A 2017 poll declared Egypt’s capital Cairo as ‘the most dangerous city in the world’ for women. Another survey by UN Women and Promundo said more than half of Egypt’s women have experienced sexual harassment. However, in 2018, the country saw a major shift in the way women took on the molesters.
Last year, women in Egypt started the country’s #MeToo movement, following the footsteps of the global act against sexual abuse. Egypt’s #MeToo has brought in a notable change in the way harassment and victims are seen by the society.
For instance, last year in Eid al-Adha, Gehad al-Rawy, a researcher and a feminist activist, and her friend Rozana Nageh were catcalled by two men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Deciding to take on the abusers, the two women tried to pin down the perpetrators. In what seems to have happened in a topsy-turvy world, a crowd attempted to free the man from the women’s clutches.
It took Rawy two days of wait and time at the police station to get the case to a court. In spite of the police not backing their case initially, and the men slapping counter case of violence against them, the women came out victorious in September, when the harasser was sentenced to 2 years in prison. The sentence was later decreased to 6 months.
Verbal and physical abuse were criminalized in Egypt in 2014. Notwithstanding the law, street harassment against women was very commonplace, where the perpetrators were emboldened by the culture of victim-blaming.
Women in Egypt were reluctant to come out and report harassment due to the social stigma. Also, they are subjected to humiliation by the very perpetrators and sometimes by their own family for ‘not dressing properly’. Quite often, the harassers file counter complaints, making it difficult to pursue a case.
In a surprise announcement made in August, Al-Azhar ̶ one of the most important Sunni institutions in the Islamic world ̶ called for strict punishment for sexual harassers. Importantly, it also ruled out that a woman’s clothing could never be used as a justification to harass her verbally or physically.
“We have been following what the media and social media networks have been saying about sexual harassment cases lately,” the statement said. “It’s an issue that is completely unacceptable and impossible to be silent about.”
Abdallah Sarhan, Dean of Higher Education at Al-Azhar University, said the institution wanted to send a strong message to harassers that they couldn’t use moral justification that the woman deserved to be abused for the clothes she wore.
Later in the year, top celebrities in Egypt started a video campaign, launched by the Egyptian National Council for Women. It sought an end to sexual harassment.
With campaigns like this, a society that has deep-rooted patriarchal bias towards women, is throwing a word of caution to the sexual harassers: keep off, or you shall face the music!