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International blogging day against sexual harassment ignites in Egypt

Tahrir Square provided an 18-day reprieve during the revolution from the exhausting sexual harassment women usually face but, with it on the rise again, activists call for a region-wide day of blogging on the issue

Ekram Ibrahim , Monday 20 Jun 2011
Sexual Harassment
Egyptian women carry banners in Arabic that read:"Social justice," as they march to Cairo's central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women's Day, March 8, 2011 (Photo: Reuters)
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Egypt witnessed almost 18 days free of sexual harassment. The place was Tahrir Square; the people were the revolutionaries; and the time was the Egyptian revolution. But walking in the streets four months later one can easily sense that “harassment-free” is not the case anymore.

“During the Egyptian revolution, Egyptians had a higher cause that transcended over issues like sexual harassment - but now this collective consciousness has changed,” Mona Ezzat, researcher at New Woman Foundation, told Ahram Online.

To convey the extent of the suppressive issue of sexual harassment and gender violence in Egypt a group of activists and bloggers organised on Monday a blogging and tweeting day against sexual harassment and gender violence. People are encouraged to write on the Facebook page here and on Twitter by writing the hashtag #endSH in their tweet. Shortly after the event was announced Lebanese, Syrian and Sudanese activists decided to join, so the day has exploded into an international blogging event against sexual harassment. Later on, several organisations boarded the ship, as well.

The utopian eighteen sexual harassment-free days ended on 11 February when then-president Hosni Mubarak stepped down and non-protesters flooded the streets and Tahrir Square to celebrate, but some saw that as their opportunity to cause trouble. An American journalist reported that she got harassed in the strange mix between earnest people in euphoria over such a grand moment and the riff raff that descended upon the square.

Other females have since also reported being harassed in Tahrir Square as they continue protests after 11 February. Blatant and aggressive harassment was seen on International Women’s Day on 8 March, where a one million woman march was called to push for equal rights, but, unfortunately, the day ended with gun shots from the military. Military forces had to open fire to protect female protesters from harassers.

The revolution supposedly brings fruitful soil for working on social and cultural issues, like sexual harassment and gender violence. Accordingly, several organisations are trying to seize the moment and work diligently on the issue, yet women are still living in the exact same nightmare as they are in the streets.

“I worry every time I have to walk for a couple of minutes in the streets: sexual harassment is hurting and frightening me every day,” says Noha Atef, a 30-year-old veiled Egyptian female. Atef reveals the suffering of the majority of Egyptian females, whether veiled or not veiled.

Atef's situation and that of other women is not exagerrated. According to a survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), 83 per cent of Egyptian females say they suffer from sexual harassment, 62 per cent of Egyptian males admitted harassing women and almost half of them blame women themselves for this harassment.

Harassment in Egypt can go from catcalling, comments, sexual invites, intimidating stares, sexual assault and rape. Many women are called whores as they walk around. The majority of men say that if women wear more conservative clothes they won’t be harassed, but most females deny this argument because even veiled women are harassed.

“In a male–dominated society where the woman is supposed to stay at home and cover all her body, the society puts all the responsibility on the woman to protect herself,” Ezzat told Ahram Online.

HarassMap, an initiative that allows people to map where they experienced harassment, is additional proof that sexual harassment results from cultural mindsets more than anything else. Surprisingly, the website, which has been working since August 2010 has only 410 reports, an average of 0.17 entries per day. These few reports are inconceivable considering that a chat with any woman on their however short walk to work, school or in their neighbourhood will include multiple, exhausting instances of sexual harassment.  

“Beside fear of the issue, our campaigning was only online and we have not reached the majority of the society,” Engy Ghozlan, co-founder at HarassMap half-explains to Ahram Online.

While sexual harassment largely happens to females in Egypt, HarassMap’s first quarter 2011 report shows that some males reported being subjected to sexual harassment.

Recently a new draft law has been proposed to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to criminalise such attacks. “The law is not enough, people need an ideological shift on the issue,” Ezzat told Ahram Online.

To take blogging into action, Nazra, an organisation for feminist studies in cooperation with HarassMap are organising a discussion table on Tuesday under the banner “What has not been said,” inviting bloggers and activists to discuss “What happens after the blogging and tweeting day against Sexual Harassment and Gender Violence in Egypt?”

Apparently, Egypt’s political revolution needs a social revolution to stop sexual harassment.

Here is the link to the event: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=170454286351470

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