If you haven't, then you are one lucky girl & I envy you!!! But even so, you surely have witnessed it in the street? Or maybe heard from a friend or female relative of her experience with sexual harassment?
The bottom line is, for Egyptian women, sexual harassment is a part of normal life in Egypt. Just like we put up with dirty habits such as men spitting or urinating in public or people littering the streets, we grow accustomed to and actually expect to be harassed every now and then.
I have lived in Egypt until 2000, and, like most women, I have experienced sexual harassment firsthand. Everything from annoying comments, to dirty stares and the occasional "accidental" brushing from a guy. Actions that would leave me feeling humiliated and dirty and in desperate need of a shower to eradicate any traces or memory of these incidents.
But what really frustrates me now, as a grown woman, is my passive reaction every time I was a victim of harassment! The most I would do is glare at the perpetrator. When I think of these incidents, I get really angry, mostly at myself for being so weak and passive.
So, today I want to change my passiveness into action. I want to join hands with the millions of Egyptian girls and women across Egypt to end this humiliation once and for all. To do so, I want to direct messages to four distinct groups: Egyptian women; Egyptian men; the government, and houses of worship. It's time we all unite to fight this epidemic that has become a part of life in Egypt.
- To all the Egyptian women out there
I feel we have accomplished a lot on Jan 25. The most significant gain in my humble view, is that as Egyptians, we are no longer afraid to speak the truth and demand our rights. So as Egyptian women, we need to keep the Tahrir spirit going and we need to raise our voice against these vulgar actions.
This means, next time a young man whistles or shouts a dirty comment your way, you don't walk faster and ignore it. NO NO NO! Promise me you will stop and yell as loud as you can and tell that idiot off!
It also means when you're at the bank or airport, or any other crowded space and the fatherly-like figure with the poor eyesight brushes against your body, not once but twice or more, you will do something. You will not convince yourself it was a coincidence and you will not stay silent, in respect of the guy's age!! Remember, he has no respect for you and feels no shame in touching you, so you will yell as loud as you can and shame him in public!!!
We Egyptian women can no longer stay silent and accept harassment as part of life, because that is wrong. We are not the problem and the men who commit these dirty actions need to realize that they will not get away with it anymore!!
- To all the Egyptian men out there
If you're a guy who witnesses sexual harassment, you cannot walk away. Help us eradicate this bad symptom. Always remember that this victim being harassed could be your wife, mother, sister or daughter. Would you walk away then? Of course not! So, work with us to end this now!
If, on the other hand, you are one of the perpetrators who harass women and think nothing of it, then you need to wake up and realize that we live in a new era! The Jan 25 Revolution has changed the Egyptian people forever! We are no longer afraid to yell, to shame you and embarrass you for your dirty behavior or remarks. So, you either adopt the Tahrir spirit and rid yourself of your urge to harass, or be prepared for public embarrassment and humiliation!
- To the Egyptian Government
I feel there's a lot that the government can do to help us eradicate sexual harassment:
- Let's start with some laws that hold harassers responsible for their actions. Egyptian women need to feel that they have your support and that you are willing to punish harassers and take sexual harassment cases seriously.
- Create Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that educate men and women on sexual harassment. Egypt was successful in its PSA campaigns on birth control and bilharzia, & we can also spread awareness on how sexual harassment is hurtful, humiliating & embarrassing to women. We can also learn from other countries who have adopted PSAs on sexual harassment, such as the USA .
- Let's work on solving some of the social and economic problems that lead some men to resort to harassment. I hate to give men excuses for such behavior, but there's no doubt that marriage in Egypt is expensive and few men can afford to offer a bride the apartment, appliances and dowry that her family expects. Add that to the increase in sexual scenes in Egyptian movies and music videos, and that's all these sexually-deprived young men need to go out and attack!! I feel the government can help create more jobs; offer newly graduates cheap housing options, and help alleviate the cost of living. This will surely allow more people to get married.
- To leaders of Egypt's Churches & Mosques
Given that we live in a conservative society, I feel you guys have a vital role in our fight against sexual harassment. If priests use Sunday services to preach to men, young and old, on the wrongfulness of such acts, surely this will impact some men, right? The same could be said for imams and Friday prayers. Why not use Friday speeches to educate men on these sinful actions and on the pain and humiliation they inflict on women? Also, why not encourage all men to stand up to a harasser if they witness such incidents?
Sexual harassment is an epidemic and we need to unite forces to drive it out of the New Egypt.
The world watched Egyptians protest peacefully for 18 days, days that instilled pride in all of us! Then came the embarrassing news of Lara Logan's abuse in Tahrir Square, the same place that was witness to peaceful & civilized protests for 18 days.
Is this how we want the world to view the New Egypt? An Egypt where sexual harassment is part of daily life? Where women have no rights or laws to protect them? Where men can get away with any dirty action?
I don't think so! So let's take a stand today and do something about this epidemic!