News & Current Affairs

September 3, 2008

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Seven Egyptian women talk about their experience of sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo. It is an increasingly common problem, with a recent survey suggesting more than four out of five women have been sexually harassed, while nearly two-thirds of men admitted assaulting women.

Noha Wagih

Noha Wagih
TV announcer

“I usually don’t answer back, but this time I did”

Posy Abdou

Posy Abdou
Shop worker

“I get harassed 100 times a day “

Nora Khaled

Nora Khaled
School pupil

“I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried”

Nancy Fakhr

Nancy Fakhr
Engineer

“When colleagues asked what was wrong, I lied”

Zeinab Boulaki

Zeinab Boulaki
Auditor

“My mother says I shouldn’t answer back but I think this is wrong”

Hoda Gallal
Housewife

“People gathered around but were not sympathetic”

NOHA WAGIH

Noha Wagih

Once I was out driving with my brother when he stopped at a supermarket and I waited for him outside. Two guys got out of a car and walked towards me in an intimidating way. They started commenting on the way I look and the way I’m dressed.

I usually don’t answer back, but this time I said: ‘I’m not here to get picked up, you know.’ This was too much for one of them who started shouting that I was crazy. I replied that even if I were a prostitute, I wouldn’t give him a second glance.

This made him mad. He came right up to me, shouting that he was a policeman and he would ‘show me’. In no time three more cars pulled up, and a group of men got out and started yelling at me and my brother.

I wrote down the number of the first car saying I was going to report him. He got so angry I thought he was going to beat me, so I slapped his face and started shouting ‘Rape!’ They all ran away, and I was left alone with my brother shaking with fear.

After this experience I want to make a program for TV about sexual harassment.

POSY ABDOU

Posy Abdou

I get harassed 100 times a day. I tried everything to stop it but it doesn’t stop. I wear loose clothes, I don’t wear make up, I spend more than an hour in front of the mirror everyday thinking of ways to hide my body.

I walk home everyday. It only takes me 15 minutes, I cross the bridge. It is usually very loud and busy, but that does not stop men from approaching girls, any girl, good looking or bad looking, covered or not.

I remember so many scary harassment’s. There was this guy who followed me and suddenly grabbed my bottom in front of everyone. I screamed but he ran away and no one interfered.

Once I was shopping with my father and aunt, and this guy kept staring at me and blowing me kisses. My dad shouted at him and started hitting him. I think men are doing this because they are jobless and have no manners.

NORA KHALED

Nora Khaled

I get harassed everyday, during the five minutes I walk from my house to the main street to take the school bus.Also in the seconds I cross the street when I finish my swimming class at the sports club.

I was waiting for the school bus once when a microbus driver followed me and kept calling me very bad names.

I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried.

NANCY FAKHR

Nancy Fakhr

I don’t walk a lot in the streets, because I have a car. But I get harassed by guys driving close to me, they try to grab my attention, it could lead to accidents.

The worst harassment I remember was last winter. I didn’t have my car and I was sleeping over at my sister’s house. I got up at 0700 to catch the bus and go to work. A guy followed me and kept calling me very bad names. I was horrified and I started walking fast, even running.

When he got very close to me, I was scared he would touch me, so I picked a stone from the floor and threw it at him and ran as fast as I could until I got to the main street and took the bus.

I was shaking and trembling. When I arrived at work, I collapsed and cried for a long time. When my colleagues asked me what is wrong, I lied and said I have family problems.

ZEINAB BOULAKI

Zeinab Boulaki

I get harassed whenever I walk down the street; even during the seconds I cross the street to take my car.Yesterday, when I was parking the car in front of my house, a guy grabbed my bottom, I shouted at him, and insulted him. At least I did something about it.

My mother says I shouldn’t answer back, but I think this is wrong. This way they will think they can harass anyone and get away with it. I know that shouting at someone who harasses me verbally or physically is not enough but at least it makes me feel better than doing nothing.

HODA GALLAL

I get harassed every day, although I am always carrying my baby. I thought being a mother would make me immune to harassment, but it made it even worse.

Once I was waiting for the bus with my child and a car stopped, the guy waved his hand at me with a 20 pound note. It was unbelievable. Another time I was walking home and this guy unzipped his trousers in a car next to me.

