The Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha is often marked in Egypt with bliss and festivity, bringing smiles to faces. But for many women, the celebrations can sometimes turn into quite unpleasant experiences with ubiquitous sexual harassment.
To combat harassment during Eid, a number of Egyptian volunteers – men and women – have organized a “Eid without Harassment,” campaign. They began anti-harassment watch groups in Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo during days of Eid starting on Friday.
“[Eid] is the peak time for harassment,” said Ayman Nagy, founder of Against Harassment campaign. Nagy’s campaign joins efforts with another movement called “Imprint.”
Imprint and the Against Harassment initially sought to organize events nationwide, but later opted for Cairo only in order to optimize their impact.
“We decided at the end to secure one square only and that is Talaat Harb,” Nagy said. The square is a popular place in downtown Cairo and a major attraction for shoppers.
The two groups held training workshops for volunteers to teach them about how to respond to a person who is spotted harassing a woman in public.
“Our volunteers consist of males and females alike,” said Hassan Nasser, founder of the Imprint Movement. Female volunteers seek to encourage other females to speak up against acts of harassment.
Male volunteers are tasked to respond to assailants, by talking to them and bringing to their attention the negativity of their actions.
“Most of the time a harasser will be ashamed of what he did,” Nagy said.
During the previous Eid al-Fitr holiday, the groups caught and handed over to the police 20 men suspected of accused of harassing women in public, Nagy added.
“Too many group harassments took place last Eid,” yet only two ladies filed a report against their assailants, according to Nagy. One of the women dropped the case later. Many women are reluctant to report harassment cases against them for the fear of shame.
“According to the society, the woman is the one scandalized, although we all know it is the opposite,” Nagy said.
Two-thirds of the Egyptian women experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, according to a 2008 statistics published by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights. The National Council for Women (NCW) reported women in Egypt are harassed seven times every 200 meters.
In attempts to produce a law that criminalizes the act of sexual harassment in the country, Minister of Interior Ahmed Gamal Al-Dine announced an “anti-sexual harassment measures” early in October.
“What happened last Eid was a disaster!” said Nagy. “Until now, there’s nothing in the constitution or the law that protects the girl even if the police sees [someone harassing her],” said Nagy.
“We need a law -- not just measures -- that criminalizes harassment,” he added.
The Egyptian law defines harassment under three categories specifically: “insulting” (Article 306), “indecent behavior” (article 278), and “sexual assault” (article 268).
Founder of imprint Nasser said “harassment cases may take from one to three years to be decided in a court of law, while a harasser’s punishment [can take] three months.”
Egypt’s ministry of interior recently announced that “surveillance cameras will be installed in streets and squares in Cairo to detect incidents of sexual harassment,” according to Al Ahram.
Nasser commented on this by asking: “isn’t it better to prevent harassment from happening rather than videotaping the act as it happens?”
Harassment on the rise
Some men find harassment one way to “have fun” during Eid, Nagy explained. “They think women are enjoying being harassed” when a passerby compliments them, he said.
“It’s all about culture,” he added, whether in Egypt or the Arab region in general, “We don’t have enough knowledge about women respect... that could be the outcome.”
Contrary to the common belief that women who do not wear modest clothes are the ones most subject to harassment, statistics show that 72 percent of girls who are harassed in Egypt are those who wear the Islamic headscarf, according to Nagy.