More Egyptian women are risking their safety to speak out publically against sexual harassment than ever before.
Women’s rights activists and lawyers in the country say they’ve been influenced by the US #MeToo movement — founded by civil rights activist Tarana Burke — and relaunched by Alyssa Milano, the Washington Post reports.
A year after #MeToo picked up steam in October 2017, the movement continues having an effect on women around the world. This month, women in India — where 1 in 3 women fears and expects sexual harassment — joined the global conversation and shared their stories about enduring inappropriate behavior and assault.
Even though sexual harassment was criminalized in the Egypt in 2014, and President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi pledged to protect women, the Egyptian government considers reporting sexual harassment unacceptable. Authorities have gone as far as to take legal action against those who do.
Culturally, many people in Egypt don’t see anything wrong with sexual harassment, either. Recent polls in the country found that a majority of men and women in the conservative Muslim country approve of the sexual harassment of women who dress “provocatively” in public. It doesn’t help that parliament hunkered down on the government’s ability to police social and print media in July, further preventing women from using those channels to report their cases.
Harassment & sexual assault in #Egypt is not a "one time thing", it is a constant onslaught on a daily basis. It isn't simply that you get harassed once and you are traumatized... It is CONSTANT to the point of normalization & women are then forced to cope. #MeToo— AEM (@AEMahrakawy) October 25, 2018
In September, officials issued human rights activist Amal Fathy a two-year jail sentence for posting a Facebook video about allegedly being sexually harassed and slamming the government for not protecting women. Authorities accused Fathy of lying, but she dodged her sentence by paying a fine. She’s not off the hook yet, however. Now the government is trying to punish her for being a member of the banned April 6 Youth movement, established in 2008 to support the workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra who were planning to strike.
The human rights group Amnesty International is seeking justice for Fathy and other Egyptian women whose lives are put at risk when they report sexual harassment. Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa campaigns director, said Fathy was “not a criminal and should not be punished for her bravery.”
Research by UN Women published in 2013 found 99% of Egyptian women had been sexually harassed either verbally or physically. May El Shamy, a 28-year-old fashion editor from Cairo, is another woman who decided to do something about it.
Shamy is believed to be the first Egyptian woman to file a lawsuit against her superior for harassment, after submitting a complaint against her boss at the newspaper Youm 7 in September. She claimed he harassed her physically and verbally, but her boss denied the allegations and has been able to keep his job as the case is investigated further. Shamy has since been called a terrorist and extremist online, according to the Washington Post.
Even non-Egyptian women are in danger while in the country. In June, a Lebanese tourist was sentenced to eight years in prison after posting about how she was sexually harassed while on vacation there. Her sentence was shortened and she was eventually set free.
While activists worry the backlash against women who speak out will deter other women from coming forward, the fact that anyone’s talking about the issue at all, when the topic had been previously been off limits, still represents progress.