Egyptian women’s groups called again on President Mohamed Morsy and his
government this week to help combat increasing incidents of sexual harassment
The women’s groups, part of the Fouada Watch initiative,
monitored how Morsy and state institutions performed regarding women’s rights in
the period from August 13 though September 15.
The monitoring revealed
that, as sexual harassment incidents rise, outward signs of religiosity and
religious extremism are also growing in Egyptian society.
said that last month during Id al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of
Ramadan, their incident room received 53 telephone calls from women aged 18-25,
who reported street harassment incidents including sexual touching, grabbing and
The results of this most recent monitoring come after women’s
rights groups have complained about high rates of sexual harassment for
According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s
Rights, street harassment is shockingly commonplace, with 83 percent of Egyptian
women and 98% of foreign women reporting incidents.
Around half of those
surveyed said they had been harassed on a daily basis.
Now, however, ECWR
and other rights groups say that the situation is deteriorating, with harassment
leading to higher levels of violence against women.
In a recent press
release, ECWR called on the authorities to prosecute the killer of a 20-
year-old Egyptian woman murdered earlier this month after being sexually
According to ECWR, the victim was walking with a friend in her
home village of Assuit, Upper Egypt, when a man grabbed her sexually without her
consent. In response, the woman spat at her attacker and shouted at him. The man
then shoved her to the ground and kicked her, finally shooting her several
“This is a serious indicator concerning women’s safety in the
streets, as this phenomenon of sexual harassment is leading to murder crimes,”
Earlier this month, the press reported that a mob of unknown
assailants attacked women demonstrating against sexual harassment in Cairo’s
This week, pan-Arabic station Radio Sawa published a
lengthy report on the growing issue of sexual harassment in Egypt. It included
an interview with a young woman named Shirin, who claimed Cairo police had
initially refused to take her seriously and had even mocked her when she tried
to file a harassment complaint.
Shirin, a social worker, said a youth had
grabbed her body when she was walking on the street. When police would not let
her file a report, she wrote about the incident on her Facebook page, Radio Sawa
Radio Sawa noted that this month, ECWR sent a draft law to Morsy
calling on him to address the issue by making street harassment a criminal
ECWR said that the president has yet to respond.
not the first time that Egyptians have called on the government to criminalize
harassment. In May, before Morsy was elected, Egyptian liberals last called for
a law against sexual harassment.
They were unsuccessful,
Whether or not Morsy does move to criminalize harassment,
Egyptian NGOs and women’s groups are working at a grassroots level to battle the
problem and raise public awareness about it.
Recent initiatives include
volunteer street patrols dispatched by an NGO, the Imprint Movement, during Id
al-Fitr. The volunteers not only reported sexual harassers to police during what
Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm described as a “wave of street harassment,” but
also took photographs to document incidents.
Women’s groups are not the
only organizations involved in the anti-harassment campaign.
Embassy in Cairo organized a recent Open Mic event in which Egyptian and foreign
women were invited to speak out about their experiences of sexual
Some of Egypt’s media have also become involved in the
anti-harassment campaign, with independent daily al- Watan holding a seminar
this week to discuss ways to combat the problem.
Al-Watan’s editor in
chief Magdi al-Gallad said on Wednesday that it was “time to break the silence”
about the issue and put “serious solutions” in place to fight it.
those attending were women’s rights champions Azza Kamel, who heads Cairo-based
NGO Parliament of Women, and Maya Morsy, Egypt’s country coordinator for UN
Women, which supported a May anti-harassment campaign in which women and men
lined the capital’s sidewalks and held protest signs.
One of Egypt’s more
long-term anti-harassment projects which has garnered international attention,
combines social entrepreneurship with mobile technology, the internet and social
media to raise awareness of the extent of sexual harassment in the country’s
streets. HarassMap allows women and girls to use their cellphones to report
street harassment from anywhere in the country, via text message or email, with
the incidents then plotted on an interactive online map on the project’s
Rebecca Chiao, an American who has lived in Egypt for eight
years, founded HarassMap together with three other women.
street harassment incidents by type, including touching, catcalling, ogling,
stalking or following, indecent exposure and rape or sexual assault.
of the most recent reports on the site details a “drive-by motorcycle grab,” in
which a Cairo woman was grabbed sexually by a young man who drove up behind her
on a motorcycle as she walked with her husband.
“After we receive the
report, we send an auto-reply to the reporter with helpful information: numbers
of lawyers who are willing to help them free of charge, psychological help and
other important tips on how to take a legal action if they want,” Chiao said in
a recent interview with online magazine Digibuzz, which reports on digital and
social media trends in the Middle East.
According to HarassMap’s website,
the women’s reports identify harassment hotspots, which both warn other women to
adopt extra caution when walking in those areas and assist police in knowing
where to take action.
Holly Kearl, founder of US-based nonprofit Stop
Street Harassment, said HarassMap has done a “tremendous job of raising
awareness in Egypt.”
“The large collection of stories and the visual
aspect of the map make it easy for people to understand, and the convenient way
to submit stories makes it easy for people to use it,” said Kearl, who also
praised HarassMap’s offline initiatives, which include sending teams of
volunteers into neighborhoods to talk about street harassment.
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