Saturday, March 28, 2009

sexual harassment

I mentioned before that sexual harassment is one of the worst aspects of living in Cairo. While some women can live here for years and not get harassed, more than 80% (iIm sure) do get harassed at some point or another. It's gotten so bad that it's affecting tourism, as a survey done by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR) found that 98% of tourists get harassed.

Now, what does harassment mean? I don't mean a guy on the street winking, or whistling, or asking you for a number. I mean he stops whatever he's doing (including driving), to give you an "I want to kill you" glare. Don't ask me why women are supposed to respond positively to that. Then if you ever respond, they start cussing you out like there's no tomorrow. It's pretty scary.

Now most men will limit their harassment to just looking at you, which is pretty uncomfortable. Then there are those that will follow you, as has happened to me twice. One of these times was 2 nights ago when I was driving home and this guy started slowing down beside me and waving and laughing manically. As I was about to turn into my street, I took a u-turn and kept driving till I lost him, since I didn't want him to see where I live.

A more extreme story of harassment is the following, reported by the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights:

Last week, a Sudanese refugee girl was sexually harassed in the street, while waiting for a taxi in the Al Haram district.

A taxi driver pulled up and verbally and physically harassed her. When she accused him of verbally and physically harassing her, he drove his car towards and hit her with the car repeatedly. She attempted to desperately defend herself, but did not have time to do so. The taxi driver then grabbed her arm and hand and began moving the taxi. She could not release herself from his grasp and was dragged through the street. She fainted.

After regaining consciousness, she discovered bystanders were able to write the number of the taxi.

I was absolutely shocked when I heard this, and I really hope they find this guy.

Sexual harassment happens all over the world, but I guess what makes Egypt different is how widespread it is: in a day I probably get harassed by 90% of the men I see, and I've heard the same from most of my friends. Why is it like this? Especially since it's an Islamic country, you'd expect the conservatism to curb this behaviour. I put it down to the way men are brought up here: parents still tend to treat their sons better than their daughters, and there is still a lot of sexism in Egypt. So these boys grow up thinking they are better than women and so why should we expect them to respect women on the street? Combine this with unemployment, frustration, general bad manners due this frustration, and I think we can arrive at some kind of explanation as to why sexual harassment is so pervasive.

As a concluding note, I want to also mention that it is usually the woman who gets blamed for being harassed. "What were you wearing/doing/saying?" is usually asked of her when she says she's been harassed. However, the ECWR survey found that 70% of women who get harassed are veiled; and 6% are munaqabat. Hmm!


kizzie said...

Until recently in Brazil, if a girl was rapped and she was wearing jeans, it wasn't counted as rape. It's sad.
In Cairo, the issue is even more pressing. I always find myself wondering how insecure woman feel in Egypt, a country "at peace". Peace and stability are such vague terms

Candice said...

I go stared at a lot, and stopped on the street a lot too by men trying to have a conversation. I didn't have any incidents that were too bad, thankfully, but that might be because of how careful my husband was about when I went out alone (not at night for sure). I only went out alone to go to a nearby store and to go and come back from work. I had to take a small walk and then the metro and then another small walk before getting to Midan Abdel Moneim Riyad (for the bus).
With my husband, people did not do anything. If they even looked at me, he'd give an intimidating look and ask them what they were looking at. He's a big strong dude and they always apologized. :p

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hehe, yeah I've noticed that walking with a guy does help! How long ago were you in Egypt Candice?

Candice said...

7 months. It was more like a vacation, but since I had a job, I consider it living there. It was meant to be a short-term thing though and when I got pregnant, it was obvious I was going to leave.

islam said...

you are sociologist. isnt it? and I wonder how could you say some thing like this ". I put it down to the way men are brought up here: parents still tend to treat their sons better than their daughters, and there is still a lot of sexism in Egypt." !!!

you said that its some thing related to the way men are brought up , and may I ask you why there were not such incidents in past. in past men respected women (at least in street) they give their bus seats to women if women are standing,

what iam trying to say ism that sexual harassment is a new thing in egypt. came with hollywood movies, internet, lack of education and morals. drugs, gangs, jobless youths, ...

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Along with drugs, lack of education, etc, I also think parents now have no TIME to spend with their kids because they're both too busy working to have a decent life here. So yes, kids are not brought up properly. That's what I meant. And at the end, this is my opinion. Of course it's not the only reason, but it is one of the main ones, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

As a tourist, I visited Turkey, Libanon, Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. Most of the time I'm walking arond alone in old cities. Never was I so much harrassed as in Egypt. So there must be some factors that work out differently in Egypt than in the rest of the neighbouring countries... Overpopulation? No work? A stiffening regime? (but there are more countries with such regimes?). I don't know.

Anonymous said...

To Kizzie: Yeah rape is rife in South America
I wrote about the situation in Mexico on another post. Btw a Mexican Bishop has recently stated that a rape is not a rape in the skirt or trousers are above the knee and that the official Catholic stance on abortion is not allowed under any circumstances even incest. South America seems very sexist. In the 40s in rural South America a woman had to marry her rapist even if she was blow 18. This was common in Greece, Italy and Spain all up until C18th. Afterward instead of marrying the rapist they just got isolated and gave birth in secret. Only recently has rape begun to be punished in Europe. C20th. I also heard honor crime was rife in Europe (not just the Med I always thought it was a Mediterranean thing) in 1500 and 1600. A famous case was a German Countess being murdered by her father for falling in love with a boy who was slightly less than a count let's say an Earl (how shabby lol)A class division equivalent today is tribal and caste vendettas in Northern India done by some Hindu clans. Basically, caste is passed down patri lineally and if a Brahmin woman marries a Dalit (peasant) she can easily be and sometimes is killed (was on radio once)and vendetta is declared to the other tribe. Vendetta was also practiced in Sicily and Crete. And this was the uppermost class. I can only imagine what went on in the villages at the time. The thing that proves these things are cultural and social and not religious is that 15th century European mentality was identical to current Arab one right down to the preference for very pale, curvy rosy cheeked women with chestnut hair (houri like). Which kind of matches since ti si C15 in the Arab world now (Hijra 1430) Also the Moors of Al-Andalus didn't practice these silly things or apostasy murder and neither did upper class Ottomans.