60 percent of women harassed on daily basis – Cairo
Protective laws unfit for women on streets of Cairo
Correspondents JOSEPH MAYTON and MANAR AMMAR – WNN Features
CAIRO: Being an Egyptian woman is to accept sexual harassment as daily routine, according to a recent report from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR). The study outlines, 60 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women are harassed on a daily basis.
This is not a new problem. In fact, the problem has been simmering silently since the fall of 2006, when dozens of men and boys attacked and assaulted women outside a downtown a Cairo cinema. In a mob style attack, the perpetrators attempted to grope and tear at any passing woman’s clothes in the October attack.
Street harassment globally includes a wide range of verbal and nonverbal acts, including whistles, jeers, winks, grabs, pinches, public displays and often the use of foul and offensive language. Extreme cases can accelerate into physical attacks where clothing is ripped and a woman is bruised, cut or injured.
No woman is left unharmed by acts of street harassment. Exposure to such acts of public humiliation that result in verbal or physical assault are often ignored by the police. In Cairo this is due to the lack of protective enforcement of Egyptian laws.
Although articles 268 and 306 of the Egyptian Penal Code touch on issues rising out of extreme sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo, the specific legal wording to aid in protecting women exists nowhere in the code. This makes prosecution very difficult and extremely rare.
“There is no law criminalizing sexual harassment in Egypt,” says New York based and award-winning Washington Post columnist, Mona Eltahawy. A native of Egypt, international speaker on Arab and Muslim issues and former reporter for Reuters news in Cairo and Jerusalem, Eltahawy has been vigilant in her stand on human rights and women’s rights.
“Police often refuse to report women’s complaints,” added Eltahawy. “And when it is the police themselves who are harassing women, then clearly women’s safety is far from a priority in Egypt.”
The 1993 Harvard Law Review report, “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women,” by Cynthia Grant Bowman, Cornell Law School professor and Gender Studies professor from Northwestern University, outlines the need for specific criminal and civil laws to protect women in public. Street harassment globally has one insidious and common denominator, the use of words that include extreme sexual innuendo and profanity.
“Fighting words statutes seem to offer an appropriate remedy for many kinds of street harassment,” says Professor Bowman in her report. “They encompass personal, face-to-face insults that cannot possibly be described as political discourse; they apply to ‘threatening, profane or obscene revilings’; and they turn upon the reaction of the hearer rather than upon the intent of the speaker or harasser.”
Although the ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union has come out strongly in opposition defending the use of ‘fighting words’ as free speech under United States law code, it does lean in the favor in the prosecution of “acts of violence, harassment or intimidation and invasions of privacy.”
“The ACLU recognizes that the mere presence of speech as one element in an act of violence, harassment, intimidation or privacy invasion doesn’t immunize that act from punishment,” said the organization in a 1994 “Hate Speech on Campus” report.
On the streets of Cairo in 2006, eyewitnesses and citizen reporters’ pictures were clear proof that terror against women had taken place, despite denials by police and the Ministry of Interior. Some of the photos revealed police watching from a distance in amusement and indifference to the women’s predicament.
The event proved to be the breaking point for women, and some men, in removing their heads from the sand. It was the first time women had spoken out about the issue, taking to the streets in demonstrations against this enduring social problem.
“Not only do we not have the space and the freedom to do it (demonstrate) but also some of us women got harassed by police officers,” says Mona, a 25-year-old Egyptian girl who attended her first demonstration following the 2006 attacks.
“I went with my sister and her friends and I saw one of her friends screaming at a couple of soldiers for harassing her,” Mona added. “The irony was unbelievable.”
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