Egypt’s hidden war on women

Women often submit to sexual violence just to survive, or to feed and protect their families.

EGYPTIAN MEN harass women 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
EGYPTIAN MEN harass women 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is a reactionary backlash against women hidden within Egypt’s uprising for democracy.
Concealed within the opposition to the Morsi administration, cloaked within popular protests, a gender war is being waged in Egypt. Mob rape is being used as a tool of political repression within Egypt’s uprising. Vicious sexual assaults are being orchestrated to intimidate and humiliate women demonstrating in Tahrir Square and the presidential palace.
The identity of the organizers is unknown, and their affiliation can only be speculated on. Yet their message is unequivocal: These men are capitalizing on the protests to terrorize women into silence. They want to punish women protesters, and deter women from expressing public opinions, and they are using sexual violence to do it. It can be seen as retribution for women taking on leadership in Egypt’s revolution, and a desperate attempt of the male elites from the deposed regimes to maintain their dominance.
Nineteen sexual assaults occurred on the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak, according to Hania Moheeb, an Egyptian journalist who was attacked by a mob, all with the same M.O. She says she was first encircled by a group of women, and then attacked by men who were pretending to protect her from the mob. Up until the end of the terrifying incident, she wasn’t sure which men were assailants and which genuinely wanted to help. Other victims report being separated from the group by a swarm of men, who then strip and assault them.
According to human rights groups, eight out of 10 women in Egypt have been sexually harassed or assaulted. 173 sexual assaults have occurred since July 1 alone, according to Harassmap, a website that maps and tracks assaults that were anonymously reported by SMS.
The Egyptian government rarely investigates or arrests perpetrators, and fundamentalists blame women for endangering themselves. Fundamentalists justify these attacks by claiming that women “ask” to be raped, in this case by attending demonstrations.
This is part of a worrying trend of deterioration of women’s human rights during regime change, even in transitions to democracy. Behind the veil of democratization, nations in transition experience debilitating violence, and women pay the price. There is a paradox at work.
While women’s rights are touted as a new part of the democratic government, in reality, the destabilization of regime change exacts a heavy price in women’s human rights.
Women often submit to sexual violence just to survive, or to feed and protect their families.
After the fall of apartheid, rape grew to endemic proportions and South Africa became the nation with the highest per capita incidence of rape in the world.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the US occupation of Iraq, women’s security degenerated. Public and conspicuous rape became a tool of intimidation in the Republic of Guinea’s transition to democracy.
In Egypt, sexual assault is becoming an accepted tool of political repression.
Rape in conflict is used to brutalize women, break up families, infect women with HIV or other disease, and as a form of ethnic cleansing. In the Yugoslav wars, rape was used as a form of genocide, when up to 50,000 Bosnian and Croatian women were confined to “rape camps,” which aimed to beget a new generation of Serbs through forced conception.
Particularly cruel systematic rape and violence against women was used a weapon of war in Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sexual violence isn’t about sex.
It is a means of exerting power and control. The perpetrators must be arrested, and sexual assault must stop being used as a weapon of political repression.
Violence against women in crises does not emerge in a vacuum, but is a direct reflection of the discrimination and exclusion that women face in times of peace.
Egypt’s women are under orchestrated attack. And when Egypt’s women are under attack, women worldwide are under fire.
The gender war being waged against Egypt’s women should be a global concern. The safety of women in nations in transition should be a factor in determining foreign policy.
The author is an attorney at law, an expert on human rights and the law of biological continuity, founder and executive director of the New Family Organization.