Digging Into Egypt's Culture Of Harassment While mob violence like the attack on CBS' Lara Logan is not the norm, sexual harassment in Cairo is an everyday occurrence — and most women have their own personal stories to tell. But Egyptian women hope the revolution will change all that.

Digging Into Egypt's Culture Of Harassment

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And once again, we turn to Cairo and two serious human rights issues highlighted in the events of the past weeks. Today, we'll hear about arbitrary detentions in Egypt, and first, about the widespread problem of sexual assault.

A violent attack on CBS correspondent Lara Logan last week was a high- profile example of that. According to one report by a women's rights group, 80 percent of Egyptian women and 90 percent of foreign women visiting the country have been sexually harassed. The former government did little to stem the problem.

Egyptian women hope the revolution will change that, as we hear from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

LOURDES GARCIA: Type in harassment Egypt on YouTube and dozens of videos showing women being mauled will pop up.


GARCIA: In this 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 here is an everyday occurrence, and every woman has her own personal story to tell.

Hania Shuleimy was walking home one night after teaching a late class.

HANIA SHULEIMY: And someone just grabbed me, grabbed my breasts. I fought my way out, and I swore madly and screamed at him, so he ran. He actually ran away. But no one did anything. I really - I cried and cried and cried all the way home.

GARCIA: Shuleimy is a professor of gender studies at The American University in Cairo. She says harassment is now endemic here.

SHULEIMY: I also find that many veiled women get harassed and many little girls get harassed and people who are not particularly, I mean, hot...


SHULEIMY: ...get harassed. So I think it has more to do with denigrating femininity in whatever guise.

MOHAMMED SAFFI: My name is Mohammed Saffi. I'm a spokesperson for harassmap.org, which is an initiative that was kicked off here in Egypt in 2010.

GARCIA: 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.

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

GARCIA: Saffi says harassment of women is a huge problem in Egypt, and the reason is twofold.

SAFFI: The Arab world is a male-dominated society. You can imagine if you mix a male-dominated society with an oppressive way of life for the past 30 years, that's not going to garner good results in the field of women's rights.

GARCIA: Activists say attacks on women have been encouraged by the culture of impunity that has existed for many years here. The Mubarak regime 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 this 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.

DAADI KHALEEFA: The appearance of women, unveiled women and veiled women, all together, Christians, Muslims, everyone, I think it made the sense of this is a popular movement and these are the ordinary citizens. It was extremely inspiring not only for women, but it's also empowering for the whole society.

GARCIA: Daadi Khaleefa is a human rights activist. She says Egyptian women are trying to preserve that sense of respect that briefly flowered here.

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

GARCIA: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo.

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