Epidemic Harassment of Women in Egypt Revealed by UN Women

June 24, 2013 in Top News, Women

Woman Participating in 2012 Presidential Election in Egypt

An Egyptian woman checks for her name on an elections list at a voting station in Cairo, Egypt. Source: Fatma El Zahraa Yassin/UN Women.

A United Nations report on incidences of widespread sexual harassment of women in Egypt released May 23 has identified a comprehensive set of recommendations for reducing such harassment. According to the study, 99.3 percent of women and girls surveyed by the research team reported having been subjected to one form or another of harassment.

Sponsored by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, and Egypt’s National Council for Women, “Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt” was carried out by the Cairo Demographic Centre at the Institute of National Planning in Cairo. Findings of the study were based on interviews with over 3,000 women, as well as men, spanning 10 to 35 years of age in seven different governorates across Egypt.

The study concludes with a series of recommendations, which include the need to pass a new law to criminalize sexual harassment, stipulating deterrent penalties for the harasser and at the same time facilitating the procedures for arresting the harasser through evidence provided on the site of harassment. It also calls for increased deployment of police officers and detectives in crowded places, especially in front of schools, universities, public squares, main streets, bus and microbus stations in all governorates. Finally, it stresses the importance of having both political and religious authorities play an active role in condemning sexual harassment and the attitudes that reinforce it.

Recommended steps to reduce the problem of sexual harassment in the short term focus on new legislation. This would include deterrent punishment against harassers, return of police patrols and regular security campaigns on Egyptian streets, and major media efforts to inform youth particularly about the seriousness of committing harassment.

Community leaders and governorate security forces played a significant role in the study. Qualitative analysis of sexual harassment phenomena included extensive interviewing with 40 community leaders and deputies from the offices of governors, educational department heads, secretary generals, security forces and youth centers. Participating leaders also included members of national parties, former People’s Assembly members, representatives of Al-Azhar and the Egyptian Church, religious and Sharia’ jurors, legal experts, sociologists, university or research centers professors and the leadership of the National Council for Women and the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood.

Leaderships engaged in the study agreed unanimously the return of police patrols and regular security campaigns to the streets not only will succeed in restoring street security but specifically will help in preventing female harassment. In the governorate of Qena, security campaigns already have captured several youths during acts of harassment and now are pursuing legal action against the perpetrators.

Security forces in the governorates covered by the study have increased security campaigns and patrols in particular at the end of school hours, and have concentrated especially on areas proximate to university entryways, markets and crowded public places, and bus stops. In Ismailia, the Directorate of Security reported campaigns now are being conducted by policemen wearing civilian clothes. Police infiltrate crowds to arrest harassers while committing these acts, and file immediate on-the-scene reports.

Longer term steps recommended in the study reflect a multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary strategy. Such efforts include expanded education efforts, including relevant social and religious studies in relation to freedom and individual rights. Recommended efforts also reflected needs for renewed religious discourse, alleviation of poverty, transportation and housing issues, and gender-balanced job creation programs. A sustained and comprehensive strategy is believed to be urgently needed.

The full report by UN Women is available here.