(posted on my German blog on 19 February 2014)
Several times, I wanted to write about this issue. Why I didn’t? Since in Egypt, it’s an omnipresent issue that the media addresses continuously. So why do I finally write about it? Well, because I’ve been affected myself. Many foreign ladies, who live here in Egypt, read my blog and I beg you: don’t be silent anymore when you’ve been harassed! React, contact harassmap or other organisations! In addition, I call on the men to discourage harassers, to rebuke and to lecture them! Set a good example!
Definition of sexual harassment
“The European Commission defines sexual harassment as:
Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women and men […]. This includes unwelcome physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct.“
Searching in internet, I find a wide range of studies about sexual harassment, mainly referring to the work place – as if this kind of harassment would not be spread in all fields of daily life. Mainly women are subjected to it; in Europe as well.
Sexual harassment in Egypt
According to the results of a survey (EgyptianCenter for Women’s Rights, 2008) 83 % of the women were sexually harassed on the street at least once; half of the women on a daily bases. Foreign ladies were also surveyed. 98% said they had been sexually harassed. 62% of the men admit having harassed women in this regard.
During the past three years of transition, this problem has increased. On occasion of demonstrations, women were raped, stripped, pelted and/or abducted by groups of men. These attempts at intimidation (“why do women go to the streets at all?”) are being attributed to the regime at a time.
Harassment is greatly popular on feast days when hordes of young men ambush women, offensively gape at them, cat-call, follow them and grope them on their bottom and breasts or block their way. Harassment has become kind of a popular sport.
Along with it, heavy abuses such as rape of minors by family members, sexual assault and castigation of wives are common. Not one week passes without reading or hearing of such an incident. The culmination of insanity of this hypocrite society – a society that publicly pretends to be prude and abstinent – is in my opinion that a woman is supposed to be subordinate to the man (father, husband and if missing, the oldest brother) and hence, the man has all rights and powers upon the woman. The blame is by all means always on the woman.
There’s a positive side, tough. In the recent years, this delicate subject has been discussed more often in public. Some women dared to denounce their aggressors. Film director Mohamed Diab used this subject for his film 678. The film is in Arabic with English subtitles; however, I think it is comprehensible without any translation. Sexual harassment respectively the integrity of a woman and equal rights are one of those many huge problems that Egypt has to tackle.
In 2010, an organisation called harassmapwas founded. The NGO campaigns for making sexual harassment known and invites the victims to speak up, offers psychological support and criminalises the action. More than 1000 volunteers take regularly to the streets and convince people that sexual harassment may not be tolerated.
Other organisations patrol on sensitive places and upon demonstrations. They watch, intervene and call for back-up in order to protect or free victims.
Situation in Hurghada
Most probably, there are less heavy assaults in Hurghada compared to the bigger cities, but here as well, violations occur. Especially pervasive is unwanted touching and groping as well as offensive catcalls. If a girl or a woman walks past construction workers, she will for sure be provided with catcalls. Likewise annoying and daily routine, but not immediately threatening, are the motorists who flash the headlamps – mostly those driving expensive cars -, slow down or even stop so that they can see if the female is “willing”.
I experience all this regularly and according to my frame of mind, I’m getting more or less upset. All this does not happen because I’m a foreigner, but simply, because I am NOT a male. It happens to all women, Egyptians, foreigners, scantily dressed, veiled or not.
So far, I was lucky. Once, I held a bag of cold canned drinks in front of the man’s nose sitting beside me; I would have plunked it on his manhood – he then moved away. Another time, I loudly called on someone to get off. I punched adolescents. Yet, a couple of days before, I was caught offhandedly.
I signalled a microbus to stop and at the same instance, I avoided a donkey carriage. In doing so, I had to step into the street. Yet, the donkey carriage did not drive behind me instead, he rode towards me. By doing so, he groped my skirt and abdomen. I think within less than three seconds I realised what has happened there. I turned around and ran behind that guy. It was a boy! One of those poor, harmless looking boys who usually let my heart overflow of pity! I tried to swing at him, but he tore my t-shirt. I couldn’t grab him properly because he was sitting elevated, the donkey continued trotting and I held my handbag clutched underneath my arm. I tried to tear down his load, but I had to give in. This was the moment, when my mind started to work again – until that moment I was only reflex and fury. I trembled all over, mainly out of fury because I couldn’t get hold of that guy. The passengers in the microbus had watched and when I got on the bus, they asked me, if I was ok. A man said that nothing has happened… another one said, that it was a child! Only the driver reprimanded the boy. As I wanted to get off again, people held me back.
This is the usual reaction “nothing happened“, a child and “what can we do?“
Dear Egyptian men:
Yes, something has happened! I was hurt in my dignity. I was touched indecently by a stranger. This is disrespectful.
Today, he is a child groping women. Tomorrow, he will be a rapist? Is this your future? Speak up! Stop this insane behaviour! Intervene instead of looking away and hide behind your hypocrite shame! Protect EVERY woman, regardless of her age, nationality or social level, regardless of the situation… or are you scared?
I’ve reported the incident to harassmap. I’ve posted it on facebook and I write about it here, on my blog. Please, dear women: publicise it, don’t feel ashamed, yet defend yourself.