When people think of Egypt what usually comes to mind is their pyramids, pharaohs, and of course Cleopatra. Mostly people think and adore Egypt’s past. Though what will be brought to mind is Egyptians women status. Today their sociocultural still involve fighting wide gender gaps, sexual violence laws, and reducing the gender enrollment gap at all levels of education. It was known that Egypt ranks low in gender equity compared to other countries around the world as well. A study was done to demonstrate how sexual harassment has reached unprecedented levels in the country. (USAID) What was researched is the violence against women in Egypt. Violence against women per the United National Fund for Women (UNIFEM) includes; sexual abuse, female genital cutting, sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual assault (Burn 25). What will be discussed is occurrences of sexual violence, blaming/shaming of victims, what’s being done to better these situations and as well comparing the violence against women in Egypt to the USA.
To start off Egypt has no comprehensive law covering all forms of sexual violence in their country. A lot of the people believe that the victim(women) are to face shame and stigma rather than the perpetrator of their assault. There appears to be no official statistic for the crimes because the victims fear the shame and retaliation they may receive. There was one article I read of the increasing level of the assaults which is frightening to read, it pains me to know that women had/are going through these moments. In the article, it is talked about how violence has risen since 2011 after uprising against Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president then attacks have become an epidemic in the Tahrir Square where many protests took place. In one week surrounding the ousting of Morsi, 150 cases were reported. A thirty-year-old musician Yasmine el-Baramawy, was attacked in Tahrir Square in Nov 2013 described a pattern: Men surround woman, ripped the clothes off and then perform manual rape, while an outer circle blocks off anyone who might want to help her with sticks, blades and belts (Trew). She also mentioned while she was attacked the group would laugh and take pictures of her.
That short passage shows how extreme sexual violence can be in Egypt and wonder how sick and cruel people can be to take pleasure of doing this to vulnerable women. Trew the author of the article noted that because, of the speed, efficiency and ferocity of these attacks that they might be planned and might be used as political tools to push away women from protesting while simultaneously discrediting demonstrators. This does not mean attacks only happen in a political event, it has been reported that mass attacks have occurred in pop concerts. The director of the Women Human Rights Defenders program mentioned that the problem of sexual harassment and assaults have been around for a very long period, they go all the way back to 2006 during Eid celebrations, at the metro stations or even cinemas. Reading about these experiences makes one think why do people do this and the such. But, it might also be due to domestic violence and martial rape not being considered as crimes under Egyptian Law, by this existing it makes it difficult to change the ways in streets. Though per Egypt: sexual violence against women by George Sadek (Lawyer) laws have been enhanced due to assaults described in page 3 of his publication. It was mentioned in his publication that there two elements of proof required for a report on a charge of rape: the material element and the mental element (Sadek). This is from Criminal Code not actual Egyptian law, he also stated how a judge has the power to reduce the sentence of a life imprisonment to a simple imprisonment without giving any justification. This tells us that many offenders can be let free just because the judge might think the victim is untruthful, or any other reason he doesn’t have to voice.
Egypt has an issue of ‘blaming the victim’ as I am sure many other countries have as well. In this case, their language used to use the word mo’aksa which meant flirtation, by them using this word it would be able to portray them as trying to hide / sugar coat their problems. Egyptians just started using ‘taharush’ which means harassment within this last decade. The time gap that took for them to change the word that would describe violence against victims and survivors demonstrates that they would’ve rather put all those problems in the back burner rather than confront or acknowledge them. The way the term ‘flirtation’ was used would imply that the harassment / attack was a consensual act, therefore in shaming the victim in lying about their attack. There has been times where laws had been drafted to help such as when El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an Egyptian NGO drafted a law that would address domestic violence, marital rape and sexual violence against women. This effort was soon crushed when the parliament was dismissed by the then-ruling military council. It had been noted that there are no official numbers to how convictions of offenders of sexual violence, but there are sources that had spoken about the resistance of the victims of such offenses to report them, due to the negative perceptions of sexual violence victims on the part of members of the law and the offender (Sadek). This statement supports the fact that women are ashamed of discussing the event they were assaulted due to negative reactions they will receive if they proceeded to court.
In 2014, Egypt’s Cabinet approved a draft law that will define and criminalize all shapes of sexual violence. This new law was suppose made to protect people most especially women, that if anyone offends one person by stalking them or giving sexual hints the offender will face big fines and be given long prison sentences if convicted. Though what had people concerned was the fact that the victim had to provide two witnesses and in some cases, bring the person to the police. The United Nations 2013 study was brought again and it was said 40% of women surveyed said nobody had come to their aid when they were attacked in public.
