Egyptian women: “It’s time for our voices to be heard”

Egyptian women: “It’s time for our voices to be heard”

An Egyptian man walks past anti-sexual harassment graffiti. One of the tags states “Be a man and protect her.”

“I can no longer walk – or even drive – anywhere without receiving a dirty comment or without feeling scared that I may be attacked at any moment.”  Those were the comments of one female university graduate on life as a woman in Egypt.

“It’s disgusting and makes me feel like I am walking around naked!” said another female who happens to be veiled. “The abuse impacts all women of Cairo. Whether you are wearing the hijab, the niqab, or whether you are not veiled…women are harassed no matter what!”

This is the sexual terrorism that women across Egypt go through each day. Statistics released reveal that more than 90% of Egypt’s women – regardless of the neighborhood they live in – have encountered sexual harassment: grand-mothers, mothers, daughters – no one is off limits.

While driving in the relatively ‘upscale’ Heliopolis, I noticed a bunch of youth who had stopped their car and started verbally abusing a woman – in her 20s – who simply turned her face away and hurried quickly to a nearby store.

The attitude towards women in society has deteriorated over the past few decades – with sexual harassment getting worse post-revolution. Over the past few weeks, sexual harassment has marred protests at both Tahrir Square an at the Presidential Palace – with reports of women being surrounded by groups of men who then proceed to rip off their clothes and brutally violate their bodies.

An anti-sexual harassment group, Op Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault that was created to protect females from protest zones, shared the following testimonial of a female who was attacked on the 25th of January 2013:

All I remember is hands all over my body, grabbing under the layers of pullovers I was wearing, touching my breasts, opening my bra. More hands on my back and legs, my pants being pulled down. I was trying not to lose balance and not to lose my purse with my phone inside. My empty hand tried to pull my pants back up when I felt fingers inside my ass and shortly after in my vagina. I dropped my purse and pulled up my pants again, or I tried at least. Then more penetration with fingers from the front and the back. I tried to see the end of circle of men, but saw rows and rows of men surrounding me, all pushing towards me. I panicked, and was pushed aside. I remembered my purse, reached to the ground, picked it up and fell on the ground. With one hand I was hanging onto the purse; with the other I tried to pull myself up. Men’s hands were still on my body and somebody penetrated my vagina again with his hands. I had successfully got up. At that point I remember sounds again and I remember me beginning to shout for help. One man, a few meters away recognized the situation and moved towards me in the middle of maybe forty men, maybe more. He shouted and hit some of the men around me in order to reach me. When I could reach his hand, I simply handed him my purse and grabbed his arm. Then I just hugged the stranger and told him to help me. From behind, my pants were still be pulled down, hands everywhere.

Disgustingly, certain officials, radicals, and sexual predators have blamed women on such attacks. Today, the Interior Minister’s Undersecretary blamed women’s attire and lack of modesty. This is similar to what one man interviewed by the BBC stated: “It’s the way girls dress that makes guys come on to them. The girls came wanting it – even women in niqab.”

Yet, after many years of silence women are finally standing up for their rights – calling for equality and above all, justice.

Egyptian women protesting during a recent anti-sexual harassment protest.

During the Anti-Morsi protests in December 2012, more women than men converged outside the Presidential Palace to call for the rejection of a constitution that would lead to unequal rights for women. One woman, who held a sign stating “The voice of women IS the revolution” said that women are no longer afraid of expressing their frustrations with the lack of equality in society.

Today, global protests are set to take place outside Egyptian embassies, calling for an end to sexual harassment in Egypt. The protests – which are starting at the same time (5pm local time) as one in Cairo – aim to shed light on the abuse of Egyptian women and to pressure both the government and the international community to do more.

Egyptian women are risking their safety by marching on Egypt’s streets and demanding to be noticed. Despite the risks and potential of being attacked, one female protester told me “I will be protesting because I want to be treated like a human being.  The goal of these harassers is to scare us – but we will not be silenced anymore.”

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