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Sexual Harassment In Egypt Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3990 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Society incessantly undertakes transformations as it develops and grows with time. Social conflict and self-interest appear to be the essence of the way life goes. From my personal perspective, people only act accordingly to the rules and norms when and only when there is either a consequence or a reward; be it materialistic or intangible. The strive for power, social standing and self-fulfillment is what pushes people to make their decisions and take on these paths. The patriarchal Egyptian culture exemplifies the simplest theory; the conflict theory between men and women.

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Egypt has been changing drastically over the past thirty years and especially since the 25th of January revolution, the people have witnessed many changes in the political ruling system of the country and the frequent migrations to the city of Cairo. It has also seen increasing religious imposition, expanding poverty, pollution and inhabitants boost. One of the major changes is the westernization of Egypt. The country became more westernized due to interactions of Egypt with the West politically, economically, and socially (Homa Hoodfar and Diane Singerman). Our daily clothes, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, it’s all proof of the clear westernization that our culture is going through. In addition, traditionally Egyptian women often were the ones that stayed at home to raise-up the children while the men of the families were the ones out on the streets working (Nicholas S. Hopkins and Ibrahim Saad Eddin). But over the years, the ‘traditional woman’ stereotype changed. Women started receiving full education of high level and getting jobs that only men had right to before. And with those huge transformational events taking places in our country and this new status that the women earned, the natural turn of events to expect is that the Egyptian women start earning more respect, at least as equal as the men’s. But unfortunately this is not what is happening. Instead many men easily prove to us that our society is still years and years behind and that we are in no way even comparable to the developed countries. Not only the women are not as equally respected, in fact they are disrespected, mistreated and simply put, in a constant battle for their rights. And one example of the many abuses that women are forced to put up with each and every day is sexual harassment.

To clarify what exactly is sexual harassment, it is the unwanted physical contact, remark, or attention which is often inappropriate and offensive and results in fear or embarrassment. Of course it is also frequent in many other countries, but in Egypt specifically, this “social cancer” is spreading at an alarmingly rapid rate. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) did a survey proving that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women in Egypt have been sexually harassed before (Komsan).

Despite the fast and continuous changes that Egypt goes through, it still stays a very religious country especially compared to the developed countries of the West. This means that they heavily rely on Islam upon any rule or decision making. So how is it that such a religious country is so profoundly neglectful of the matter, whilst countries that take religion lightly such as America absolutely refuse to accept such behavior? And why is it that despite all of the changes, this behavior still remains unchanged?

Although Islam is one of the oldest advocates of women’s rights, Egypt lacks laws that protect its women from many important concerns including sexual harassment. Indeed, the regular and extreme occurrence of this phenomenon can be explained by the absence of laws that punish those who harass women. And the rates are increasing because these harassers know that they will get away with whatever they do and that they will just go unpunished.

This attitude has been triggered or encouraged by social, financial, cultural, religious or psychological difficulties that men face as a result to the country’s changes.

For instance, the society’s hierarchical separation keeps getting more and more obvious not only between social classes but between genders as well. The Egyptian culture absolutely confirms the conflict between genders where women don’t enjoy equal rights as men. While some patriarchal societies work perfectly, in Egypt men abuse the position that they have. Several psychologists believe that men who harass women do so because subconsciously they attempt to exert power over women (Florence L. Denmark and Michele A. Paludi). This could explain the fact that it has been projected to society that the males are superior and dominant. They believe it, take advantage of it and use it to make women feel inferior by harassing them and more. If women were given equal rights as men, they would contribute and be proactive members of society hence improve our way of life. But when it comes to Egypt, there isn’t enough statistical evidence to either agree with or disclaim the fact that psychological factors contribute to the occurrence of sexual harassment. So, we could relate Egypt’s situation to another country where psychology of men has proven to be of importance to the issue of harassment, like the United States for example (Baker).

