Daily Sexual Harassment in the Streets of Cairo

I have just moved back to Cairo and I am finding it hard to adjust back to the constant sexual harassment on the streets. I have been here for a month now and have been spat at 3 times (once directly in the face by two 10/11-year-old boys) and groped 4 times (including being pushed against a wall this evening). I am lucky if I can walk five minutes without hearing the word “fuck.” I wear an ipod whenever I remember: when I forget my headphones, it is a nightmare and a constant barrage of insults and suggestive comments.

I wear conservative clothes (long skirts, long-sleeved tops and scarves around my neck) and I’m not generally out late at night. The harassment happens from 7am to 9pm and in crowded streets. The times I’ve been groped and spat at, I have been surrounded by people and nobody said a word to reprimand the boys/ men who were harassing me and nobody asked if I was alright.

The situation is, quite frankly, disgusting. I cannot understand why the harassment is so pervasive and why the men are allowed to get away with it. I’ve been told to avoid walking in the streets — but I don’t want to be pushed out of the public realm and made to hide. This is exactly what these men want…. to have their male power reinforced and to have women cowering in the privacy of the home. That said, walking anywhere is draining and upsetting and I will inevitably turn more and more to using taxis and to staying inside.

The uncontrolled sexual harassment in Egypt has been well-documented. Two good articles can be found here and, most recently, here. The latter articles points out:

“In 2008, the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) released shocking statistics that stated that 83 per cent of Egyptian women and 98 per cent of foreign women in Egypt reported exposure to sexual harassment. …
We have conducted several studies that have proven one thing above all else: Sexual harassment occurs regardless of age, dress or time of day. Women are victims simply because they are women,” said ECWR chairwoman Nehad Abu Al Komsan. …
More than 60 per cent of the respondents — including females — suggested that scantily clad women were most at risk. But the study concluded that the majority of the victims of harassment were modestly dressed women wearing the hijab. Contrary to expectations, the male perpetrators made little distinction between women wearing a veil and those who were not. “We found that a veil does not protect women as we thought,” says Abu Al Komsan. “More than 75 per cent of women in Egypt are veiled but are still harassed.”

What is it about Egypt that makes this harassment so aggressive, so sexual, so pervasive? It’s a very ugly side to the society that needs urgent and focused attention.

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About Dr Rebecca Wright

I am a criminal barrister and the Director of The Schools Consent Project, North West. I previously worked as a human rights lawyer in the Middle East and Afghanistan for 6 years and as a US corporate lawyer for a year. I have a PhD in literature (which looked at the autobiographies written by suffragettes). I taught literature in San Diego after I finished the PhD and before I went to law school in the US. I also drove buses part time for 10 years.
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