How to Cope with Sexual Harassment

Cairo is thought to be one of the worst cities in the world for women—specifically because of the prevalence of harassment that abounds. I came across this aggression repeatedly during my one week visit.

A 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found 83 percent of Egyptian women said they had been sexually harassed, while 62 percent of men admitted to harassing women; 53 percent of men blamed women for “bringing it on” themselves.

Harassment in Cairo takes several forms:

  • Making lewd comments about your body
  • Physically standing too close and unwanted touching
  • Following women as we walk down the street
  • Cars veering toward women on the road so that we need to step back
  • And the worst — Rape & sexual assault

Changed Behavior In Cairo

The impact of harassment on us women’s self-esteem is profound, mainly because we’ve had to adapt our behavior to live in this society. How are we supposed to go out and conquer the world when we can’t even pick up our heads? It’s the true meaning of “downtrodden.”

A few examples of changed behavior:

Example 1: While in Cairo, I walk without making eye contact, especially with men. Usually an open, outgoing person, I now look at the ground or stare straight ahead while walking down the street.

Example 2: Another girl, a visiting Norwegian, no longer smiles, but instead her public face is a frown to discourage unwanted advantages.

Example 3: A good friend and native Egyptian would rather drive her car (and deal with insane Cairo traffic) rather than subject herself to walking on the street or riding in a cab. In fact, she wrote an article on how harassment increases a woman’s carbon footprint. If women don’t feel safe, they won’t use public transportation, carpool, walk or ride a bike.

Cairo’s HarassMap

HarassMap,  is a project based in Cairo that seeks to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment. Using their mobile phones, women can anonymously report incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging as soon as they happen.

HarassMap then maps these reports online, serving as a tool for both prevention (women can avoid high-risk areas) and for advocacy (by reporting the sheer number of incidents). Women subscribe for free and receive:

  • Text Alerts: An email will be sent when a report has been filed within 20 kilometers
  • Referrals to Services: Legal aid, psychological counseling and other services are sent by request.

Ironically, the reason some women are not using HarassMap is because they don’t have time during the day to report all the abuse they receive.

Egypt’s Second (Sexual) Revolution

On International Women’s Day in April, Egyptian women gathered in Tahrir Square to declare their rights, freshly inspired by the recent political revolution.

Unfortunately many of them were beaten and attacked while peacefully demonstrating. These protesting women weren’t seen as representative of Egyptian women, but instead are seen as liberals, foreigners, and activists.

Since Egypt is the frame of mind to revolt, perhaps it’s time for the country to embark on a truly revolutionary ideal: equality of women. What Egypt really needs is a sexual revolution to free the women of the ongoing tyranny and harassment they live under.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, August 13th, 2011 and is filed under Arab Region, How to Cope.

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