Do We Know How to Handle Sexual Harassment?

March 23, 2011

Photo Credit: Amr Nabil/AP/File

This male ally post is cross-posted from Rebel with a Cause Bog.

News came out yesterday about a draft law that has been proposed by the government issuing harsher punishments for those who commit sexual harassment and rape crimes, up to the point of death sentence.

The new law tackles various points: adding telephone and the internet to different media through which harassment can occur; and giving more conditions when rape convicts get harsher punishments such as reconsidering victim’s age and cases where the victim has been raped by more than one convicts.

This is a reminder of a similar law which just passed a few days ago for combating thuggery. The news of that law was alarming to me as well as many other human rights activists. The move towards stricter law for thuggery was met with a lot of criticism. Just before this particular law was passed, the military forces cracked down on Tahrir protesters, many were detained and tortured. These protesters were claimed to be thugs which puts us at a dilemma of how to determine who’s a thug and who’s a protester, especially because we are at a time where military courts (where people do not enjoy their full rights of fair trial) have been handling these cases.

Back to sexual harassment, it is quite obvious there’s a problem with the way we’re dealing with this issue. The phenomenon which began surfacing rather recently in Egypt is rampant. But is issuing stricter punishments the solution for this multifaceted problem? Here’s why I don’t think so:

I find the process highly questionable. The ministerial council pushes for more punishments for sexual harassment and the supreme military council is happy to enforce these, because this is the language the military best understands. In normal circumstances the ministerial council can propose draft laws and submit them to the parliament to discuss them further. Either way there need to be more public debate about it.

Drafting laws without counseling civil society bodies or human rights experts is pretty concerning. These laws have to be compatible with human rights law, and there need to be clear definition and good consensus on what sexual assault entails.

I am more concerned with how to enforce this law, rather than the punishments themselves. There are big question marks on how to get these cases reported? We have a culture of silence about these crimes. It’s hard for people to report them because a huge stigma can be placed upon them. Most women who face sexual harassment or even rape never report it to the police or even to their families because their lives can be devastated.

We have this culture of intimidating criminals by increasing punishments. I don’t really believe it works. To be able to overcome a societal problem, we need to handle its underlying causes. All those handling those crimes need to be sensitized about it and fully aware of its implications. By engaging different people in the process of ending the phenomenon of sexual harassment, real achievement can happen on that front.

Ahmed Awadalla, Cairo, Egypt

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.


“More rights for women, Egypt for all Egyptians”

March 9, 2011

Yesterday in Egypt, activists called for a Million Woman March in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding “fair and equal opportunity for all Egyptian citizens — beyond gender, religion or class.”

I wrote about the planned March with optimism, just as the organizers and participants felt optimism. This morning, reading about what happened makes me feel tired. Tired knowing how much longer Egyptian women (and women all over the world) will have to keep working toward equal rights, including the rights to public spaces free from harassment or assault, in the face of such hateful opposition.

Via NPR:

“Hundreds of women — some in headscarves and flowing robes, others in jeans — who marched to the square to celebrate the anniversary, demand equality and an end to sexual harassment were soon outnumbered by men who chased them out.

“They said that our role was to stay home and raise presidents, not to run for president,” said Farida Helmy, a 24-year-old journalist.”

Via CNN.com:

“The turnout appeared to be no more than than 1,000, and the event quickly degenerated into shouting matches between the two sides.

“Men are men and women are women and that will never change and go home, that’s where you belong,” some of the anti-feminist demonstrators chanted.

There were men on both sides of the protest.

Organizers calling for the demonstration said on Facebook they were “not after minority rights. We are not after symbolic political representation.”

On Aljazeera, Fatma Naib shared her experiences and pictures from being on the square:

“I arrived in Tahrir around 2pm local time [12GMT] on Tuesday March 8, but was surprised to see the sheer volume of men who outnumbered the women, as if it was International Men’s Day!…

Many Egyptian and non-Egyptian men came in big numbers in support of the rally.

And a group of French and Italian expats also turned up in solidarity with the women of Egypt.

“We came here to show solidarity and support women’s rights in the world wherever they are. In Tahrir even more because women played a huge role in the revolution like the men,” Rafaela from Italy said….

