UN report: 99.3% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed

Published April 10th, 2014 - 06:07 GMT

A 2013 United Nations study found that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed.

Women, the Egyptian government has claimed, are a top priority for the interior ministry which established a task force to counter violence against women. One female task force member, Colonel Manal Atef, believes that women must take more initiative in reporting harassment. The government and the laws, she claimed, are not the problem.

But even when women try to bring the harassers to justice, they are sometimes dissuaded. After passers by intervened when Lyla El-Gueretly was slapped by a man she had chastised for making unwelcome sexual comment, "The (people) tried to talk me out of taking him to the police station... They said it's just a waste of time, a waste of effort and he has learned the lesson."

El-Gueretly's attacker was arrested and charged with assault. The attacker, however, was released before his trial and while he was found guilty in absentia, he did not go to jail.

One Egyptian college student named Habiba encountered indifferent witnesses to her harassment. While walking down the street, a group of men began to chase her, making lewd gestures, and yelling "Come on! You know they want to." She sought refuge in a pharmacy but "No one in the pharmacy did anything to help me despite my pleas, they just wanted me to leave." After two hours of hiding in the pharmacy, Habiba ran as fast as she could out of the store. "I was so afraid that one of them would touch me ... you just don't forget something like that."

In Habiba's opinion, the harassment reflects "a lack of ethics and culture more than anything" and has nothing to do with choice of dress. "Even veiled girls get harassed all the time," she added.

Gaber Nassar, a university dean, blamed one student for her "inappropriate attire" as the reason for an assault by a group of male classmates. He alleged that her removal of a black cloak upon entering the school caused a group of male students to grope and chase her. The female student, who was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and had bleached blonde hair, locked herself in a bathroom. A witness said that school security intervened only after the men tried to enter the bathroom. The dean later retracted his comments and asserted that the perpetrator, not the victim, would be punished.

The Egyptian Justice Ministry is working on a draft anti-sexual harassment law that stipulates fines and imprisonment terms for violators. Justice Ministry spokesperson Abdel Azim al-Ashry explained that instability and the absence of a parliament have delayed the passage of the law.

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