Egypt women wage war against abuse
06 March 2013, 15:46
Cairo - Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female
protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful
testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront
The victims of the attacks have been talking openly about
their ordeals, insisting they will not be intimidated by a campaign they
believe is aimed at shunning them from public life.
"We are not victims, we are revolutionaries. What
happened to us has made us stronger and we will continue" to take to the
streets, said activist Aida al-Kashef.
Harassment of women is by no means new on Egypt's streets,
where they were often the target of verbal abuse and sometimes groping.
But since the revolution that toppled long-time president
Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the problem has snowballed, with women now being
regularly attacked by mobs of men in and around Tahrir Square.
The attackers have stripped women of their clothes with
knives, sexually assaulted them and penetrated them with their fingers.
Yasmine al-Baramawy, who was assaulted in November,
highlighted the degree of violence when during a talk show she held up the ripped
trousers she wore the day she was attacked.
"They gathered around me and started ripping my clothes
off with knives," Baramawy told AFP.
She was then dragged several hundred metres, while being
touched and groped, until residents of neighbouring area saved her from the
"I didn't feel sad or feel that my pride had been
damaged. I felt angry, and I want justice," Baramawy said.
Politically motivated attacks
Outraged Egyptians came together to form groups such as
Operation Anti Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard that bring together
volunteers to intervene to stop the attacks in Tahrir Square where police are
The groups also offer medical and psychological support to
On January 25, as thousands of Egyptians marked the second
anniversary of their uprising, at least 19 women were assaulted, according to
Operation Anti Sexual Harassment.
Some argue the attacks are politically motivated.
"These attacks aim to exclude women from public life
and punish them for participating in political activism and demonstrations.
They are also an attempt to ruin the image of Tahrir Square and demonstrators
in general," said the group.
"This phenomenon requires urgent attention and
treatment, and is linked to the broader social problem of endemic and daily
sexual harassment and assault of women," it said.
"We do not want to use the term 'harassment.' What is
happening today is sexual terrorism," said Inas Mekkawy, a women's rights
activist with the group Baheya.
A large part of the problem lies in the indifference of the
authorities and society's scorn.
"They ask the victim: 'What were you doing in Tahrir?
How were you dressed? What time did you go?" Soraya Bahgat of Tahrir
Bodyguard told AFP.
Another member of the group, Ahmed Shokri, who intervened in
"six or seven" of such attacks, recounts one of the incidents.
"Some people had belts in their hand, others had
knives. You don't know who is doing what. We try to form a cordon around the
women and try to pull them [to safety] into the entrance of a building or a
shop," he told AFP.
"The problem is that there are people who say they are
coming to help, but we don't know if it's true.
"That day, five men told me: 'I'm the brother of the
girl.' I believed the first one, but then there was a second then a third then
a fourth. I understood then that these people know what they're doing,"
To the fury of many activists, members of Egypt's upper
house - the Islamist-dominated Shura Council - recently heaped blame on the
victims because they "know they are going somewhere where there are
thugs," according to local press reports.
One senator even called for the segregation of men and women
during demonstrations, while another said the tents used for the sit-ins in
Tahrir Square had become a place of prostitution.
Abu Islam, a controversial Islamic preacher who owns a
satellite television channel described the women as "naked,
non-veiled", and said they go to Tahrir "to get raped".
The National Council for Women said it had been tasked by
the prime minister with drafting a comprehensive law against all forms of
violence against women.
But activists say they are sceptical about the impact of
such a law in the absence of a real will to apply it.