As I read the new poll conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation, released October 2017, I grappled with the logic and rationale behind the results.
The poll asked “15 experts” specialising in women’s issues in 19 megacities how women fare as far as sexual violence and harmful cultural practices are concerned, and if they have good access to healthcare, finance and education.
In terms of women risking being exposed to sexual harassment, Cairo ranked the third worst megacity, while overall Cairo was rated the “most dangerous” megacity for women.
We can agree with the poll that “harmful cultural practices” such as female genital mutilation, though definitely in decline, remain rampant in Cairo.
But wasn’t it the Human Rights Watch that said that “More stringent penalties for female genital mutilation approved by Egypt’s parliament on 31 August 2016 are a step toward eliminating the practice”? The new penalties are prison terms of five to seven years for those who carry out female genital mutilation and up to 15 years if the case results in permanent disability or death.
As far as access to healthcare, gender parity exists. It’s not that one gender receives better access; both genders don’t receive the healthcare they deserve.
Still, I would call on Thomson Reuters Foundation to refer to the 1.8 million Egyptians who have been cured of Hepatitis C in the last two years. Hepatitis C patients, males and females, were treated for free with an efficacy rate of 98 percent. If the poll had also cited this success rate, then the survey would have been fair and acceptable.
The poll states outright that Cairo is the most dangerous city because of sexual harassment and violence. Here I need to pause, take a deep breath, and try to fathom the results and their implications.
I was young once. I rode the metro and took black and white taxis all over Cairo. I worked in an office and attended lectures at a university. In these environments — transportation, university and office — I always felt safe.
But that’s way back when, I tell myself.
My daughter worked in the suburb of Maadi, took the underground, and walked good distances around Cairo. I never worried that she may be sexually harassed, violated or, heaven forbid, kidnapped!
Again, I tell myself, it must be different now.
Today, my daughter takes my granddaughter around Cairo, too. She shops along Nozha Street in Heliopolis, buys things, fixes her watch, picks up her orders of falafel sandwiches and feteer (Egyptian pancake), and she, too, feels safe.
What about my nieces and friends’ daughters, and associates in general; do they avoid going out and limit their comings and goings because they fear harassment?
What about my son, nephews, and friends’ sons; do they go around groping and touching women?
I concluded that most probably I lead a sheltered life, and maybe I don’t know enough about how the rest of Cairo is living.
But if Cairo were the most dangerous city, then the people I know, in fact all Cairenes, would be tainted by the same poison and stained by the same abuse, right?
Sexual violence is another reason why the poll ranked Cairo as the worst megacity. Again, I asked myself if I know of women who were beaten by their husbands. I do. My mother’s caregiver was beaten by her husband often, but by the same token, she beat him back, despite the fact that she knew he was suffering from dementia.
Still, I tell myself that the “experts” must know better, and I reiterate, “I must lead a sheltered life.”
Seriously though, I do not doubt that women are harassed, abused and violated in Cairo, but I doubt that it is any worse than any other city. Women are harassed and sexually abused everywhere, and the #metoo hashtag has drawn comments from women all over the world.
Am I defending sexual abuse? Absolutely not. But maybe, just maybe, the “15 experts” didn’t get it about Cairo. Maybe, just maybe, Cairo fares better than other megacities considered far better than Cairo.
In Los Angeles, Ottawa, and other megacities, every day a powerful man falls from grace for sexual misconduct. The number of offenders is staggering.
Dallas News cited many such celebrities: “Film director Brett Ratner and actors Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Piven and Kevin Spacey have been accused. Political analyst Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, NPR's senior vice president for news, resigned Wednesday after allegations of sexual misconduct two decades ago. And that's just a fraction of the full list.”
In 2015, Jian Ghomeshi, a well-known, former Canadian CBC broadcaster, was arrested for sexual abuse allegations, charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. The trial shook Canada.
Bill Cosby, the TV icon known for his fatherly role on “The Cosby Show,” was charged by 59 women of rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct.
Sixty women thus far have come forward with harrowing stories of sexual assault against Harry Weinstein, the founder of Miramax in Hollywood. According to The New Yorker, at annual awards ceremonies Weinstein “has been thanked more than almost anyone else in movie history, ranking just after Steven Spielberg and right before God.”
Two of the biggest Canadian entertainment figures are facing similar accusations. Gilbert Rozon, founder of “Just for Laughs,” a hilariously funny programme on Canada’s CBC, had nine women come forward with allegations of harassment and sexual assault.
Eric Salvi, a TV and radio host and producer, is also facing similar sexual misconduct allegation. According to The National Post, Éric Salvail, Quebec’s most popular male TV personality, “was the subject of a La Presse investigation alleging that he sexually harassed 11 male and female colleagues.”
I would be the first to say that Egyptian women would think twice before coming forward with similar accusations. Modesty does not allow them to be that explicit.
Still, we should ask the “15 experts” who cited Cairo as the most dangerous city if they can recall or reference similar accusations to the ones cited above, but this time in “dangerous Cairo.”
The kids that grope and touch girls on the streets are more than a nuisance; they victimise girls and women and disempower them. However, powerful men are far more dangerous, and I doubt that men in power in Cairo resort to such vile actions, and even if some do, there is no way Cairo can match or surpass many other cities in that realm.
Thomson Reuters: Cairo may not be the safest city, but I suggest you draw your conclusions from more reliable sources.
The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.