A file photo of the Egyptian House of Representatives (Photo:AFP)
An Egyptian legislative parliamentary committee approved on Monday a draft bill pushing for tougher penalties on sexual harassment.
According to Al-Ahram Arabic news website, the draft bill was presented by committee member Suzy Nashed who called for amendments to the existing anti-sexual harassment law.
The amendments include imposing jail terms of one year instead of the previous term of six months for sexual harassment, a skyrocketing problem in Egypt in previous years.
According to a United Nations (UN) Women study in 2013, 99.3% of surveyed Egyptian women said that they have been sexually harassed in the streets.
The draft bill would also impose an increase in fines of between EGP 5,000 and no more than EGP 10,000 on those who are found guilty of sexual harassment in public or private areas, with harassment defined as gestures or words or any modern means of communication, or any other action that carries sexual or pornographic hints.
If the action is repeated by the harasser through tracking and stalking the victim, the penalties of imprisonment and fines are doubled.
There had previously been no specific law criminalising sexual harassment in Egypt before a 2014 law approved by then interim president Adly Mansour. It was added as an amendment to the Egyptian penal code.
The committee also agreed on an amendment to the penal code on child sexual abuse, where the jail terms were toughened to three years in prison and fines of between EGP 20,000 and EGP 50,000.
Even stricter penalties will be imposed on abusers who use their authority in the setting of family, work or education to commit sexual harassment, who will now face a jail sentence of not less than three years and not more than seven years and a fine of between EGP 50,000 to EGP 100,000.
This is the same penalty that would apply to the act if it were conducted by two persons or more, or under the threat of a weapon.
Commenting on the amendments, Alia Soliman, a communications manager at HarassMap, a volunteer-based anti-sexual harassment initiative, told Ahram Online that while the amendments might be a "good step," more issues related to the awareness on the penalties need to be done..
"People in the streets need to acknowledge that sexual harassment is a crime, not only a phenomenon," Soliman said, adding that people need to be aware of the number of harassers who were actually subjugated to the old jail terms.
"More effort needs to be made in terms of awareness in the streets of how the amendments would deter sexual harassment," she added.