CAIRO: Sexual Safety Still Remains Illusive For Women Journalists Under Harassment
(WNN) Cairo, EGYPT: As new policy by Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court of the State Council, headed by Judge Ali Fikri, overturned Justice Minister Mohamed al-Guindy’s recent decision to give Egypt’s military the power of impunity to arrest civilians, activists are celebrating.
Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking
But the newly elected President Mohamed Morsi has inherited another problem, extreme violence against women that continues to exist on the streets of Cairo.
“I have been forced to leave Cairo,” said British journalist Natasha Smith on Tuesday (June 26) after her recent ordeal in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in what she describes as “increasing force and aggression.” Attacked by a large mob of men who grabbed her sexually in what Smith said was “an insatiable appetite to hurt me,” the journalist was torn away from her male colleagues as she was swept through the crowd and into the hands of unknown men.
This has come after a score of women journalists and over 40 Egyptian women activists and protesters have been attacked in varying degrees of intensity on Tahrir Square. It has come after numerous women of Egypt have complained for over a decade about the fierce and rising level of sexual harassment that exists against women on the streets Cairo.
“…please God. Please make it stop,” said Smith to herself as she went through her ordeal. A key element to this kind of sexual violence includes fear, intimidation and humiliation of the victim. Women in Cairo have a documented history of reporting acts of harassment that have included verbal abuse, acts of intimidation, the striping away of clothing by an assailant, physical injury and sexual penetration.
“A 2008 survey of more than a thousand women in Cairo, Giza, and Qalubiya by the Egyptian Center for Women‘s Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian respondents have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime; 46 percent reported sexual harassment on a daily basis,” said an authoritative 2009 USAID report on violence against women in Egypt. The UNDP – United Nations Development Programme has also outlined in 2010 that “98.9% of the female respondents said that they had been subjected to verbal harassment” as “4.57% of the female respondents said that they had been touched or forced to touch others in sensitive areas.”
“This is a consistent trend and it has to stop. Arab women, western women – there are so many sufferers,” outlines Natasha Smith who reminds everyone that the attacks are not just based on violence against women from ‘the West.’ Sexual harassment and violence in Egypt does not follow a set pattern for its victims. Both Egyptian women wearing full traditional Islamic dress as well as women from Europe or America have suffered under the violence.
But where is the Egyptian police in follow-ups to these reports? Many women have not reported the violence due to fears that the police would not react in their favor. In 2005 only 2.4 percent of Egyptian women and 7.5 percent of foreign women reported sexual harassment crimes to the police.
Reports on sexual harassment have been repeatedly exposed to authorities with little to no follow up. In 2004 the ECWR – Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights launched the “Making Our Streets Safer Campaign” after Egyptian as well as foreign women reported increasing incidents to the ECWR of sexual violence as harassment on the streets and in public places throughout Cairo. At the time many women “did no longer feel safe when alone in public. For a lot of them, verbal offenses, insults or unwanted touching have become a daily burden,” outlined the ECWR.
The idea of crowds giving women a measure of safety was a lesson that journalist Natasha Smith, as well as Lara Logan of CBS and Mona Eltahawy of CNN, as well as one Christian Coptic protester Ms. Ehab Hanna Ashaya, who’s experience ended up on Youtube, found out quickly is not the case in Cairo. They also quickly found out the police in Cairo can sometimes actually add to the harassment instead of coming to the aid of a victim.
Mona Eltahawy’s experience with military police after her attack described continuing harassment and injury. “I read news reports about a journalist whose arms were broken by Egyptian police, but I don’t connect them to the splints around my arms that allow only one-finger typing on a touchpad, nor with the titanium plate that will remain in my left arm for a year, to help a displaced fracture align and fuse,” said Eltahawy in an exclusive report on The Guardian News only one week before January 1, 2012.
“Even as the officer offered hollow protection, the men who had brought me in still went at my breasts,” described Eltahawy about her experience with Cairo’s police security forces.
But the warning about safety for women had come much earlier.
A 2005 ECWR study interviewed 2,020 participants; making up an equal force of 1,010 men and 1,010 women, including 109 foreign women. “The results we obtained after analyzing the first 100 complaints were shocking, being completely contrary to the social perception of Sexual Harassment,” detailed the ECWR. “Having been taught to stay in crowded places whenever possible and to be careful whenever alone in public, considering crowds as being protective, the study taught us the contrary: most forms of Sexual Harassment occur in very crowded places in front of schools or universities, in the workplace, at bus stations or on public transport. We were also brought up, being taught to avoid delays and to return home before dark. However, the results of the study show, that Sexual Harassment occurs increasingly during daytime, reaching its peaks at seven oclock a.m. and two oclock p.m. in front of schools and when going to or returning from work,” continued the 2005 study.
Trying to report crimes of violence against women on the streets of Cairo does not come with an easy solution. “…some [police] let the harasser escape while others caught him and filed a report against him. We also found that some police officers mock these women or harass them as well,” outlined the ECWR.
“Laws protecting women are already in place,” said President Mohamed Morsi recently two weeks before the election in a June press conference that brought up questions by the audience about underage marriage, female genital mutilation in Egypt and other topics. “I am not going to make any modifications in terms of the issues just raised: the legal age for marriage, khula [divorce laws for women in Egypt and], female genital mutilation,” stressed Morsi.
In spite of her injuries, sexual assault, harassment and the illicit danger she felt she had been placed in while trying to get her story about the post election celebration in Tahrir Square on June 24, 2012, journalist Natasha Smith is not giving up on Cairo easily.
“I am determined to return to this wonderful country and city that I love, and meet its people once again,” she says. “I am determined to challenge the stereotypes and preconceptions that people have of Arab women back in the UK and the US. I have so much to say, and I will say it, in time.”
“My body, and mind, belong to me. That’s the gem at the heart of the revolution,” said Eltahawy when she returned home after her experience on Tahrir Square last November.