I screamed, but he shouted back very aggressively, saying ‘Who do you think you are? Why would I even look at you?’ People in the street gathered around us and to my surprise they were not sympathetic with me. They supported him. They all defended the guy because they do the same thing.

Once I was walking with a friend and this guy suddenly grabbed her from behind. We shouted for help and he ran away. A car stopped, they asked us what had happened, had we been mugged? When we told them that we’d been sexually harassed, they drove away. Isn’t this worse than robbery?

REEM IBRAHIM

I get harassed a lot. I can’t count the number of times, especially on public transport.

There was this guy who kept following me from one bus to another. If I stood up he stood by my side and if I sat down he sat beside me. Finally I shouted at him and insulted him, he left the minibus.

I stopped wearing skirts, and stopped doing my hair at the hairdresser’s, I also stopped wearing make up, even my fiance asks me why aren’t you taking care of your looks as you used to do.

But what can I do, I try to stop it but nothing works. I used to always have a smile on my face while walking down the streets, now I am always frowning, always provoked, always feeling the threat of someone approaching me physically or verbally.

At a bus or a microbus, I always feel there is a hand trying to touch me. It happened so many times, that I keep looking at the seat behind me as if I am crazy.

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August 12, 2008

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Ghada Abdelaal with her book Ayza-Tgawwiz

Abdelaal’s story started as an online log – now she’s working on a sitcom

“I want to get married” is a perfectly normal thing to say for a young Egyptian man. But when a girl says it in such a conservative society – let alone writes a book with that title – she is making a political statement.

“Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her,” says the author of the top-selling book, Ghada Abdelaal. “To say she wants something is seen as impolite.”

The book started as a blog, before it was spotted by an Egyptian publisher and printed as a series of comic sketches in which flawed and failed suitors knocking at her parents’ door.

A paranoid policeman, a hirsute fundamentalist, a pathological liar and other hilarious caricatures portrayed in sparkling Egyptian vernacular.

Marriage anxiety

The veiled, softly-spoken Abdelaal is a sharp and witty observer of social incongruity in Egypt, a feisty spirit trying to tear up stifling tradition.

They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married
Ghada Abdelaal

She says her target is not Egyptian men but a tradition known as “gawwaz el-salonat” (living room marriage), where a stranger is brought to the family home and the daughter must decide whether to marry him on the basis of this brief encounter.

“People who go for a picnic need to know each other a little longer than that – let alone make a lifelong commitment.”

The book’s popularity – it is in its third print run with a sitcom in the offing – reflects a widespread anxiety in Egyptian society. More and more young people cannot afford to get married.

Although the book focuses on finding Mr Right, she acknowledges finding an affordable flat remains an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many young people stay engaged for years before they can save up enough money.

“By the time they actually get to live together, they are already tired of each other,” says women’s rights activist Nihad Abou El Qoumsan. This causes the unusually high rate of divorce among the newlyweds in Egypt, she says.

Such is the impact of property prices on the marriage crisis, a popular talk show has invited engaged couples to join a draw to win a flat.

A new apartment will be given away by a wealthy businessman every day of the fasting and holiday month of Ramadan, in September. Huge numbers have registered.

Sexual frustration

Some describe it as a social time bomb. Religious customs mean there is no sex before marriage. So how do young people react to this situation?

I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated
Anthropologist Hania Sholkamy

Sociologist Madeeha al-Safty of the American University in Cairo believes one consequence is sexual harassment of women and rape reaching unprecedented levels in Egypt.

“If you are frustrated, there is the possibility that you take it out [through] violence.

“Some people choose the safer way in moving towards a more religious attitude – not necessarily extremism, but it might reach the point of extremism,” she adds.

But anthropologist Hania Sholkamy hesitates to link the problems of sexual harassment and rape to the marriage crisis.

“I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated. There are many millions of people who are extremely frustrated, but they do not harass women.

“I think the issue is one of violence and gender disparities, pure and simple.”

Gender disparities is a theme running throughout Abdelaal’s book, from the provocative title questioning the woman’s passive role in a traditional society to the way children are brought up.

“They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married.

“Even after she goes to school they tell her that a girl’s only future is in her husband’s home. So what happens when a girl for any reason cannot get married. Should she set fire to herself?”

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