Women of all ilk, young, old, veiled, unveiled, all decked up at the Tahrir Square. As they stood there peacefully with their signs that read: “more rights for women”, “Egypt for all Egyptians”, a small crowd of men started to gather in front of the women’s rally.

The anti-women’s day crowd grew as did their loud chants that said:”al shab yoreed esqat al madam“, “the people demand the removal of the lady/women”.

Some of them directed their aggression towards the men who were supporting the women; others just chanted ‘illegitimate’ while pointing at the pro-women crowd….

As the anti-women day crowd grew, the atmosphere went from celebratory to hostile. Most of the men and some of the women, that joined them later, had a problem with one of the demands that called for a woman to become a president….

It was a sad moment to see how a day that was meant to celebrate women all over the world end like this. It was particularly sad to see the faces of some of the women that were visibly shocked at the response and behaviour of the anti-women day protesters.

The event organiser was shocked at the incident.

She said, “I am shocked, I didn’t expect this to happen. But these guys are unaware of our plight and it will take time before the awareness is spread.”

For now the wheel of discussion and creating awareness about women issues and their democratic demands have started, but for now, the idea of a woman president seems unlikely… at least for now…”

Photo by Fatma Naib

“Rebel,” an Egyptian man who attended the rally to support the women, shared what happened on his blog, ending with:

“I was called a faggot defending whores. I was told I wasn’t Egyptian for doing this.

So now. Some accuse us of being too controversial. Some accuse us of using the wrong time and place to voice our grievances. Until when would we remain silent? And till when we will be too shy to call for women rights? I am not sorry I called for justice. I am just really appalled but what my friends had to go through. We managed to get our voices heard for once, and it won’t be the last time.

I hope what happened today will shed some light on the unacceptable attitudes towards women. More men need to speak out for women too. This will definitely help our cause.

The battle is hard. Mubarak’s regime and authoritarianism destroyed people’s sense of diversity. It may take years to actually change attitudes. I think we are up for it though.”

What happened is very disheartening ,but I know that those who support women’s rights won’t give up!

Do Something: This coming Saturday, HarassMap and The New Woman Foundation are hosting a discussion about women’s rights and ending sexual harassment in the streets. Saturday, March 12th, at 1:00 pm, at 14 abdel monem sanad st, off Ahmed Orabi, Mohandessin, Giza.

And on March 20, it’s International Anti-Street Harassment Day. Harassment in the streets is a global problem – people all over the world will speak out and question its social acceptability.


Street Harassment Snapshot: February 20, 2011

February 20, 2011

Read stories, news articles, blog posts, and tweets about street harassment from the past week and find relevant announcements and upcoming street harassment events.

Street Harassment Stories:

I accept street harassment submissions from anywhere in the world. Share your story!

You can read new street harassment stories on the Web from the past week at:

Street Harassment in the News, on the Blogs:

Events:

Announcements:

New:

On-going:

10 Tweets from the Week:


Lara Logan and Egypt’s Next Revolution

February 16, 2011

Building on my blog post from last night, I wrote an article for Ms magazine about the attack on Lara Logan and how Egypt’s next revolution should be to address street harassment and public sexual assault!

An excerpt:

As disappointing as it is to see that street harassment is back—and even more devastating, to know through Logan’s story that so is public sexual assault—I see a glimmer of hope.

The people of Egypt, including women, know their power. I hope their next revolution will be to end gender-based harassment and assault. And I know that many there hope for the same.

After the Logan news broke, these were some of the Tweets I read:

This morning Mohamed Safi created a Change.org petition asking Egyptians to resist sexual harassment. Ending gender-based harassment and assault is the kind of revolution that every country needs.

You can also read similar cries for a revolution to end street harassment and assault in Egypt at CNN.com and The Daily Beast.


The movie 678

December 14, 2010

It’s no secret that public sexual harassment is a big problem in Egypt, for both Egyptian and foreign women. A new Egyptian film called 678, released this month, is putting the spotlight on this problem, as well as the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Via Facebook

Via Gulf News:

In the film, popular actress and singer Bushra plays the part of an employee who suffers from harassment and is regularly molested while travelling to and from work on the public bus service. It marks the directorial debut of Mohammad Diab and is named after bus route No 678, which the heroine uses.

