March 17, 2013

Sexual Harrassment In Egypt

Sexual harassment is not a new thing in Egypt. It's just gained more media coverage as of late. If you've ever been here, you KNOW what it's like.I remember being as young as 10 years old, here on summer vacation and getting unwanted attention from a grown man. I've touched on the subject a couple of times before on a personal level. After watching Bassem Youseff's latest episode of El Bernameg which talked about this issue, I felt the need to write about it.

It's a huge problem and it will not be solved until people here change their mindset. It's the norm. It's often a pastime for boys and men. People look the other way. Even women will blame the victim.  What was she doing there? Why was she alone? What was she wearing? Enough! The blame lies fully and solely on the aggressor! Why can't a woman walk to the store or get on a bus without being ogled, cat called or molested? Why can't a woman go to Tahrir to protest her government without being gang raped? It's absolutely sickening.  Instead of asking why a girl did or didn't do anything, why not ask why the perpetrator can't control himself? Why is it ok? Why don't people speak up and get in the guys face?  Boys and men need to step up and begin to tell their peers that it's not cool. If someone were to do the same to their sister or mother, they'd have a fit.

A bold poster for a meeting on sexual harassment.

I recently read a story that might shed light on what it feels like for women to get harassed. Once a group of people were talking and some guy mentioned how a gay male mad a pass at him, and how he felt scared and disgusted. Other guys chimed in saying how unsettling that would be. A girl told them, "You see? You were afraid because for the first time in your life you found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force on you." Light bulb.  Sadly women have  had to get used to it since a young age and it's just part of every day life.

Translation: Don't harass me. The street is for you and for me.

Guys actually think they are paying women a compliment when they make a comment on their appearance. Some think women want that kind of attention just because they want to look nice and take care of their appearance. Again, victim blaming. If men, and I use that term loosely, want to say that a girl was asking for it by how she is dressed, what does that say about them? They are so weak they can't control their impulses? Like an animal? So if you're going to give me the, hijab has it's wisdom shpeal, save it. Women in hijab and niqab are harassed and raped as well.

The good news is, there are people taking action. They really need to grow in numbers for changes to take effect. Bassem Youseff devoting most of an episode to the topic is a big step in my opinion. Lots of young people watch him and look up to him. There's an initiative called Harassmap. Their mission is to "end the social acceptance of  sexual harassment." They accept reports of harassment and offer help to those who are harassed or assaulted. They believe in ending excuses people give harassers and promote standing up against them. Tahir Body Guard are men and women also taking action to keep Tahrir safe for everyone.

Loosely translated, right to left, "I wish you would respect me, so I can respect you",  I wish I could ride a bike without anyone bothering me", Sexual Harassment reduces the boy's worth before the girl's.

A small thing we can do anywhere there is harassment, is to get involved. If you see someone harassing a girl or woman, you can  ask them if they are ok, address the harasser and shame him. Until the blame is squarely on the harasser, then and only then will it become really taboo and looked at as the disgusting behavior it truly is. It needs to become such an uncool thing to do.

Our country has enough problems. This is something we can really change. It's breaking our daughters' spirits, it's raising our sons in a world where this is seen as ok. It's a massive problem for tourism as well. If you are reading this from Egypt, next time you are a victim or see someone being harassed, don't look the other way. Stand up for yourself and for your sister.  Every time.


  1. That's really really sad.
    Unfortunatetly i hear this a lot of people who have been on vacation to Egypt.
    (western/non muslim women)

    1. Yea, it's pretty much what we are known for, sadly. It's in tour guide books.

  2. Great post. It's so sad that it's seen as being normal and cool...and blame the victim. No, it's the person's fault who is doing it because they can't control themselves. Sickening!
    I hope things will start changing there soon in regards to this, it's totally wrong and no one should have it happen to them.

    1. Thanks, the issue has been on my mind a lot.

  3. This is such a good post. The culture of victim blaming makes me sick. There are so many cases in the media that have undertones (or sometimes they are not even that subtle) of questioning the behaviour of women and it makes me so mad that not enough people in mainstream media say hey, let's ask the man not to harass, or assault, or rape instead of placing blame on the victim.

    1. Thank you. Have you seen the media reactions to the Steubenville case? So sympathetic to the perpetrators! Ugh!

    2. Ugh is right I agree. The level of sympathy shown for the two rapists astounds me. There is a 16 year old girl who has to live with what happened for the rest of her life.


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