I’m not a cat, my mother is not a bee and I always feel naked walking down the streets. The whistling, the cat calling, the groping and the dirty comments highlight a huge part of our lives each and every day. Media talks, campaigns are organized, protests are held and they laugh in your face. We aren’t talking to the harasser this time to ‘Stop’, we are addressing every organization, every NGO, every person with power and a voice to work on individual level to stand up against sexual harassment. We must put into consideration the fatal impact it has on every household that includes a wife, a sister and a mother, who don’t necessarily talk about it over dinner, but they thank God they reached home in one piece. Yes, it is that serious.
On the streets, at work, in the elevator, in public squares and dark alleys, sexual harassment is an gigantic crime Egyptian women are victims of literally around the clock.
In December 2011, during the demonstration outside the Parliament building, a woman was viciously beaten, stripped off her clothes and dragged on the ground by Army soldiers. This horrific incident encouraged Egyptian women to protest calling for a stand against sexual harassment and violence against women. There was a similar incident when people protested in Tahrir Square against the verdict issued in the Mubarak case on the so-called ‘Friday of Resolve’, about a fortnight ago and hundreds of men assaulted a girl and ripped her clothes off in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, near Tahrir Square. Women fired back once again and joined in another march against sexual harassment, in which several political currents participated as well. This march was attacked by a mob once again.
Last May, women organized a stand against sexual harassment, which ended up in disgrace as the female protestors themselves got harassed, beaten and stripped. We talked to Nihal Said Zaghloul one of the organizers of the stand who told us her tragic story:
What happened to you?
We organized this protest as a result of major harassment incidents in Tahrir in the past months as well as rape and finger rape. We protested in Tahrir and at 7:30 pm we took the march to Talaat Harb Street. We walked in a line and I started seeing men running and people screaming and others throwing water. I felt someone touching me from behind, he didn’t grope but he kept on feeling my body from behind, I looked back and yelled at him to stop. Everyone looked at me as if I was a crazy person and most of them were from a lower social class and there were some vendors among them. I started walking with the other girls to Talaat Harb and I heard a gun shot. I knew later that a girl was lost and a man groped her. She slapped him and other men around them from Tahrir kept on beating the harasser, and a fight started between both sides, men from Tahrir and the harassers. Chaos spread and harassers came to molest the other female protestors and we all ran to hide in the shops. Most of the shops didn’t let us in and thought that we were thieves or something and we tried running around looking for a place to hide. Two girls went to hide in a bakery and the owner in order to protect them locked them in and left. That got us in another dilemma, because the girls were there alone and no one could open the bakery for them, so we got some people to break the locks and got them out. The men who helped us out put all the girls in cabs and we went home.
How did your parents react when they heard?
When my dad knew he started asking me why I went in the first place and I shouldn’t have given the chance for this to happen. I left him to calm down and then my dad told me he wanted to beat the hell out of my harasser and he is eager to see any harasser down the street to beat him himself.
How can we communicate with a harasser?
Never ignore a harasser! If he whistled or the likes, swear at him and most probably the men around you will back you up. If he groped you slap him.
What’s the best scenario to end this?
Sexual harassment is all around Egypt. I blame women who don’t talk or feel ashamed about it. Harassers aren’t from our social class so we need to do underground campaigns to end this. We need to go to lower classes and put stickers. We need to make NGOs who have access to these classes spread awareness about harassment specifically. Women who got harassed should tell their male family members, so if there is a harasser among them, he feels ashamed and stops doing it to other women.
The website is a revolutionary road to highlight the importance of standing up against sexual harassment. If you got harassed at a certain area, you report through the website about this specific are via SMS messaging. This tool will give women a way to anonymously report incidences of sexual harassment. By mapping these reports online, the entire system will act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem. As part of Mashrou’ Hager, a women’s initiative, Harassmap held a seminar in which Engy Ghozlan, one of the founders, spoke about the demographics, size and aspects of the whole problem:
“Sexual harassment isn’t related to the social class of an area. Zamalek is known to be one of the areas with a high percentage of sexual harassment, however some less privileged areas witnessless sexual harassment. Sometimes we can get reports from deserted areas in Sinai but mainly harassment happens in over crowded places in which you have no privacy like buses for example”.
“Our society has a big problem, they blame the victim. How can the victim be the criminal in this case?”.
“Some policemen harass the victims after they report a case at a certain precincts. A policeman can tell her ‘He has all the right to harass you, you are beautiful or why would he harass you, you’re not even that pretty’”.
The seminar gave the chance for attendees to ask questions and participate with their stories. A guy shared his views on sexual harassment, how he sees it, how his female friends live with it and provided us with his fair share: “I’m a straight, but when my gay friend checked me out, I felt humiliated and decided not to check out other girls no matter what”, he tells us.
The Bussy Project
Bussy is a project intended to empower women through creative means and raise awareness about women’s issues, such as sexual harassment, women’s roles in society, sexual discrimination, to name a few. It aims to give a voice to women who feel voiceless. The initiative started years ago at the American University in Cairo but its founders wanted to make it more relevant to the Egyptian community and thus some changes were made. “Our performances aren’t attempts to establish ourselves in the world of theatre. Most of us have had little if any experience in theatre, much less directing or scripting,” their Facebook page states. They chose the format of a play to reach a large body of people, with stories provided by men and women from different backgrounds with distinct experiences.