“The claim that the film harms Egypt’s image is a silly joke. Keeping silent on this phenomenon is what really harms Egypt’s name,” Bushra said in a recent interview.

Via The National:

Mohamed Diab, the director of the film, believed it to be among the most important movies he had produced.

Speaking at the seventh Dubai International Film Festival ahead of the gala screening of the film last night, Diab said: “I have made commercial movies before, but 678 was a risk. I have a strong belief in it and will continue its campaign, because it is not just a movie.” …

Egyptian singer Bushra, who was cast as one of the leading ladies, said the movie was about all women from all social classes.

“This film is about women’s rights, human rights and the invasion of privacy. We are discussing it from an Egyptian perspective because this is how we experienced it, but there is no doubt that this is a universal problem,” she said.

“Women of all ages and social class can [fall victim] to harassment, so the issue is how each relates and handles it,” she said.

Bushra also noted a surge of serious films which surpassed commercial motivation. “Politicians alone do not create change. It is high time for us actors and filmmakers to also participate,” she said.

Great!! I would love to see many more movies about sexual harassment that portray it in a negative light (instead of as a joke, compliment, or minor annoyance). Movies are powerful mediums for shaping public opinion. (Update: here is another article that describes more of the movie plot)

Another exciting new resource for changing the social acceptability of public sexual harassment in Egypt is HarassMap, which allows them to report harassers to a map tracking system.


Update on Egyptian anti-harassment law

February 18, 2010

In early January, a draft anti-sexual harassment law was introduced to parliament in Egypt. This week, a bill was presented to parliament’s legislative affairs committee and another bill was approved by the Justice Ministry so it can be presented to the committee in days.

Nihad Abu Al-Qumsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), applauds this update and said, “It shows the state is responding and changing … They are now understanding the significance of the issue.”

Efforts by the ECWR has shown that sexual harassment in public places is a big problem in Egypt. Bravo to them for all their work!


Covered from head to toe, groping continues

January 4, 2010

Women in Cairo. Image via the Boston Globe

I’m sick of hearing people blame women for street harassment by saying things like, “if only women covered up it wouldn’t happen.”

In many countries where women ARE completely covered, harassment occurs. 90 percent of women surveyed in 2009 in Yemen had been street harassed and most women wear a veil. Egyptian woman Hadeel al Shalchi wrote a great opinion piece for The National about the insane amount of street harassment in Egypt, and the following section discusses the issue of being covered and still being harassed:

“The onus in our society has largely lain on women to prevent sexual harassment. If a girl doesn’t cover her hair or wear very conservative clothing, then she’s obviously asking for it and wants the harassment, the prevailing attitude seemed to be.

As a result, more women began to cover up. The hijab and niqab became common in Egypt, not purely for religious reasons but also because women wanted to avoid the unpleasantness of being glared at by the opposite sex.

But when the harassment continued, Egyptian women knew there was something seriously wrong.

Covered from head to toe in black, they were still being groped, propositioned and annoyed. What more could they do?

Three years ago, an amateur video of women in hijabs being attacked in downtown Cairo during a holiday event was made public. Shocked Egyptians were brought face to face with the ugly nature of harassment. Some mobile-phone images showed men tugging at young girls’ clothes. Others showed the girls being physically attacked.

This was real evidence of a very real problem. Those who had ignored what every woman knew could deny it no longer.

Women’s groups were emboldened to launch anti-harassment campaigns, teaching women that the problem was not their fault and encouraging them to persist in bringing complaints – even small ones – to the police. They were also urged to take self-defence classes and to use what they were taught on men who abused them in the street. …

In Egypt, sexual harassment will, most probably, continue to exist for a long time to come. Attitudes that allow such behaviour appear culturally ingrained. But increasingly women are waking up to this reality and beginning to reject it.

Women here are saying it loudly: enough to being groped on the subway, to being undressed with a look, to being followed to work. This must stop!

Amen. Enough!! Street harassment MUST END and it will not end by requiring women to be completely hidden from view. Instead, men must stop harassing women and there must be cultural respect for women. What can you do? Here are a few ideas, feel free to share more in the comments.