Examining Egypt’s sexual harassment problem
Even though sexual harassment is one of the biggest and most pressing problems in Egypt, it is not given enough attention. Yes, a lot of people start initiatives against it and others write about it (the way I am going to right now), but the media has never (and might never) give it the attention it deserves.
If you don’t agree with this statement, I urge you to compare between the media coverage of soccer games, protests, actors’ lives and the media coverage of sexual harassment. Egyptians are notorious for never looking at the bigger picture. It’s a talent, really.
I have been intending to write about this issue for a while now, but I kept on postponing it because it overwhelms me. There are so many factors and opinions involved that I knew it would have been difficult to properly discuss.
But, luckily for me, one of the readers here, Marwan Hegazy, had a lot of opinions on the matter, so we realized we could incorporate both our points of view in one post. Not only will the post be more informative that way, but no one can claim that it was from only one gender’s point of view. Two birds, one stone.
Marwan’s point of view:
Egyptians have this concept of only believing what they want to believe. For example, when they watch CBC or AlJazeera, deep down, they may understand that most of what they are being told is crap, but they believe it anyway –just because they want to.
The same thing can apply to sexual harassment; they know that it’s wrong, but they justify it to themselves by saying that it’s a problem with how the girl dresses and how a religion like Islam tells a girl not to dress that way.
Well here’s what drives me crazy: if you want to look at it from a religious aspect, then you should also consider the fact that religion tells men not to touch women they aren’t supposed to touch or say immoral things.
So, the bottom line on the religious factor is: if you’re going to claim that religion is your drive behind harassing women, then focus on everything religion tells you, not just the parts you want to believe. Otherwise, you are just being a hypocrite.
But of course, the hypocrites just keep on increasing. The community convinces women and brainwashes them into thinking that their clothes are to blame.
But wait, let’s claim that I agree with you and that women who dress provocatively deserve it. How come women who wear long, loose clothes also get harassed? How come veiled women also get harassed? How come women wearing niqab also get harassed? You can’t claim that what I’m saying isn’t true; I’ve witnessed some of these harassments occur right in front of me.
A while ago, two men tried to rape a girl and did not succeed, so they killed her. Her name was Zeina. Some might think that her short clothes provoked the men into doing what they did, but the fact of the matter is that she was five years old! FIVE.
In Zeina’s case, the issue has thankfully gone public and the men will hopefully get the punishment they deserve. But if Zeina was only ten years older, then I’m sure the case would not have gotten all this attention. People would have justified it and blamed it on her clothes.
Women get harassed every day and whenever they report it to the police, they usually get the same response; that they are too busy, have more important things to do and that they receive millions of sexual harassment reports.
Yes, there are millions of sexual harassment reports. You know why, Mr. Police Officer? Because there is no punishment! If you try arresting a couple of thousands of harassers, others might get scared and then maybe the amount of sexual harassment will decrease!
People say that sexual harassment originates from unemployment, which results in poverty, an inability to finance a marriage, sexual repression and therefore sexual harassment. I disagree.
Society has caused people to believe that none of what happens to them is their fault. The result of this type of thinking is that even when men have jobs or money, they spend their money on drugs and other things that don’t matter and then blame it all on the society and unemployment. Consequently, they feed their sexual repression by harassing, raping and molesting. Because of this, it has turned into a common occurrence in our culture, so now everybody’s doing it.
My point of view:
I believe that sexual harassment can only be stopped if we tackle the source. The problem is, the source is deeply embedded within our society and our so-called values. And when I say society, I’m not referring to people belonging to low social classes; I’m talking about everyone, starting from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich.
It all starts in the household. We are constantly being told that males are better than females -subliminally of course. Let me explain.
Parents tell their daughters that they can’t stay out late, even though their sons can. Daughters can’t travel alone, but sons can. Sons are given way too much freedom, while daughters are given the minimum amount of freedom. I’m not going to tackle the religious factor here, because that would make me go on for ages. The way I see it is that proper parenting involves giving both genders the same amount of freedom. So the rules you set for your daughters should be the same ones you set for sons. End of story.
Why do I say this? I say this because this attitude makes males believe that they are better, and that there must be a reason behind their family’s parenting choices. They therefore grow up to believe that females are less worthy and can be treated as such. This attitude displays itself in several ways, one of which is sexual harassment.
I was once harassed by a young boy who was standing next to his father. I started screaming at both, until the young boy ran away and hid. I told the father that the fact that his son could see me, a young girl, screaming at him without him being able to justify his son’s actions would cause his son to stop respecting him. His son will basically stop seeing him as a role model. And the father deserved it.
Another thing this attitude causes is the belief that men can take out their anger on women. Whether this anger is in the form of sexual repression, sexual frustration or anything else, the man decides that the woman is a weaker being and that he can take out his anger on her because he can’t take it out on anyone his own size. That’s why sexual harassers are ultimately just scared cowards.
The reason why it has become so common is because people (both men and women) now all have this same attitude. They believe the woman is less worthy in the society so she can’t wear whatever she wants, she can’t walk around in certain places and she can’t ever try to condemn a person for harassing her.
Sexual harassment will never go away as long as this attitude exists, and for this attitude to change then someone needs to magically convince all Egyptians that this attitude is wrong. How can someone address all Egyptians at once? I don’t know. How can someone convince all Egyptians? I also don’t know.
I’m not a pessimist, but in my opinion, this problem will never cease to exist except if EVERYONE gives it the attention it deserves, starting from the biggest media channels and organizations to the random people walking in the Egyptian streets.
Most Egyptians will not read this. But I want whoever is reading this to understand three significant points:
1. Women and men are equal. Even if both are biologically different, they are equal in the eyes of God. End of story.
2. Sexual harassment is NEVER justified. Women should be able to wear whatever the hell they want, the same way men are able to wear whatever they want.
3. Sexual harassment is not linked to sexual repression, simply because some married men still sexually harass women.
The bottom line:
This problem won’t get fixed anytime soon.
What you can do is do your part by refusing to let sexual harassment happen to you or anyone around you. Stand up to your rights and the rights of others.
Girls, walk around with something you can protect yourself with. I recommend pepper spray.
Stay safe and don’t be scared. If you can handle living in Egypt, then you can handle any cowardly harasser you come across.