Cairo: The Most Dangerous Megacity to be a Woman

Published October 16th, 2017 - 01:21 GMT
The most common types of sexual harassment in Egypt (Harassmap)
The most common types of sexual harassment in Egypt (Harassmap)
  • Egypt's capital has been labeled most dangerous for women globally
  • Harmful cultural practices and sexual harassment are particular prevalent
  • Women's rights abuses in the huge city are well documented
  • Even as the report came out, social media accounts of a dramatic kidnapping emerged in Egypt


by Rosie Alfatlawi

Cairo is the most dangerous megacity for women in the world, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey has found.

The Egyptian capital was labeled the least safe among 19 cities of more than 10 million people worldwide. The poll consulted 380 experts on women’s issues, and found that London was the safest megacity.

On “harmful cultural practices”, which include female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, Cairo ranked at the top.

In 2008, UNICEF estimated that as many as 91 percent of married Egyptian women are survivors of FGM. Despite being outlawed the same year, the custom continues to be widespread nearly a decade on.

Marriage age in Egypt was raised to 18 in 2008, but child marriage was not criminalized. 17 percent of girls still get married before they reach adulthood, with two percent by just 15. 

The Arab world’s most populous city was also the third worst for risk of sexual harassment and violence, behind New Delhi and Sao Paulo.

A staggering 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed, according to a 2013 U.N. report.

According to specialists, the situation for women has deteriorated since the Arab Spring, with female protesters often being targets for violence.

The harassment faced by Cairene women on a daily basis has been well documented. In 2015, Eman Helal produced a photographic project on sexual harassment, including in demonstrations.

“I decided to do this story because I don’t feel safe on the streets walking in front of a man,” she told the New York Times that year.

She is just one of a number of photographers and filmmakers who have tackled the topic. Among them is photojournalist Roger Anis, whose 2015 "Closet Full of Dreams" series can be seen below:



Meanwhile, HarassMap is a project begun in 2010 to document and deter sexual harassment on Egypt’s streets. The idea is to achieve zero-tolerance by ensuring harassers “face consequences on the street, in their workplace, from friends and family and coworkers”.

“Everything about the city is difficult for women. We see women struggling in all aspects,” said Egyptian journalist and women’s rights campaigner Shahira Amin.

“Even a simple walk on the street, and they are subjected to harassment, whether verbal or even physical”.

Cairo was second worst as well in terms of access to economic resources for women. That includes education, ownership of land, and financial services such as bank accounts.

Girls Not Brides reports that 13 percent of ten to 29-year-old women in Egypt have never been to school, as opposed to just 3 percent of men. Only 23 percent of Egyptian women were in work last year, compared to 26 percent in 1990.

In fact, many problems for Egyptian women stem in part from the country’s ongoing economic difficulties.

"The economy has become so bad in the last two, three years that we are suffering a setback in the thinking that women's issues are not a priority," Omaima Abou-Bakr, co-founder of Women and Memory Forum, told Thomson Reuters.

An SOS on a ten-pound note

Just as the report that Cairo is the dangerous megacity was released, a story began circulating online in Egypt about one desperate girl’s apparent attempt to seek help from her kidnappers.

An image of an Egyptian ten-pound note bearing a handwritten message was shared on social media.

The dramatic note claims “I am kidnapped” and gives her exact location. It adds “My name is Jana Shawkat”.

The unlikely story gains even less credence given that, Al-Arabiya reports, police went to the address given found no sign of the girl, nor has anyone of that name been reported missing.

The sensational appeal for assistance is in all likelihood a hoax. Sadly, however, in the context of the Thomas Reuters findings such a story of violence against women in Egypt holds more credibility than it should.

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