Digging Into Egypt's Culture Of Harassment

In this July 23, 2008, photo, Egyptian boys watch passing girls on the bank of the Nile in Cairo. i i

In this July 23, 2008, photo, Egyptian boys watch passing girls on the bank of the Nile in Cairo. Amr Nabil/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Amr Nabil/AP
In this July 23, 2008, photo, Egyptian boys watch passing girls on the bank of the Nile in Cairo.

In this July 23, 2008, photo, Egyptian boys watch passing girls on the bank of the Nile in Cairo.

Amr Nabil/AP

The violent sexual assault on CBS correspondent Lara Logan in Cairo last week has highlighted a huge problem in Egypt.

According to one recent report by a women's rights group, some 80 percent of Egyptian women and 90 percent of foreign women visiting the country have been sexually harassed. And the former government did little to stem the problem.

But Egyptian women hope the revolution will change all that.

If you type in "harassment Egypt" on YouTube, dozens of videos showing women being mauled will pop up. In one particular incident, a mob of men rips the clothes off of a woman. It's horrific and terrifying. In another nasty incident in 2006 during the Muslim feast of Eid, gangs of men rampaged through downtown Cairo, assaulting any woman who came near them, whether veiled or not.

While mob violence like this is not the norm, sexual harassment in Cairo is an everyday occurrence — and most women have their own personal stories to tell.

Hania Shuleimy was walking home one night after teaching a late class. She says "someone just grabbed me ... he grabbed my breasts and I fought my way out and I swore madly and screamed at him and he ran away. But no one did anything. ... I cried and cried and cried all the way home."

Shuleimy is a professor of gender studies at the American University in Cairo. She says harassment is now endemic in Cairo.

"I also find that many veiled women get harassed and many little girls get harassed and people who are not particularly hot get harassed. I think it has more to do with denigrating femininity in whatever guise," she says.

The website harassmap.org allows women to report where and how they've been harassed so that other women can avoid those areas in Egypt. i i

The website harassmap.org allows women to report where and how they've been harassed so that other women can avoid those areas in Egypt. harassmap.org hide caption

itoggle caption harassmap.org
The website harassmap.org allows women to report where and how they've been harassed so that other women can avoid those areas in Egypt.

The website harassmap.org allows women to report where and how they've been harassed so that other women can avoid those areas in Egypt.

harassmap.org

Mohammed Saffi is the spokesman for harassmap.org, which is an initiative that was kicked off in Egypt in 2010. The idea behind the project, says Saffi, is to allow women to report where and how they've been harassed so that other women can avoid those areas. The website has a map with red circles around the neighborhoods where women are most at risk.

"We've defined them into different sort of levels of harassment, everything from catcalling to actual physical abuse," he says.

Saffi says harassment of women is a huge problem in Egypt. And the reason is twofold.

"The Arab world is a male-dominated society," he says. "And you can imagine if you mix a male-dominated society with an oppressive way of life for the past 30 years, that's not gonna garner good results in the field of women's rights."

Activists say attacks on women have been encouraged by the culture of impunity that has existed for many years here. The regime of former President Hosni Mubarak did little to punish perpetrators — and the victims, because of the stigma, often stayed silent.

Women are hoping that will now change. A unique aspect of the revolution was that women participated in huge numbers. They slept in Tahrir Square and marched alongside their male counterparts. They say harassment was rare during that period.

"The appearance of women, unveiled women, veiled women, all together — Christians, Muslims, everyone, I think it gave a sense of this is a popular movement and these are the ordinary citizens," says Daadi Khaleefa, a human-rights activist. It was not only extremely inspiring for women but empowering for the whole society.

Khaleefa says Egyptian women are trying to preserve that sense of respect that briefly flowered during the recent weeks.

"I think this whole sense of awakening will spread in all fields and, hopefully, in gender rights as well."

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