Women in Egypt suffer more sexual violence under Islamist rule

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Sexual violence against women in Egypt has increased in the post-revolutionary Islamist rule, according to official reports and rights activists.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality said in a report published on May 23 that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual violence.

Nearly 50 percent of women reported more harassment after the revolution; 44 percent said the level of harassment remained the same before and after the revolution. Meanwhile, more than 58 percent of men surveyed said harassment increased after the revolution.

Egypt's general directorate of moral police at the ministry of interior reported that 9,468 cases of harassment, 329 sexual assaults and 112 cases of rape took place in 2012.

Activists say the figures released by the government are smaller than the actual ones because many women do not report cases of harassment against them to the police in fear of shame.

The U.N. study found that only 19 percent of women actually report sexual violence against them to the police. It said 32.2 percent keep quiet and move away from the scene, while 26.9 choose to insult or hit back the assailant.

Frightening women away

info graphic: Courtesy U.N
info graphic: Courtesy U.N

“What is different now [post-revolution], and why this has been brought to public and international attention, is that we’re witnessing a number of very violent assaults and rape,” Diana Eltahawy, a researcher at Amnesty International Egypt, told Al Arabiya English.

Manal Abdul Aziz Ali, a Cairo-based journalist said, “Today, neither a foreigner nor an Egyptian can enjoy a sense of safety... because of the noticeable rise in the rate of crime and harassment against women.”

The reported rise of sexual violence against women is often attributed to security deterioration and the rise of radical Islamists who seek to frighten women away from public places where anti-Islamist protests take place.

Salafist preacher Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah said earlier this year that women protesting in Tahrir Square are “no red line” because they “have no shame and want to be raped,” a statement which was perceived as a sanctioning of violence against women.

Egyptian women now “have to think twice” before attending demonstrations, Abdul Aziz Ali said, “not because [women] fear tear gas or even bullets, but because of the harassment being practiced by some thugs and parties to discourage revolutionaries from participating in such events.”

Various groups have been formed to defend decry sexual violence against women in Egypt/ Operation Anti Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard bring together volunteers to stop attacks in Tahrir Square, where the police are largely absent.

On Jan. 25 2013, as thousands of Egyptians marked the second anniversary of their uprising, at least 19 women were sexually assaulted, Operation Anti Sexual Harassment reported.

“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,” the group said, according to AFP.

“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.”

Lack of support

Despite civil-society groups banding together to ensure that women are protected, there is a general lack of legal and medical support available to victims, Dalia Abd el-Hameed, gender and women’s rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Al Arabiya English.

“Medically, there are no protocols to deal with sexual violence. Rape survivors aren’t being provided with emergency contraception. There’s no protocol on conducting testing for sexually transmitted infections,” she added.

“Psychological support is also not widely available for these women.”

Added to the apparent lack of emotional support, the state’s apparatus for upholding the law, the police, is also said to be failing victimized women.

“When women go to police stations to report sexual harassment, their claims are dismissed or police officers harass the survivor,” Amnesty International’s Eltahawy said.

“On the legal level, police officers aren’t well trained to receive women’s complaints, and sometimes their questions further traumatize the survivors,” women’s rights officer, el-Hameed added.

Many women are resorting to self-defense classes, which are organized for free by Tahrir Bodyguards.

The aim is to combat “systematic political suppression against women,” activist Jumana Shehata told Al Arabiya. “We’ll continue to take to the streets of Tahrir, no matter the price.”

Mursi speaks !

On March 24, Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi announced a new initiative to support and expand women’s rights.

“The initiative will put an end to any attempts to marginalize women, diminish their rights, or suppress their freedom and dignity,” he stated.

However, his announcement came “without consultation with survivors or women’s rights organizations,” Eltahawy noted, questioning the viability of such a scheme.

Dr. Omaima Kamel, a Freedom and Justice Party's member and advisor to Egypt’s president, announced in May that the government plans to prepare a law designed specifically to protect women from violence and ensure perpetrators are punished, IKHWAN Web, the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website reported.

“Experts recommended that all state institutions, civil society and religious institutions should pull together to confront the phenomenon of violence against women, as well as confirmation of the importance of developing short-term plans and long-term strategies to deal with the issue.”

Aza al-Garf, a female MP in the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, was contacted by Al Arabiya English but declined to comment on the subject.

Non-governmental organizations and human rights groups “haven’t been consulted in these initiatives, and we’re still not sure about their efficacy,” Abd el-Hameed said.

The way forward, states Eltahawy, is to raise awareness on the issue.

“What is needed in Egypt is to acknowledge that this is happening, and to bring perpetrators to justice to discourage other acts."

In order to make progress, there needs to be female police officers and prosecutors who can address this issue, to help women feel more comfortable about sharing their experiences, she added.

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