EGYPT: Female police ride Cairo metro as sexual harassment continues

WNN Breaking

Graffiti in Cairo shows sexual harassment
Graffiti in Cairo depicts the upsetting scene of severe sexual harassment and attack against of a woman protester known in the media and around the world as the “Girl in the Blue Bra,” who’s clothing was stripped off by security forces as she was attacked and dragged away during her arrest. This form of of extreme sexual harassment continues to be a constant danger for women in Cairo, in spite of the new group of women police who are now riding Cairo’s metro to help more women feel safe in the city. Image: Women’s Justice Center

(WNN) Cairo, EGYPT, NORTH AFRICA: As the U.S. Department of State’s Embassy in Cairo issues a new August update giving extended travel warnings for U.S. citizens in Egypt asking American’s not to travel to the Egyptian region. Today Egypt’s capital city of Cairo continues to be a dangerous city for the women who live there. Acts of verbal degradation, intimidation and severe sexual harassment continue in the region as political violence and ideological difference has been part of the backdrop. In spite of heightened public awareness sexual harassment and extreme forms of harassment against women continues.

According to the 2008 study by the ECWR – Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women say that they have been sexually harassed inside Egypt. Half of them also shared that this is a daily occurrence for them.

The political climate in Egypt has not been helpful to women who seek safety on the streets of Cairo. Less than 3 weeks ago the Government of Egypt declared a State of Emergency that extended to Cairo and Alexandria.

“Demonstrations have, on numerous occasions, degenerated into violent clashes between security forces and protesters, and between protesters supporting different factions, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage,” outlined the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory in their August report on Egypt. “Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. There have been instances of the use of firearms as well. While most violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including downtown Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, and Port Said, there are recent reports of more widespread political and social violence, including armed attacks, in other areas of Egypt. Of continued concern is gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the targets of sexual assault,” continued the Advisory.

As bleak as it’s been, some help appears to be partially available to women since a small group of women have joined Cairo’s police force, says reporter Reem Gehad from Cairo based news publication Ahram Online.

The police women are now making themselves more visible in public as they ride Cairo’s metro system. This does help some women feel somewhat safer, but doesn’t make the problem go away, outline local women activists. The presence of a women police officer riding the metro is welcome sight though.

Numerous women in Cairo feel that they cannot report an incident of street harassment easily to male police officers. Some women have actually reported some male police officers as ‘predators’ who have harassed women. Although WNN has not verified this claim, one woman who says she witnessed recent harassment first-hand on September 9, 2013, conveyed the incident happened in front of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo through a SMS text message complaint to HarassMap. HarassMap is a live digital map service that monitors sexual harassment throughout Egypt encouraging female and male witnesses, as well as women who are experiencing harassment themselves, to text in.

“13:05 Sep 09, 2013: Harassment by the officer in charge of the security of the embassy…,” says the SMS text as it came in to HarassMap phone system.

“…he exploits the existing overcrowding…[at]…the door of the embassy,” continued the text with its loose English translation provided by HarassMap.

While on-the-ground reports are important, solving the problem may take more than reporting harassment crimes. It may require the cooperation of the men in Egypt, from the leadership down, to act fully against crimes when they occur.

The issues surrounding harassment against women in Cairo are not a new ones. WNN – Women News Network reported on this problem on-the-ground from the streets of Cairo in October 2008 using in-person video interviews with women who had been frightened and/or upset by their experiences.

“The problems are that women had no ability to talk [after being harassed] and they feel shame. They feel the society’s blame,” outlined Nehad Abu Elkomsan, chair-women of ECWR – Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in 2008.

“But now they’re more free to talk and know they’re not, everyone one of them, she’s not alone. This is not her fault. So this is encouraging society to understand this situation and to think about how to solve it. So I’m optimistic,” she added.

Today Abu Elkomsan feels the same way about the situation on women and harassment in Egypt. Concerted efforts by women’s organizations have suffered though because of political instability in the region. October 6, 2013 is Armed Forces Day, a long-standing national holiday in Egypt. On the weekend surrounding this date rival political factions are set to protest in downtown Cairo as women face extra vulnerability and are especially on guard against street violence and harassment.


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