-Hamid said.

“This kind of tolerance has to be made a thing of the past so that we can reduce harassment levels not just in public spaces but also in family and work areas,” she concluded.

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