And nearly 20% of cases which police / security did intervene, they were scolded, mocked or harassed the victim (Jones). There was also an article in the Criminal Code Article 291 which would grant the individual who committed the rape to marry the victim to avoid the penalty implied in the code (Sadek). This article has gotten a lot of opposition from women’s rights group and human-rights activists so much that later in 1999 it was repealed by Presidential Decree No.14 of 1999. In Fatma’s Globe Post article it was brought up that one obstacle to implanting laws to help survivors / victims is the tendency to re-traumatize women who file claims against their rapists. Prosecutors often asked victims provocative questions, tease them and blame them for what they wore or say the time or place where the victim was when she was attacked / assaulted encouraged the perpetrator and crime (Khaled).
There are so many occurrences of rape that will pain one when reading them, though it is worth having this knowledge because it will make people think and hopefully make them take actions to help better the lives for women not only in Egypt in other countries where this is still running rampant. Such as a member of Egyptian Parliament Mona Mair had proposed amendments to the Penal Code in Dec 2017, having to do with rape that mostly ends up with the death penalty. These amendments also explicitly apply to violence within families is a nice addition, as family members often could get away with violence to a member of their own. There have been also other offers for improvement including the idea to train officials on ideas to tackle sexual violence cases, establishing a fund to care for and rehabilitate the victims, and conducting multiple public awareness campaigns. It’s good to say that an Egyptian women’s rights NGO, Nazra for Feminist Studies, who provides rehabilitation service for rape victims and state-owned National Council for Women (NCW) have been working to execute the initiatives discussed beforehand. Nazra also did in 2016 a campaign called “Bethsal” or “It Happens.”
It was carried out in Egypt under the framework of the U.N. campaign to combat sexual violence which will regularly run from November 25 to December 10. Then there is also the global #MeToo campaign against sexual violence which had reached Egypt regions as #AnaKaman (translates to Me Too in Arab) this movement helped Egypt as it is very effective as it showed its people how conditions have worsened since the 2011 uprising. This movement has helped give many women confidence, support and helped them accept / show they’re not alone and they’re strong. By them witnessing women from very different backgrounds, countries and even statuses speak out about being sexually assaulted. This helped many Egyptians have the courage to slowly go out and share their experience either anonymously or under their real names to show they’re not afraid or ashamed. This is a great step to battling sexual violence. In 2015, NCW launched a project to help fight rape and other crimes held against women called “National Strategy for Combating Sexual Violence against Women” (NSVAW). It aims to help fight against violence in four stages: prevention, protection, intervention and prosecution. Each stage will include multiple sub-goals that will have 12 different ministries and authorities are going to work on.
The project will seek to end or better the country of their violence against women, this includes rape, they hope to achieves this in a five-year period with a tangible outcome by 2020 (Khaled). This organization has resulted in more women breaking their silence and giving the courage to girls to have no shame in speaking out about what they’ve gone through. They had also witnessed days when families go with their daughters to report the incident, which in the past was a very rare occurrence. Another positive outcome of the NSAVW developed a medical protocol guide for all doctors to be able to help with survivors, approx. 172 hospitals in Egypt have taken in this guide, they plan to not stop there they aim to give this guide to another 400 hospitals. It is an accomplishment to see many organizations putting a lot of time and effort to better the lives of victims and survivors of sexual violence in Egypt, this gives me the hope to see good a decline in their future and the law taking more support in the victims. The rape culture can only be mitigated after years of the law following through with everything they should do to help victims/ survivors.
- Jones, Sophie. Egypt’s New Sexual Assault Law Faces Major Obstacle in Police Who Still Blame The Victim. 12 May 2014. 15 November 2018.
- Khaled, Fatma. Egyptian Laws Punishing Rape Insufficiently Help Victims of Violence. 18 February 2018. 16 November 2018.
- Sadek, George. Egypt: sexual violence against women. D.C: Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Research Center, 2016.
- Soliman, Azza. How #MeToo and #TimesUp Are Helping Egyptian Women Break the Silence Around Sexual Violence. 17 May 2018. 16 November 2018.
- Trew, Bel. Egypt’s Sexual Assault Epidemic. 14 August 2013. 15 November 2018.
- USAID. Gender Equality And Women’s Empowerment. 07 November 2017. 15 November 2018.