Another key reason behind why men harass women is the economical and political situation of Egypt. Many sources including El Ahram Weekly and Europe News, write that since a huge percentage of the Egyptian population is under or just above the poverty line, lots of men cannot find jobs, cannot afford to start families because they cannot afford to get married, and just simply cannot afford decent lives. Both sources wrap up by explaining that the economic powerlessness of those men clearly shows itself in the form of repressed sexuality. And this male rage leaves them preying on women. The sources also add that due to the fact Egypt is a male central society and men are counted on to sustain their families financially; men feel powerless in a society when they cannot do that. And as a consequence of their economic incapacity, they resort to sexual harassment to empower themselves. In other words, Egyptian men harass women because it is ego enhancing for them; they feel that they have the power that way (Alison M. Thomas and Celia Kitzinger). Ahmed Salah, founder of the Respect Yourself campaign that addresses sexual harassers in Cairo writes, “sexual harassment is a form of violence and anger at the current economic and political conditions that men bring against what they perceive as a “weaker” creature.” (Diab). Since men in Egypt sometimes reach their late 30s without possessing an apartment nor a car, and without having a well paying job, they try to substitute their complete financial weakness in society together with their inhibited sexuality by their ‘male powers’ that are manifested in their sexual actions towards women. But do men of upper social class harass women? Yes, but not nearly as often as men of lower social classes do. War Zone, a documentary by Maggie Hadleigh, followed an ordinary woman down the streets of New York and documented the incidents of sexual harassment that she experienced (Hadleigh-West). It was concluded that yes some poor or middle class men harassed the lady, but so did other wealthy ones in expensive suites and having prestigious jobs; however, the ratio of harassment of a poor man harassing a woman verses a wealthy man was about three to one. And therefore, this could apply to sexual harassment in Egypt.

Another factor that has a great effect on the sexual harassment rate in Egypt is its political situation. The idea of democracy in Egypt has been a theory spoken of only and hardly ever applied. Due to the fact that there is no democracy in Egypt, Egyptians, especially those in the low social class, cannot contribute to the decisions being made in the country (Nicholas S. Hopkins and Ibrahim Saad Eddin). And even though a revolution occurred on the 25th of January 2011, the feelings haven’t change much because this event has just led to more confusion, more societal division and even less empowerment. As a result of the lack of proper democracy that represents all citizens and not just one party, Egyptians lack total political power (Saadawi). These men are aware that they, both politically and economically, are powerless. And in an attempt to seek out any form of power, they sexually harass women who come into sight to them as the weaker being. Wrapping up, economic and political situations of men are probably major triggers behind their sexual harassment of women.

Nonetheless, the most frequent excuse that men use to justify this intolerable and offensive manner is that since Egypt is a Muslim country, premarital sex is strongly condemned. It is religiously banned. In other words, men harass women because men are sexually repressed. And as previously mentioned, the financial difficulties that they are facing make the idea and plan of marriage very unfeasible. Even if they do get married, they live in poverty where big families are located in tight quarters, so no one has any personal space. This financial powerlessness leads to a sexual frustration that materializes in the form of harassment. It makes them feel more authoritative. But there are many other poor Muslim countries that live and survive in very bad conditions, like Libya for example, but they do not have the quantity of sexual harassment that is at hand in Egypt. So it is not about economic or religious complications. Each reason used by the men is just an excuse for their unacceptable and improper attitude.

Sexual harassment in Egypt has been said to be the product of the fact that Egypt is a Middle Eastern Islamic country, and therefore is conservative, and when women dress modernly and European-like, they are harassed by those men who are overwhelmed by how different they look from other ordinary Muslim women (Alison M. Thomas and Celia Kitzinger). So what they are actually saying is that women are the ones to be blamed and that they bring it upon themselves by wearing tight provocative clothes. According to the fact that Muslim women should be conservatively dressed, men from upper Egypt, for instance, who come to Cairo and find women walking down the street in revealing clothes (according to those men) start to harass women. But those men who once lived in a small village then moved to the city aren’t representative of all Egyptian men. Also, many of those conservative men have been living in Cairo for several years, so the idea of women walking down the street, leaving their houses, and dressing provocatively, isn’t new to them anymore; and yet they continue to harass women. Another theory implies that due to the fact that rural to urban migrations in Egypt have been increasing lately; about 18 million Egyptians have migrated over the past 5 years; sexual harassment by those new to the city life occurs (Nicholas S. Hopkins and Ibrahim Saad Eddin). And therefore, sexual harassment cannot be the result of how Western-like women are starting to dress, and not about how conservative men from small villages are amazed by what they see every day. And as a result, that is not a key element that contributes to why Egyptian men harass women.

