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Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Stop sexual harassment graffiti Cairo

In a strong public statement to stop sexual harassment and violence against women in Egypt, graffiti  artist Mira Shihadeh’s artwork is recognizable. This work is part of the political graffiti on building facades facing Mohammed Mahmoud Street in downtown Cairo. It shows a woman in a red dress brandishing a spray can (perhaps mace or something else) against her assailants to keep them away from harming her. Many women throughout Cairo today want the courage to take back the public spaces that have been limited to them due to increasing sexual harassment violence. Image: Suzeeinthecity

(WNN) Cairo, EGYPT, NORTHERN AFRICA: As security officials inside Egypt try to play down the seriousness of assaults on women protesters in the days following the massive Sunday June 30 (2013) protests in the Egypt, a larger more political fabric may be impacting women as today’s announcement by Chief of the Armed Forces General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi reveals that he has ordered the suspension of Egypt’s current constitution asking President Mohamed Morsi to step down.

In spite of politics and the war between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, the work to protect women is not over. Male members of the volunteer human rights and advocacy organization, ‘Tahrir Bodyguard’, are continuing to work to save women from rape at the hands of male mobs in Tahrir Square.

“Each volunteer is a brave human being willing to put his/her life at risk for the rights of others,” says Tahrir Bodyguard on their Facebook page, outlining that women too, as well as men, are volunteers in the organization.

Female volunteers are an essential part of our fight. We want a country where we can walk self-confident and express our opinions with no fear of being silenced,” added Tahrir Bodyguard.

As the sea of government authority shifts with what The New York Time has called conditions of a possible ‘military coup’, women suffering under violence in the region are not expecting the next government to be easier for women. Women are as much as ever in danger on the streets of Cairo, as well as other streets in the cities of Alexandria, Nasser City, Gharbia, Dakahleya, Assiut and Qena.

I just came back from Tahrer square, I was happy and had a wonderful time with all the emotions and the positive power among all attendance especially with the feeling that it is a place for all of us.. boys, girls, men, women, families, young & old.. what I observed is that the situation there was stable till around 9pm I guess.. after that I started noticing the increase of numbers of a certain type of people with hungry looks in their eyes.. I directly recognized them.. they were searching for a victim.. searching for a target,” said Mr Hamza Zain, as he added a comment to the Sexual Harassment Group (Egypt) Facebook page on Sunday June 30.

“I was there with my brother resting at one corner, when I saw a suspicious moves around 3 girls, I knew this is a start for a dangerous situation for them, I held my brother’s hand and ran towards them to start a human chain behind their back, it was clear that many human-less-beings were following them to get what they can, and from the look on these girls’ faces, it was clear that they didn’t experience such situation before, they had no idea what to do, how to react, how to reduce damage or at least how to sense the danger around you before it is too late, anyway, they were lucky that the human chain got longer with the help of some people, then I guess some members of anti-sexual harassment force or another group (I am not sure) appeared and guided them out of this place, this was the only incident that was fixed before it is too late,” added Zain.

Zain did see women who were not as lucky as these 3 girls that night.

“I am writing this because of a hard feeling .. To be there, to feel helpless, to fail to get a human out of this unfair battle, it is a nightmare, I felt I am not a man, my manhood was insulted, and my humanity was hurt, the remorse for being there without having the ability to help made me feel that I am part of it, I felt a huge pain in my heart and in my stomach, and the beautiful experience turned to be dark,” continued Zain.

Working closely with Tahrir Bodyguard, the organization known as OpAntiSH/A – Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, a women’s advocacy watchdog group providing a 24-hour report hotline for women victims and witnesses of violence, is waiting and watching the shifting government politics closely, but they are more concerned with the number of women who have been injured and/or raped during the recent demonstrations.

To date the numbers of women impacted by violence since the recent demonstrations, begun on June 30, 2013, has swollen to more than 100. What also appears to be increasing is number of male mob assault gangs who are hitting the streets of Cairo.

According to reports and eye-witness accounts the seriousness of the crimes that lay in the trail of the male attackers include rape where assailants have used more than just their hands to violate women. They have also used sticks, and in a recent case a knife, as a sexual weapon. Locations where women have reported being attacked are being shared by OpAntiSH/A. Today they continue to tell women to stay away from Cairo’s public railway’s “multiple entrances leading into Tahrir Square.”

On Friday June 30 the attack suffered by a female Dutch journalist has been considered one of the most brutal extreme attacks during the protests. Suffering from internal injuries after her rape the journalist, who remains unnamed publicly, required reconstructive surgery. Other events of physical violence against women protesters in Tahrir Square have also brought them to get emergency medical help due to their injuries. In addition to physical injuries numerous women are suffering from psychological trauma after experiencing, or witnessing, the violent events.

Amazingly as demonstrations were expected to reach large numbers, officials working inside President Morsi’s administration put few safety enforcement policies in place.

“Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault expresses its disappointment in the government’s response to mob sexual assaults on female protestors,” said OpAntiSH in a public statement following reports of increased violence against women protesters, much of it severe. “While the presidency has exploited the incidents for political gain in the media, a source at the Ministry of Health violated the privacy of one of the survivors, publishing details of the assault, her name, and the name of the hospital in which she was receiving treatment, in a blatant violation of the most basic rules and ethics of the medical profession,” continued OpAntiSH/A.

On February 11, 2011 South African borne U.S. journalist, news anchor and correspondent for CBS news Lara Logan suffered rape under the undeniable power of a gang of men, a mob that surrounded her while she and her recording crew for CBS were setting up for a broadcast. In spite of her cameraman’s attempts to help Logan, he could not break through the tight circle of men who linked arms together and provided a outside barrier for others inside the circle who brutally attacked the journalist.

Tweet by organization Tahrir Bodyguard

A tweet made today (Wednesday July 3, 2013) by Tahrir Bodyguard, a group of men who are working to help bring safety to women on the streets inside Cairo, Egypt shows the continuing concern for women who are on-the-ground demonstrating in Tahrir Square even after over 100 women have been attacked by mob violence. Image: Twitter

These and other ongoing acts of violence have frightened women in Egypt, but the larger question may be: Who are the men who make up these mobs? And why hasn’t the government in Egypt already begun investigations into the members of these mobs to bring them to justice?

“I don’t have so much confidence in the legal system and the judicial system in Egypt because it goes in a very strange and ambiguous way. And I’m not really confident that I will really get some justice,” said sexual assault survivor Hania Moheeb in a video interview recently released by HRW.

“Impunity in these mob attacks and the violence against women has led to the situation where the perpetrator feels he won’t be held accountable. It has also lead to a rise in these types of attacks. At the same time, several initiative to protect women have been launched by activists and civil society as a result of the state’s failure to protect women and the lack of accountability in the crimes of violence against women,” outlined Ms Heba Morayef, Egypt Director of Human Rights Watch.

In a March 2013 attempt to condemn modernization, the party that brought Egyptian President Morsi to power made a strong public statement against policy decisions for women’s safety that had been discussed at the United Nations.

Refusing efforts made during the 57th session of the United Nations CSW – Commission on the Status of Women as they attempted to ratify a document outlining steps needed to end violence against women, the Muslim Brotherhood outlined instead their view that the declaration was, “…misleading and deceptive.”

Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands in cases of rape or sexual harassment was only one of the human rights passages included in the document, among numerous others, that the Muslim Brotherhood opposed.

Inside today’s Egypt the politicization of violence against women, especially against those who are involved in the ‘women’s-rights-as-human-rights’ movement, has created an increasing level of mistrust and tension in the capital city of Cairo. Although the brutal and forced practice of virginity tests was banned in December 2011, soldiers who arrested women protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011 were subjected to forced sexual examinations. According to the United Nations this is considered a gender-specific form of torture.

“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch Joe Stork in a statement made for the press on July 3. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development,” said Stork.

On-the-ground working to help women who have suffered under violence each case at a time, OpAntiSH/A is also working closely with Tahrir Bodyguard.

“…remain vigilant: keep + nos handy,” said the anti-sexual harassment agency on Twitter only a few hours ago.

Calling for the privacy of women who have become victims to violence and rape, OpAntiSH/A stressed that the focus should be on the seriousness of the assaults, not on the numbers. They also are calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

“Sexual harrassment is part of a woman’s daily life in the Egyptian street,” says Ms Heba Morayef, Egypt Director of Human Rights Watch. “Consecutive governments didn’t take this issue seriously, which lead society to accept it and blame the victim,” adds Morayef from HRW Egypt.

“When are we going to wake up from this careless state???!! And the biggest question.. when the government and the police and everyone of us will do his part .. no no .. not his part ..it is not an option .. it is YOUR duty .. yes, you MUST do your part to save the society, to save your humanity, and to be able to raise your head and look to women’s eyes without feeling that you let them down,” said Facebook commenter Hamza Zain.

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In a campaign aimed to help women fight off their assailants, volunteers from Tahrir Bodyguard in Cairo, Egypt offer a free self-defense class to show women how they can use specific actions to stop rape. “Should you get into a confrontation you aim to end it in 3 seconds,” says Tahrir Bodyguard as part of the training self-defense class. While self-defense training may not always work to protect women, the efforts and support of the organization are clearly visible in this 55 second video. This video is a film production of Tahrir Bodyguard.

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Human rights journalist and reporter Lys Anzia is also the founder and editorial media advisor for WNN – Women News Network. Anzia has spoken on panel at the United Nations numerous times covering the use of new media for activism and human rights. Her written and editorial work has been published in UNESCO, WHO – World Health Organization, Vital Voices, Huffington Post World, INTERNEWS, The Nobel Women’s Initiative and The Guardian News, among others. Anzia believes strongly in the power of news transparency and the power of women to transform the world.

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Additional sources for this story include UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund, HRW – Human Rights Watch,  OpAntiSH/A – Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, Equality Now, The Muslim Brotherhood – IKWHANWEB, 60 Minutes CBS News, Tahrir Bodyguard, Amnesty International New Zealand and UNCSW – United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

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©2013 WNN – Women News Network
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