In Egypt, sexual harassment grows
Parliament is expected to consider a measure in its next session that would criminalize harassment, which 83 percent of women say they face.
As May Zayed gets ready to leave for her downtown office, she tries to prepare for the harassment she'll face on the street. The 20-something member of Egypt's large working class says she has learned to tune out most lewd comments. But it's impossible to ignore everything. "There is no way to get ready for it," she says. "It just becomes part of your normal life."Skip to next paragraph
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According to a study released by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights (ECWR) in July, 62 percent of Egyptian men admit to sexually harassing women, and 83 percent of Egyptian women reported being harassed. Half say it happens every day. It was the first study of its kind.
"Harassment is a real issue here, and it has gotten worse over the last 10 years," says Rebecca Chiao, international relations coordinator of the ECWR. "A lot of people say that up until the 1970s there was very little harassment in Egypt, but things are very different now."
Egypt's parliament is expected to consider a measure in its next session, which convenes in November, that would make harassment a crime and make it easier for women to report to the police. Specifics on the law have not been made public. It remains to be seen if it will actually be introduced this year, and if so how successful it will be in tackling such a widespread problem.
On the street, some women are fighting back. Fatma Abdel Raziq is broad-shouldered in a black cloak and a veil that covers half of her red hair. She sells knickknacks on a street corner, and says harassment seems to gets worse every day, "especially from men with some money."
"If someone comes up and says something inappropriate to me, I curse at him or head-butt him in the face," she says. "I stand up for my rights, but I don't think college girls know how to do that."
Experts say social trends are exacerbating sexual harassment on the street here.
The ECWR blames economic deprivation and even the growing conservative religious trend that promotes a restricted social role for women, and rebukes those who step outside it. Some see a broad cultural shift over the last generation, when young women rarely wore veils and Cairo was more of a secular city.
"Religion itself is not the problem, but the issue here is this conservative trend that has been influenced by the Wahhabi trend in Saudi Arabia," says Ms. Chiao, referring to the austere form of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia.