The other day a friend asked me; “Since you are so vocal about different social issues all the time what would you do if you were given unlimited power for 3 months to change anything in Egypt? What will be among your first priorities keeping in mind you will be working against time. You would only have 3 months to solve an issue you consider critical?”
What an interesting question, I thought, and what a burden this would be if it ever came true. The first social issue that jumped to mind was street children. I know many people choose to ignore the street children issue and turn a blind eye whenever they see these children, but sticking our heads in the sand isn’t going to make the issue disappear. These children can be likened to a ticking time bomb that will sooner or later blow up in all our faces. One of my dreams is to secure a safe environment for the street children to live and grow like any other kids. I hope one day we will be able to rehabilitate the street children of Egypt into healthy, happy and productive members of our society. Anyhow, this is a long-term project and will not be solved in 3 months. Although a very difficult issue to tackle, the issue of street children is not an impossible one to solve, and, I already have a ready plan – for one day when I have the opportunity. But now I had to give my friend an answer as to what I would do if given just 3 months.
So, thinking hard, what could I change given just 3 months? Something near and dear to my heart – every time I think of my mother, sister, daughter, wife and my female friends: If I were to be given the absolute power to make one change in Egyptian society – I would put an end to the harassment of women in Egypt’s streets. I cannot fathom how in a so-called civilized country like ours women can’t walk peacefully in our streets! I can’t believe that our streets have turned into a ‘danger zone’ for our mothers, sisters, daughters, wife, friends! Females are harassed with no regard to age, looks or dress code. Streets are like a hunting range and shooting season is open year round! Being a male I of course haven’t experienced the type of harassment and daily suffering females go through on an ongoing basis in my own country. Normally this is not a topic for open discussion but through more private conversations with the various women in my life I started to gain a totally different view of the streets of Egypt. When I investigated the matter further I realized we have a major moral crisis and women are not safe on the streets now. The stories I heard are so embarrassing and shameful for me both as an Egyptian and as a man.
In any civilized world the harassment of women in general is a big taboo and there is severe punishment for anyone harassing women in the street. What is beyond my comprehension is why we don’t have this level of punishment for the men of Egypt who harass our women? I can’t believe that in-spite of all the religious appearance in our society, our women are still harassed. I can’t believe that nowadays when a woman is harassed, people stand around and watch as if they are watching an amusing show! There is something definitely wrong with any society that allows or turns a blind eye to harassment of any member of their society – let alone 50% of our society – our mothers, sisters, daughters, wife, and female friends – and we need to do something about it.
So the big question here; what would I do if I was in charge? How can I address this problem within a short period of time just 3 months? As simple a question it seems, the solution is not necessarily simple. I suppose I would begin by imposing harsh judgment on anyone harassing a woman with punishments going up to imprisonment. I would also order our executive authorities to take the matter very seriously and to regard any infringement on the rights of our women as a direct offense against our national security – we are after all talking about the personal security of our citizens – 50% of our population! I would also pass a law to create a “wall of shame” for convicted harassers to be publicized through various national media. The wall would show in different media channels including press and television. Scorn is often just as effective as imprisonment. Scorn was successfully implemented as a means of punishment in several cultures in the past when there wasn’t any strong national media and communication was limited. I know that if this were imposed on as few as 10 offenders our streets would be safe once more for our women. Civil society also should play a stronger role. We need to bond together and develop a campaign against street harassment involving all levels of our society. I believe the elimination harassment of women should be one thing we can all agree upon regardless of our political views, religion or even socio-economic class. We can and we should stop street harassment. This is one of the most basic rights any society should be able to promise it members – especially a group that makes up 50% of its population and are our respected mothers, sisters, daughters, wife and friends!!
Koossy says it’s the right of any woman to walk in the street freely without fear of being harassed.
If any of you want to take part in this campaign send an email to Mohamed El Koossy on how you can help on firstname.lastname@example.org and write Koossy Says in the subject line so it can be channeled.