- July 27, 2007
- 10 minutes read
Campaign Against Sexual Harassment
Public sexual harassment against women has become a pervasive problem in Egypt and presents a significant obstacle both to women’s well-being and their participation in public life, which in turn impacts the course of democratic progress in Egypt. We define sexual harassment as any uninvited behavior that is sexual in nature and makes women feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This includes behaviors such as calling out in an obscene or threatening way, following or stalking, fondling, and even indecent exposure, masturbation or assault. Sexual harassment may not always be intended as violence by harassers, but more often than not women feel it as a violent and aggressive act that threatens their mental and physical safety, and access to the public sphere.
The last decades have witnessed many social, economic and political changes that have impacted women’s role in Egyptian society. Development, economic hardship and democratization processes have resulted in women entering public life in unprecedented numbers in universities, and in the formal and informal workforces. This expansion of women’s public role has the potential to contribute to Egypt’s democratic and social development as women’s status and personal power can increase through increased opportunities for economic independence, education and other forms of advancement. However, sexual harassment in the streets works against this positive progress by restricting women’s access to public life by forcing them to choose between exposing themselves to physical and mental assault or confinement at home.
Results from our preliminary research efforts (conducted entirely on a volunteer basis) show that sexual harassment is not only a persistent threat to some women, but that it is a widespread issue for all of Egyptian society. Survey results attest that harassment is not limited by age or social class, but hinders the progress of women across demographics. Service workers, housewives and professionals alike all report experiencing sexual harassment. The most common form is inappropriate touching (40% of all respondents), followed by verbal harassment (38%). 30% of respondents reported being harassed on a daily basis and another 12% are harassed almost daily. Only 12% of respondents approached police when harassed, expressing a complete lack of confidence in Egypt s police and legal system to protect them from harassers.
We have learned from our research so far that reasons for the social acceptance, or at least forgiveness, of the sexual harassment of women range from punishment for women’s violation of their traditional role at home, to resistance to women (often second-income earners) holding jobs when there is high unemployment, to a simple lack of understanding by men of the dramatic and traumatic impact of their actions on women. Because there is little public dialogue about the issue, and in fact even the term “sexual harassment” causes debate, there is very little legal or social censure on men for harassing women, who are often told that harassment is normal, flattering or at least must be tolerated. Our campaign aims to change this.
The increased number and severity of reports ECWR received in 2005 from both Egyptian and foreign women living in Egypt has made it clear to us that this problem has reached a point at which women are feeling unsafe and unable to move about freely, in addition to being targeted for harassment in a systematic way by the state institutions meant to protect citizens. Since the seriousness of this form of violence and its consequences on women’s social and political participation is great, we feel we cannot stand by silently and allow this to continue.
We began our preparatory research in October 2005 by distributing a questionnaire soliciting stories of sexual harassment from women living in Egypt, set up booths on campuses, held talk shows on major TV networks (Orbit and Dream) and published press releases and information about the campaign. Our actions so far have received an astounding level of support from women, and attracted an ever-growing number of volunteers and publicity. Almost every day we receive responses and messages of support from women in Egypt who feel they can’t be silent anymore and want to join in our effort.
Our campaign aims to reduce sexual harassment by:
• Raising women s awareness about what sexual harassment means, that it is a crime and what their rights are
• Raising men s awareness of the consequences of sexual harassment on women
• Encouraging society at large to intervene when women are harassed
• Improving the legal and enforcement mechanisms to better protect women
• Sensitizing school children to the issue
Our approach will include:
1. Research to form a solid basis for our actions
2. An integrated public awareness and media campaign to encourage public dialogue and allow women to talk about it, claim their rights and demand enforcement of their protection; and to sensitize men and children to the seriousness of its consequences (including a large opening event, press releases & media outreach, public awareness materials such as pins, stickers and booklets, and public service announcements on television and radio)
3. Drafting a new law and an advocacy campaign directed at the Ministry of the Interior (including assembling an advocacy coalition of 25 NGOs and holding roundtables with Ministry officials)
4. Outreach to schools (trainings for teachers and social workers in schools, production and distribution of a 5 minute animated film and workbook)
In addition to activities partially funded at 87% by the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, we also hope to find resources through partners and volunteers to produce a full TV ad campaign; a short documentary; an interactive website where women can report harassment, find resources and share experiences; and reach out to local communities.
We are keen to keep the spirit of volunteerism alive, as well as make our funds go as far as possible. Already volunteers such as Marketing Markets, masrawy.com, Nile and Nugoom FM, and many others are supporting the campaign with their services.
How You Can Help
Our goal is to involve as many people as possible and we welcome any level of support from people wanting to join our effort. Volunteers can help by:
• Filling out the survey on the opposite side of this brochure
• Helping to collect stories from women who have experienced sexual harassment
• Volunteering their time or professional services to the campaign
• Encouraging women to speak out about sexual harassment and also speak to men about it
• Adding advice for other women to our website
• Contacting us at [email protected] with other ideas
ECWR believes that women s rights are an essential part of human rights, and the struggle to secure basic freedoms and advance democratic rule cannot be separated from their achievement. Gender equality and women s empowerment are essential to creating an informed citizenry capable of promoting and sustaining Egypt s social, political and economic development. Especially during this time of great potential for change in Egypt, our work to promote women s involvement in political and public life is essential to ensuring women s voice in decision-making and defining an agenda for change.
ECWR was founded by 6 women in the Dar El Salaam neighborhood of Cairo in 1996 with the mission of providing direct legal aid to poor women and training them to know and claim their rights independently. Since then, we have added a number of programs, each one aimed at addressing needs we discovered in the course of our work. Sometimes we have more success than others, but our methods and achievements have earned us a spot on the World Bank s World s 10 Best Development Projects, as well as a diverse collection of local, regional and international partners.
A registered NGO with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs, ECWR has a Board of Directors, Chaired by Nehad Abul Komsan, that meets regularly to guide the organization s programmatic and strategic decisions. We maintain our main office in the Hadayak El Maadi section of Cairo, a Legal Aid project office in Manial and a field office in North Giza. Our staff of 15 is comprised of trainers, lawyers and social workers, in addition to accountants, administrative and international relations staff. The great importance we place on cooperation and empowerment of individuals and organizations is reflected in our close collaborative relationships with over 800 Egyptian community organizations and NGOs, and activists in 16 Arab and 5 East African countries.
For continued updates about the campaign, please contact ECWR at:
2.527.1397, 2.528.2165 or [email protected]
or visit our website at http://www.ecwronline.org
1. How old are you?
2. What is your occupation?
3. How often are you sexually harassed?
4. Place harassment happened:
5. Date and time it happened:
6. Who harassed you? (age, description)
7. What happened? How did you feel afterwards?
8. What was the reaction of other people around you?
9. Did you go to the police?
10. If yes, what was the kind of help that you received at the police station?
11. If no, why?
12. How do you feel now? Did you receive any support from other people?
13. If yes, who and how?