Successive Egypt governments failed to stop sexual violence: Report

Ahram Online, Wednesday 16 Apr 2014

Issued Wednesday by a coalition of rights groups, the report studies over 250 cases between November 2012 and January 2013

File Photo: An Egyptian youth, trailed by his friends, grabs a woman crossing the street with her friends in Cairo (Photo: AP)

A report blaming consecutive governments in Egypt for not taking measures to terminate sexual violence in the public domain was issued on Wednesday by a coalition of feminists and human rights groups.

“Sexual harassment and assault against women remain rife … constituting major obstacles to their participation in the political transition of their country,” read the report conducted by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Uprising of Women in the Arab World, Nazra for Feminist Studies and the New Woman Foundation.

The report presented over 250 cases that took place between November 2012 and January 2014 in which women protesters were sexually assaulted, and in some cases raped, by mobs of men.

According to the report “not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice for these crimes.”

“This climate of impunity contributes to their repetition and to social tolerance of violence against women,” said Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights.

The report highlights that while attacks in Tahrir Square represented the most visible manifestation of the long-standing systematic practice, women in Egypt are in fact subjected to daily sexual harassment and assault on the streets, on public transport and in the workplace.

Shame and stigmatisation -- generated by the social habit of placing the blame on the victim -- usually means that most survivors do not report the crimes, according to the report, which adds that when complaints are made they rarely lead to the opening of an investigation.

“Survivors say that police and prosecutors tend not to believe them or try to minimise the seriousness of the attack,” the report says. 

Nevine Ebeid, coordinator of the women and political participation programme at the New Woman Foundation, accuses Egypt of “failing in its duty under international law to ensure effective investigations, prosecutions and sanction of perpetrators, whether they be state actors or civilians”. 

“The link between pervasive violence and the structural discrimination against women enshrined in Egypt’s laws cannot be ignored. Addressing violence against women requires political will to bring about wide-ranging reforms to the justice system as well as to the status of women in law and practice,” added Farah Barqawi, co-founder of the Uprising of Women in the Arab World.

Egypt’s newly-ratified constitution introduced Article 11, a new clause which hold the state responsible for ensuring the protection of women "from all kinds of violence [and] that she exercises all her rights as a citizen without discrimination against her."

Originally, the article guaranteed certain social rights for women but did not address the question of violence against them.

Last week, an amendment to Egypt's existing law on harassment was revised by the justice ministry's legislative section and sent to the cabinet for a final revision before it is referred to the president for ratification.

According to an April 2013 report by the UN-Egypt's Demographic Centre and the National Planning Institute, more than 99 percent of hundreds of women surveyed across seven of the country's 27 governorates reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor incidents to rape.

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