Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fears grow over marginalization of women in Egypt

One year on, and fears grow over role of women in the new Egypt

January 28, 2012


One year on, and fears grow over role of women in the new Egypt

As EGYPT’S military rulers celebrated the first anniversary of the revolution with official street parties, parades and outdoor concerts, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered to protest against the regime in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Just as on the so-called Day of Rage a year ago yesterday, men and women joined together in calls for “life, liberty and human dignity” and “bread, freedom and social justice”.

The gathering in Tahrir Square was one of the largest against the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces since the ousting of ex- president Hosni Mubarak last February.

But even before Wednesday’s protest had finished, reports of sexual harassment against women in the square began circulating. Heather, an Arab-American living in Cairo, told Egyptian website Bikyamasr.com she had been walking across Tahrir Square with her two flatmates when she was surrounded by a group of men. “My roommates and I fell to the ground when they attacked us. The people pulled my pants off even as I yelled and tried to fight,” she said. “They started fighting over who was going to do what.”

She said the men then grabbed and groped the woman’s bodies. “It is disgusting,” she said.

Heather, who asked to be referred to only by her first name, came forward after seeing another report about a foreign woman who was stripped naked and assaulted in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, the spiritual home of Egypt’s revolution. That woman, whose identity has not been revealed, was taken away in an ambulance after being assaulted for ten minutes.

Sexual harassment and violence against women is an all- too-common occurrence in Egypt. Women walking alone or in groups through the streets of Cairo or other cities are often forced to put up with shouts, catcalls and even more physical forms of abuse. The risk is greater at large gatherings.

“Harassment is a major problem,” said Rebecca Chiao, founder of Harassmap, a website that allows Egyptian women to report incidents of sexual harassment by text message. “We have seen sexual harassment rise along with aggressiveness on the street, bad treatment in the workplace and sectarian violence,” she said.

According to figures from the United Nations, more than 50 per cent of women in Egypt reported being subjected to sexual harassment. And a poll found nearly two-thirds of men confessed to harassing women, but more than half blamed women for “bringing it on”.

Women’s rights in post- Mubarak Egypt are becoming an increasing concern. Despite being at the vanguard of last year’s protests, women are often politically isolated, with their place in the public sphere undermined and uncertain. Only three women were among the more than 200 candidates elected in Egypt’s recent elections.


Hordes of protesters chanting anti-military slogans streamed from mosques around Cairo to join tens of thousands massed in Tahrir Square yesterday.

Tensions erupted when one march demonstrated outside the defence ministry and were confronted by dozens of supporters of the military. Protesters scattered, and many said homemade bombs had been thrown at them.

Divisions also boiled over in Tahrir Square, where scuffles broke out between the Muslim Brotherhood and secular protesters. Many in secular camp suspect the Brotherhood plans to strike a deal with the generals to give them continued power. The Brotherhood denies any deal.

*Photo courtesy of Getty Images

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