Sexual harassment is assumed to be based upon sexual triggers by definition. A theory supporting that belief says that, the more provocatively a woman is dressed, the more likely she is to sexually arouse men, and therefore, the more likely she is to be sexually harassed (Tarrant). However, survey by the ECWR (Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights) concluded that the majority of women who said to have been harassed in Egypt were not dressed provocatively when harassed; and also, several women wearing the Nikab were harassed too (Komsan). So, is it possible that a man would find a woman who is literally covered from head to toe in black sexually attractive? Well, to clarify the image of those women wearing the Nikab in Egypt, they are often low or middle class women, probably married with a few children and often neither in great shape nor health due to the fact that they are relatively poor (Atassi). So no, it is highly unlikely that such women be harassed on the streets. And would a man find a native, 6-months pregnant, veiled woman sexually attractive too? After the incident in 2005 in which a group of young Egyptian men harassed a pregnant woman, the answer to this question is unknown (Saadawi). The problem of sexual harassment has evolved into a strange problem. In other words, sexual harassment been going on so often that men do not harass women who are sexually appealing to them anymore, they just harass any and every woman by in order to let out any boredom, anger, frustration or just to feel superior. (Leila). Also, if men harass women they are sexually attracted to, they would be more likely to harass women of the same age, race, or social class (Florence L. Denmark and Michele A. Paludi). To sum up, sexual harassment used to be triggered by sexual interests, but these days and in Egypt specifically, it has become a habit since the offenders see sexual harassment as an act of conforming to society in a way. And not only does that result in frequently occurring harassment, it also became strange behavior manifested in the actions of young boys (under the age of 12) as well as of teenagers and middle aged men. To elaborate, a foreign woman was grabbed while walking down the street by an 8 year old in 2006 (Atassi). That young boy must have seen other men do that to women, and thought that he is becoming more of a man by conforming to their actions. The most probable theory is that it has nothing to do with their academic or social level because men from all different backgrounds harass women. It has to do with the parents’ education to their child. Are they good role models for their children? Do they teach them to respect women and have moral values? These young boys are imitating what they’ve seen older men including their fathers do. They are following the people they admire and want to be like when they grow up. They want to feel integrated in the society as well and feel like powerful men. Although sexual harassment is mainly triggered by sexual thoughts, nowadays, it seems to be triggered by assimilation and conformity rather than sexuality.

In conclusion, all the reasons mentioned above that try to explain why does sexual harassment occur have one thing in common: Power. Men try to enforce power over women because they are economically or politically powerless in a male dominant society- one where men are expected to have the ‘power’. In a psychological attempt to feel powerful, men harass women because women are perceived by men as a weak creature; and therefore, harassment is an effortless way for men to feel better about themselves. So, according to my findings, the excessive sexual harassment in Egypt can be traced back to the need of men to feel the power that is lacked elsewhere- economically, politically, or socially.

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The unfortunate news is that women have actually accepted and confirmed their supposed inferiority through their silence. Some women just do not want to speak up for themselves in order to keep the social stability, in respect of their husbands, in habit of the way the society works or because they just think that there is no hope and that any objection is a lost cause. Also, the reason that women rarely come forward and press charges against that sort of assault is that they are aware of the lack of concern among the police. The policemen participate sometimes in the harassment. They can say comments while women are crossing streets, for example. So it is natural that women do not feel comfortable in taking proper action against the harassment since the people that are supposed to protect them from that kind of abuse are already taking part in it.

So in order to represent these women and encourage them to speak up and take action, many groups try to launch awareness campaigns in different kinds and forms. For example, the “Egyptian Initiatives” group has launched a Stop Sexual Harassment in Egypt campaign. They organize events that inform people about the situation, explain to women how to defend themselves and encourage the women to speak up. Another campaign that is even more successful is the Banat Masr Khat Ahmar campaign (Egypt’s Women are a Red Line, e.g. a line in the sand) was launched this year to raise awareness on the problem through communicating with people in the streets (Samir). “We neither argue with the harassers nor lecture them. We simply talk with them in their own language,” Dina Farid the founder of the Banat Masr Khat Ahmar movement said, explaining that her personal participation in the revolution taught her how to build a movement (Samir). During the Eid Al-Fitr holiday that wraps up the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the movement focused on downtown and the Nile Corniche area. Also, the dream of Welad El Balad (The Country’s Sons) an Alexandria-based initiative founded by Karim Mahrous in 2011 to clean Alexandria of sexual harassment. To reach this dream, Welad El Balad also organized street-level awareness campaigns (Samir). Before engaging with people, the initiative’s volunteers first get trained. They learn of the legal aspects, including the constitution’s articles that affect sexual harassment and they also focus on the psychological aspect of the problem, including the different kinds of harassers and how to address them (Samir). “We explain to women that the law is on their side and that they should not tolerate sexual harassment. We also educate men on the serious consequences of this act,” Zeinab Ayoub, Welad El Balad campaign coordinator noted (Samir). Estargel (Behave like a Man) was also launched two months ago to stop the rising problem of men riding in the women-only carriage in the Cairo underground metro which also leads to sexual harassment, says founder, Sherine Badr. Estargel launched door-knocking campaigns in downtown Cairo to stir discussion on sexual harassment (Samir). “The fact that society has started to realize the problem and talk about is in itself a good milestone,” Badr explained. Welad El Balad have partnered with certain neighborhoods in Alexandria, where they have shops there hanging their posters and cooperating with them to stop harassment and make their areas “safe” territories (Samir). Also Banat Masr Khat Ahmar has managed to secure the support of street venders in some areas in Cairo who help them fight the problem and intervene in case of any harassment happening in the area.

