sexual harassment

I mentioned before that sexual harassment is one of the worst aspects of living in Cairo. While some women can live here for years and not get harassed, more than 80% (iIm sure) do get harassed at some point or another. It’s gotten so bad that it’s affecting tourism, as a survey done by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) found that 98% of tourists get harassed.

Now, what does harassment mean? I don’t mean a guy on the street winking, or whistling, or asking you for a number. I mean he stops whatever he’s doing (including driving), to give you an “I want to kill you” glare. Don’t ask me why women are supposed to respond positively to that. Then if you ever respond, they start cussing you out like there’s no tomorrow. It’s pretty scary.

Now most men will limit their harassment to just looking at you, which is pretty uncomfortable. Then there are those that will follow you, as has happened to me twice. One of these times was 2 nights ago when I was driving home and this guy started slowing down beside me and waving and laughing manically. As I was about to turn into my street, I took a u-turn and kept driving till I lost him, since I didn’t want him to see where I live.

A more extreme story of harassment is the following, reported by the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights:

Last week, a Sudanese refugee girl was sexually harassed in the street, while waiting for a taxi in the Al Haram district.

A taxi driver pulled up and verbally and physically harassed her. When she accused him of verbally and physically harassing her, he drove his car towards and hit her with the car repeatedly. She attempted to desperately defend herself, but did not have time to do so. The taxi driver then grabbed her arm and hand and began moving the taxi. She could not release herself from his grasp and was dragged through the street. She fainted.

After regaining consciousness, she discovered bystanders were able to write the number of the taxi.

I was absolutely shocked when I heard this, and I really hope they find this guy.

Sexual harassment happens all over the world, but I guess what makes Egypt different is how widespread it is: in a day I probably get harassed by 90% of the men I see, and I’ve heard the same from most of my friends. Why is it like this? Especially since it’s an Islamic country, you’d expect the conservatism to curb this behaviour. I put it down to the way men are brought up here: parents still tend to treat their sons better than their daughters, and there is still a lot of sexism in Egypt. So these boys grow up thinking they are better than women and so why should we expect them to respect women on the street? Combine this with unemployment, frustration, general bad manners due this frustration, and I think we can arrive at some kind of explanation as to why sexual harassment is so pervasive.

As a concluding note, I want to also mention that it is usually the woman who gets blamed for being harassed. “What were you wearing/doing/saying?” is usually asked of her when she says she’s been harassed. However, the ECWR survey found that 70% of women who get harassed are veiled; and 6% are munaqabat. Hmm!


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