Another Egyptian holiday, more sexual harassment
|Thursday, December 3,2009 17:01|
|By Mohamed Abdel Salam|
In what is becoming commonplace in Egypt every Eid (Islamic Feast), or holiday, security forces and civil society groups monitored hundreds of sexual harassment cases during the four-day vacation. They reported hundreds of girls and women were subjected to sexual harassment and assaults by men and boys, in addition to what they say are many more cases that go unreported to police or recorded by security patrols.
Security services in Cairo resorted to deploying security patrols in popular areas across the city and deployed a number of security personnel wearing civilian clothes. According to police, they arrested 23 young men and boys who were sexually harassing girls across Cairo. The Nile promenade, downtown, a number of parks and cinemas were the areas where the majority of harassment, groping and assaults took place, they reported to local newspapers.
Harassment has become an endemic problem facing Egypt’s streets. A report published by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in 2008, revealed that the vast majority of women face verbal harassment on a daily basis. Some 70 percent of Egyptian women said they have been harassed or assaulted on their country’s streets, while 98 percent of foreign women said they experienced similar issues.
An official security source in Cairo told local newspapers that the ages of those who perpetrated the crimes and had been arrested were between 14 and 25-years-old. Police argued that most of them had come from areas on the outskirts of the city and had come to local cinemas, parks and gardens to celebrate the feast. The source added that police stations in Cairo recorded 317 official reports during the days of Eid.
But, women are not convinced that these people had “come from areas outside Cairo.” They argue that this is an ongoing problem and is not isolated to the holidays.
“It happens every day we go out and it is disgusting that the police would try to argue it away in this manner. They should be doing their job of protecting Egyptians from the daily harassment they face,” said Heba Latif, a 28-year-old married woman who said she has witnessed and been victim to dozens of incidents of harassment in the past year. “It is horrible and I don’t like leaving my home or my husband,” she added.
Police stations recorded 115 communications in Helwan, just south of Cairo. In Giza, police stations recorded 23 cases of harassment in the areas near the Nile and on Gamat al-Dawel Street in the Giza area of Mohandiseen. There were also 7 cases in the governorate of 6th of October. But rights workers say this figure could be much higher had all women reported harassment.
“We know that it is probably higher, but the stigma of not reporting harassment persists in this country. We hope that people will begin to see that it is not the woman’s fault for these crimes,” argued Nehad Abu Komsan, chairwoman of the ECWR.
In Alexandria, the city’s promenade also witnessed hundreds of cases of sexual harassment in the absence of a significant security presence, as residents of the city said they were forced to stay in their homes and prevented their daughters from going out for even a walk out of fear of being harmed or harassed.
Omayma Salah, a women’s activist in the country working with the grassroots Defend the Right of Women Association, went out in Mohandiseen during the holiday, in what she told local newspapers were heavy and decent clothing, but that did not save her from being subjected to harassment, she said.
In 2006, massive sexual harassment erupted in downtown Cairo, which saw women groped at and their clothes torn as a frenzied mob of boys and men attacked them. The incident helped push harassment into the limelight, but still, three years on, women continue to face similar incidents in the country.
A draft law has been under discussion in Parliament for over a year now, but has yet to be passed by lawmakers.