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Exploring Taboos: When Women Are Blamed for Being Harassed

The second round of workshops in the Exploring Taboos project was recently held in Cairo organized by Nazra team, and at the same time bloggers who took part in the first round of workshops kept on writing about social taboos in Egypt. Under the title “Sexual Rabies”, the blogger Freedom Fighter published post looking back at some of the sexual harassment that took place in early October, as people were celebrating the Muslim feast (Eid). Upon his return to Cairo after spending sometime in London for a training course, he received some bad news [ar]:

زي عادة كل عيد تحرشات جماعية وهجوم جماعي على بنات غلبانة قرروا لحظهم السيء انهم يخرجوا يروحوا وسط البلد أو أي جنينة يحتفلوا بالعيد ويتفسحوا عشان يجيلهم حبة حثالة أو مرضى غلبانين يتحرشوا بيهم مع انهم مش لابسين عريان ولا نيلة حجة أي متخلف متحرش مريض منهم .. وطبعا الأمن مقدرش على السعرانين
As usual it was massive sexual harassment against girls who went out to celebrate Eid in downtown or in parks, some scum or sick-minded men harassed them sexually, although they were not dressed sexily, which is always the pretext of any undeveloped person who do this…. And of course security couldn’t stop those with “sexual rabies”…

Sexual harassment had become a habitual phenomena in Cairo every Eid, and usually happens in Downtown Cairo where hundreds of young males and females go to the movie theaters or just out for a walk. In mid-November, another Eid holiday will be celebrated by Egyptian Muslims.

The topic of sexual harassment has been present in citizen media over the past several year in Egypt. In 2006, a number of bloggers published videos of mass harassment taking place in the street, which led to greater media attention. Later in 2009, Facebook was the platform for a campaign calling for A National Day against Sexual Harassment in Egypt.

The blogger also mentioned the results of a survey [.pdf] conducted by the Population Council that found that 80% of males in Egypt (25 to 29 years) believe that females who are sexually harassed bear the responsibility of this, and that they should dress more modestly. Nowadays, most young women wear hair scarves, although it makes no difference when it comes to sexual harassment on streets. A 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women Rights showed that 83 percent of Egyptian women reported being harassed.

A growing number of young people are against this harassment, even of girls who are not dressed ‘modestly’. A Facebook group called “I Will Not Wear The Veil, And You Will Behave!” has now over 3,000 members, and another group called  ‘What do you Gain by Harassing a Woman?’ has more than 1,000 members.

Freedom Fighter takes an in-depth look how women respond to this sexual harassment, and he digs into statistics that highlight that only 3% of women report the police when harassed.  He recalls the story of Noha Roshdy, who was sexually harassed, but decided to sue the harasser and ended up with three years in jail. This is considered the first historic court ruling of its kind in Egypt:

خير مثال على ذلك قضية نهى رشدي أول واحدة ترفع قضية ضد متحرش وشفنا الناس كان باصنلها ازاي عشان مش محجبة و في القسم قالولها عيب تفضحي نفسك وتراجعي عن المحضر لكنها كانت أجدع من كل الناس دي وخدت حقها
Noha Roshdy was the first woman to sue a harasser, you remember how many people judged her as she is not in a hair scarf, and in the police station she was advised not to shame herself by reporting the harassment, but she was stronger than all of them and got her rights back.

Finally the blogger is not very pessimistic, as he meets some Egyptians who do not accept this justification for sexual harassment, and some activists who have been trying to magnify the penalty on harassers. Recently, a project was launched that will help map sexual harassment in Egypt through mobile messages.

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