Another way to raise awareness is through social media, art and cinema. Many Youtube and Facebook groups were created. These groups not only encourage women to speak up and empower them, it also allows them to post any images or videos the harasser so they will be found by others and dealt with. That not only helps the women psychologically but it also threatens these harassers. And regarding the arts and cinema, in 2010 an Egyptian film entitled 678 brought the issue to public attention (Ibrahim). The film told the stories of three women from different social classes who were all victims of harassment one way or another. It shows how they dealt with it and how at the end all they had to do is speak up and be strong united women.

Other than the awareness that has been growing in different types, the government and some NGOs have been trying to take actions instead of just awareness against the issue. But, in my opinion, none of them have succeeded so far.

For example, the government has started new method for fighting sexual harassment in Cairo via the Web. It is called Harassmap. They locate where the incident took place and try to track the man down. It also calculates the amount of sexual harassment in each area so before going out of her home, a women can check out the map and see which area had the most sexual harassment complaints and opts to take another road. In my personal opinion, this project is a complete failure because these men don’t just stand there. They move. So the number of complaints by area is not really an indicator. I also don’t see how they could be tracked down. Besides, this project has been up and running only for a few months now. Therefore, its efficiency is still uncertain. But two issues arise as we look at the solution the government provided the women. Not all women have a way to the Internet. In particular the poor ones are those who need it the most since they are most likely to get harassed in the poorer neighborhoods with less security. And even for those who do get to have access to the Internet, only a very few know about the project. It is not well marketed, therefore only some women know about it and use it.

Another major initiative that took place but also failed is parliament representative Amr Hamzawy’s. Hamzawy tried to pass a law against harassment when he was an MP but faced resistance from Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al-Nour Party, run by Salafists; as he explains:

“I tried during the period of the parliament to push for proposing tougher sanctions to ensure law amendments to some articles in the penal code, but the majority from both of FJP and Al-Nour parties overturned it and emptied its content. It exceeds personal bitterness to grieve what Egyptian women have to face daily and around the clock from the systematic violation of their dignity, and the male enforced twist of the catastrophe by a very bad vindicatory speech.” (Hashim).

After a profound analysis of the issue, even though some of the initiatives weren’t very successful, we can see that the country is progressing in the right direction. Many support groups and measures have been initiated in order to make the women feel powerful, protected and secure. The most significant battle to be done right now is for the women to express their will to have equal rights and respect that they have so rightfully earned and merited. The more economically developed a country is, the more opportunities women have to attain their rights; countries that are more critical of injustice towards women are actually improving their societies because they provide it with more productive members that are involved in advancing it. The stereotypical stance on women being inferior to men must be erased from society; the notion that females are incompetent merely because they are female is a sign of intense sexism and discrimination. Men try to assert their power and gain respect as alpha males by suppressing the women around them; this fractures our society.

Instead of using these differences to discriminate, we ought to use them to balance out society and benefit it. The feminist conflict theory advocates for equality of basic human rights, it depicts why gender roles are planted within us and explains how all this is backfiring on society as a whole. It is not easy to change norms and status quos that have been carved so deeply into our minds, but we must acknowledge that change is not a spectator sport. By understand the role that gender plays in controlling society, we can understand it better and do more to improve it. So by uniting and coming together, they might finally balance the society and make it function more like it should be.


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