Egypt's new anti-sexual harassment law submitted to cabinet

Ahram Online, Wednesday 9 Apr 2014

Filling a gap in existing law, new provisions criminalising sexual harassment will be issued by Interim President Adly Mansour 'soon'

sexual harassment
File photo: Young Egyptian women are harassed by men on the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Cairo, Egypt Aug. 19, 2012 (Photo: AP)

An amendment to Egypt's existing law on harassment has been revised by the justice ministry's legislative section and sent to the cabinet, aide to the justice minister Ahmed El-Sergany said Wednesday.

The law, which was first submitted to the justice ministry by the cabinet, will be revised for a final time by the cabinet before referring it to the president to formally issue it "soon," El-Sergany said in a press conference in the justice ministry's headquarters.

Earlier, there was no specific law proscribing sexual harassment in Egypt. However, three articles in the penal code were sometimes applied in cases of sexual harassment.

El-Sergany said the new draft law provides, for the first time in Egypt, a definition of sexual harassment. The draft states that a sexual harasser is one who "accosts others in a public or private place through following or stalking them, using gestures or words or through modern means of communication or in any other means through actions that carry sexual or pornographic hints."

The new suggested punishment includes a prison sentence, a fine or both. The prison sentence is a minimum of one year and doesn't exceed 10 years, and the fine is of no less than LE10,000 and doesn't exceed LE20,000.

El-Sergany adds that if the sexual harassment a female suffers comes from someone who is superior, for instance in her place of work or schooling, the prison sentence would be between three to seven years with a fine between LE10,000 to LE20,000.

The draft law also dictates a prison sentence for those who engage in mob sexual harassment not to exceed five years. Mob sexual harassment is defined as an act of sexual harassment on a female from two or more individuals.

The same sentence is given to those who sexually assault females by way of coercion or threat by one person holding a weapon.

The draft law also states that if a harasser previously punished commits sexual harassment within a year after he finishes his initial sentence he would be imprisoned in a maximum security prison for three to 15 years and then put on probation for the same period he was imprisoned for when released.

According to El-Sergany, the issue of sexual harassment was put firmly on the agenda after a female student was sexually attacked by tens of her colleagues for wearing black trousers and a pink sweater on campus.

The woman was surrounded by a group of male students who verbally and physically assaulted her, in addition to trying to strip off her clothes, according to a statement released Monday by the anti-sexual harassment campaign "I Witnessed Harassment."

She then ran to the bathroom and hid until security personnel came to escort her from the campus. The existing penal code used to punish sexual harrasment consists of Article 360 that concerns insults, which can be applied to cat-calling and other forms of verbal harassment on the street. Punishment can range from a fine of LE100 (roughly $17) to one month in prison. 

The second provision, Article 278, applies to "indecent behaviour," including indecent exposure, trailing and stalking, with punishment ranging from a fine to three years in prison.

The third provision, Article 268, concerns "sexual assault," which covers cases of physical sexual abuse, with punishment ranging from three to 15 years in prison. 

Sexual harassment has been a growing problem in Egypt in the past 10 years. 

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 harassment to rape, according to an April 2013 report by the UN-Egypt's Demographic Centre and the National Planning Institute.

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