Egypt’s interior ministry to launch new efforts to battle sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in Egypt

CAIRO: In an effort to crackdown on the rising number of attacks against women across Egypt, the ministry of interior has announced it will boost security patrols in the country aimed at confronting sexual harassment.

It comes on the heels of numerous mob attacks of women in the country, including at protests, but activists tell Bikyamasr.com that while they hope this effort will bring change to the growing fear of attacks on women, they also argue that police are the problem.

“We are attacked and the police either stand by or do nothing and laugh as men say disgusting things at women, grab our chests or behinds, so I am definitely not convinced yet,” said 22-year-old Cairo University student Diana Zaky.

She told Bikyamasr.com that when she asked police to intervene after three young boys were harassing her in Giza near the university, “they just told me to go home and didn’t move to help.”

The ministry also said that surveillance cameras would be put up across the country and additional security patrols appointed to “guarantee the immediate capture of sexual offenders,” said Egypt’s National Council for Women.

Female specialist officers and social researchers will be appointed in different police departments to provide an appropriate atmosphere during investigations with women in sensitive cases, it added.

Chairwoman of the National Council for Women, Mervat al-Talawy, reportedly met with the Interior Minister and asked for harsher efforts to protect women from sexual harassment.

The question for many Egyptian women is whether an effort like this will produce results, after numerous campaigns in recent years have fallen on deaf ears.

One incident that sparked a fervor of worries occurred near the Pizza Hut on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, with dozens of men allegedly brutally assaulting a woman on the street. According to a doctor, the woman was the victim of “mass rape.”

While the incident was reported on Twitter, a group of male protesters reportedly intervened and were able to remove the woman from the assault. Those who first revealed the incident refused to speak to the media, including Bikyamasr.com on the incident, but it again highlighted the fear women have of taking to Tahrir during mass protests.

Other women on the micro-blogging site and on Facebook reported being groped and harassed while they were in Tahrir, including a number of female journalists.

As crowds continue to maintain positions in Tahrir in opposition to President Mohamed Morsi’s decrees that put him above the rule of law, women’s safety is again a growing concern.

Unfortunately, this is a never-ending problem facing Egyptian women when large demonstrations are called for in central Cairo.

In June, an anti-sexual harassment demonstration organized by over 20 Egyptian women’s groups in protest against the recent escalation of assaults in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was attacked about an hour and half after it began by unknown troublemakers.

The participants reported being attacked by a mob of “thugs” who attempted to throw rocks and glass at them, but the clash was over quickly as volunteers securing the protest intervened to stop it.

This was not the first time a women’s rights march was attacked in Tahrir Square.

Last March, and on International Women’s Day, a march of tens of women was attacked by a cynical mob of men who did not like women protesting for more rights.

Several female protesters were injured and one woman had to have 8 stitches in her head. Almost all of them were groped and sexually assaulted in the attack.

A 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) found that well over two-thirds of Egyptian women are sexually harassed daily in the country.

The participants held signs that read “It is my right to protest safely,” “Groping your sister is shameful for the square” and “Be a man and protect her instead of harassing her.”

“We are fed up,” protester Mai Abdel Hafez, 24, told Bikyamasr.com.

“We came to deliver a message that it is our right to protest and we will not avoid the square in fear of harassment,” she said right before the attack took place.
First published on BikyaMasr

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