You can contribute by sending your stories to be turned into performances!
Ya Asaal is an event on the 15th of July in Darb 1718 that gathers women initiatives which stand up against sexual harassment in a positive collaboration by Mashrou’ El Mareekh, Harassmap, Bussy and Noon Neswa. Sondos Shabayek one of the organizers thinks that harassment didn’t increase in the past phase and people are just turning their heads to it, “Harassment didn’t increase, actually it decreased in Downtown, for example. It’s not about you ‘feeling’ that harassment is more widespread now, no it has been there for years”, she says. “When an incident happens, everyone talks about harassment until they get enough of it and they are silent again. In Ya Assal and Bussy Project, we don’t solve the problem, we shed light on harassment through artistic ways”, she explains.
Nefsy is an initiative that is formed of a group of volunteers with no specific affiliations, who believe in every woman’s right to walk down the street without being harassed; without being stared at, without hearing obscene comments and without constantly looking around to make sure no one is close enough to touch her. They started off with the first human chain against sexual harassment looking for accessible streets for women, safe public spaces and harassment free transportation. What really caught our attention in this initiative is that there were lots of men who participated and stood shoulder to shoulder with female protestors in the stand up and were very supportive.
At3 Eedak is a campaign against the violations that women are subjected to in our society in their different forms; from a look or intellectual terrorism to sexual harassment and the dragging and stripping of women. Sherine Thabet, is the founder of the initiative. The 21 year old student at the Faculty of Arts in the English department is one of the youngest fighters who’ve taken on the fight against the phenomenon turned catastrophe that is sexual harassment in Egypt. Sherine started to fight sexual harassment by writing about this issue on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and her writings had a great feedback and they were widely read, the thing that encouraged her to start her fight. “After the revolution, guys now sexually harass women bluntly and openly. One of the main reasons behind this, I think, is the absence of policemen”, Sherine explains. On a practical level, until sexual harassment ends or majorly decreases, Sherine gives to women who get harassed, “I am asking the woman to do her best. Don’t personally let go of your rights, scream and fight and do anything possible. But you should also think about your reaction and make sure it’s proportional to the situation. I mean, don’t start a fight over a look! Also take care if you’re fighting all alone in a place with your harasser”, she advises. Women aren’t the only ones who suffer from sexual harassment though. In many countries around the world, with Egypt included, men get harassed as well. Sherine believes that they do get harassed, just not as much as girls do, “but, yes, we should consider this phenomenon too because it keeps increasing”.
A latest yet shocking form of harassment:
“I went to my car after I finished work to find someone sticking a condom pack to my wiper blades. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that someone could actually do this new form of harassment”. Z.F
Enough Silence! Stand up against Sexual Harassment
Stories from our readers
Long gone are the days when you could go for a walk with a friend in the streets of Cairo due to the many stories we hear about harassment, but you never really think that you will be next. One afternoon I decided to forget about this fact and enjoy a 10 minute walk around 6pm in Mohandesin and that’s when I was sexually harassed for the first time in my life. I was walking in peace when suddenly a teenager riding a bike came towards me doing zigzags all around me trying to terrify me with his random moves as if he was going to hit me with his bike. I kept going back and forth terrified and when I stopped walking, he grabbed my butt with a heavy hand and ran away laughing. I felt very humiliated and kept crying all night and I even called in sick the next day as I wasn’t able to see anyone or do anything due to my angry and depressed state. I kept wondering if I would be able to get out of my car to walk one block if I didn’t find a place to park my car one day. The worst part is that I didn’t get the chance to defend myself, it was a hit and run!
My aerobic class is 2 blocks away from home and I decided to walk to boost some energy. It was after eight and Cairo’s streets are always fully crammed with cars, shops and hundreds of people. The side walk had many kiosks and I preferred not to walk there; so I took a narrow street and I was wearing my training suit and carrying two handbags. I felt a car pass next to me and kept on moving slowly. I looked at the driver he was a man about 40 and I thought he would harass me with dirty words or something. A few seconds later, he gave me a spank and ran away. I was really terrified and ran home cursing the streets of Egypt.
It was 3:00pm and I took the metro with my friend to go for lunch. It was not that crowded but there were a few women sitting next to us. We decided to stand opposite to each other to have a chat and everything was very normal until a creepy looking guy kept staring at us. The guy looked religious as he had that long beard religious people like to have and we didn’t expect what he was about to do as I always feel safe around religious people. While the metro was about to stop; the guy stood in front of us and unzipped his trousers. We didn’t believe what we saw and kept on screaming and also the women next to us saw him and stood stiff. We ran out of the metro station and kept running until we saw the sunlight.
I’m a woman in my late twenties and my manager never lets me leave his office without speaking to me in indirect dirty talk or even touching my arm whenever possible. This happens on a regular basis and I thought if I ignored him, he will realize that I’m not interested but it’s becoming an ongoing sexual harassment case. My career is totally threatened by this as I don’t have the guts to quit after I tried so hard to find a good job during this year’s recession, but I never realized that sexual harassment could really destroy every bit of your daily life. I wish for stricter rules for harassment at the work place, but everyone in my office knows about my manager’s attitude and no one stands up to it.