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Of bra straps and groping – Egypt, enough is enough

We must stop allowing perpetrators to get away with their actions, and we must vilify them instead of the victims

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

This past month has been a rollercoaster for Arab women in the media industry, and indeed women all over the Middle East. It started off with a viral Youtube video of an Egyptian TV reporter being allegedly groped while she reported live, and was followed by news anchor Buthaina Kamel’s bra strap slipping down her shoulder during a live TV broadcast last week.

It was initially reported that Buthaina’s bra incident has put her under investigation and that she was suspended by the broadcaster. Although statements have been made denying this and it is still not clear where the truth lies, public debate was stirred by the accident. No statement was made regarding the harassment of the al-Hayat TV reporter.

Feminist movement stuck in reverse

A U.N. report suggests that 99.3% of Egyptian women have suffered sexual harassment at some point in their lives. What’s worse is that there is a culture of vilifying the victim instead of prosecuting the perpetrator.

We must stop allowing perpetrators to get away with their actions, and we must vilify them instead of the victims

Yara al-Wazir

Feminist movements in the Middle East are at a standstill. While feminists around the world fight for equal rights and equal pay, we’re still stuck fighting for our basic rights to our body. Female participation in the media industry internationally lags, while in the Middle East it flourishes. Theoretically, we should be better than this, but we continue to endanger ourselves and our reputation with our perpetual fixation on what is right and wrong on daytime television, compared to what is actually happening on our streets.

Buthaina’s bra accident can be blamed on the force of gravity. But male harassment can be blamed on a culture that finds it easier to teach women to cover up, than to teach men to keep their distance and respect the female body. While women all over the world fall behind in participating at board meetings, our women are being groped on their way to meetings. This needs to stop.

Instead of concentrating on what the broadcaster deemed to be ‘offensive’, we must concentrate on the real offence: not a bra strap, rather the objectification of women’s bodies on the street, off the street, and in the work place.

Defining right, wrongs, and accidents

The objectification of the female body is not an issue exclusive to women in the Middle East, rather one that is faced internationally. The only difference is that in the Middle East, the lines between right and wrong, blame and fault are blurred due to the poorly exercised constitutions that are meant to protect women from harassment. Groping, and all forms of sexual harassment fall into the wrong category, as does blaming the victim.

A piece of clothing slipping during a live broadcast is an unfortunate accident, and no investigation needs to be called for. However, perhaps the greatest fault of all in this situation is media outlets not using their voices to sound the challenges that women face. When the TV reporter was groped, she was cut off the air. When another TV reporter expressed concern for women being harassed at Sisi’s celebratory rally, the moderator expressed (and later retracted) that it was “boys celebrating”. We must stop allowing perpetrators to get away with their actions, and we must vilify them instead of the victims. That would be the first step in the right direction

Sexual harassment finally prohibited

There is hope, we are moving forward – slowly. The objectification of the female body is not an issue that is exclusive to women in the Middle East; women around the world face it. The only difference is that the region does not pay much attention to enforcing the constitution.

The sexual assault and gang rape of a woman at a rally celebrating President Sisi’s inauguration brought 13 men to court. Sexual harassment was also made an official crime in Egypt this past month. It is tragic that so many women have to suffer gang rape and sexual harassment for the obvious to be made official.

The region has great respect for mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. However, that is not why women shouldn’t be harassed. The reason is simple: before any family labels are attached, women are human beings worthy of respect, regardless of what they are wearing or doing.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.