Rampant sexual harassment on Egypt’s public transport

The prevalent mentality that blames the victim for her looks, behavior or clothing must be addressed

Yara al-Wazir
Yara al-Wazir
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According to the United Nations, 99.3percent of women in Egypt have experienced some form of sexual harassment, with 81 percent reporting frequent harassment while using public transport. To tackle this, Cairo’s metro service now features billboards of cartoons that advocate against sexual harassment.

They feature a woman in various scenarios: on the street, the metro or a bus. The emotional toll of harassment on the woman is depicted through thought bubbles as men verbally abuse her. The cartoons remind commuters of the important roles that women play in Egyptian society, for example as doctors, engineers and teachers. They also remind commuters that sexual harassment affects everyone.

Yet the cartoons merely touch on the impact of the harassment, and focus more on the impact on the harasser than on the victim. In a block of images, the cartoons tell the story of how a newlywed wife is “on edge” with her husband, how a teacher now educates with a “cane” after she once taught with conviction, and how a female engineer was so upset because of the harassment that she faced, that the drawings of a bridge she designed had a mistake that jeopardise the integrity of the structure of the bridge. The impact of sexual harassment goes far beyond anxiety, as depicted by the cartoons. Victims live in a constant state of fear. It can lead to depression, insomnia, eating disorders, elevated blood pressure and even suicidal thoughts, according to Shepherd University.

The prevalent mentality that blames the victim for her looks, behavior or clothing must be addressed

Yara al-Wazir

In one cartoon, a woman tries on several outfits, but imagines what negative comments male commuters will make for wearing each one. Yet no link has been found between sexual harassment and clothing in Egypt, as 72 percent of veiled women reported harassment, according a study by the U.N. Population Fund.

Blaming the victim

Sexual harassment was outlawed in Egypt last year, yet women continue to suffer. One of the main factors that contribute to its continuation is the shaming and blaming of women. The audacity of TV presenter Reham Saeed to publically shame a woman for alleged ‘indecency’ after she was slapped in a Cairo mall is a prime example of how society reacts to a woman being harassed.

Saeed scrutinized the way the victim was dressed during the incident, and in private pictures obtained from her mobile phone. Regardless of the backlash against the TV show, the producers would not have agreed to broadcast Saeed’s statements if they did not believe the public agreed with what she said.

Research shows that 98 percent of attacks occur when a woman wears conservative clothing, compared with 2.1 percent of attacks that occur when a woman wears revealing clothing and full-face makeup. There is no correlation between what a woman wears and the probability of her being harassed.

The absence of a safe environment and support system is the biggest hurdle to tackling sexual harassment in Egypt. The prevalent mentality that blames the victim for her looks, behavior or clothing must be addressed. Women must be able to commute to work in safety. They must know their rights and understand that sexual harassment is illegal - 23 percent of victims are not aware of this.

Female-only commuter carriages on the metro, introduced in Egypt in 2007, are the equivalent of a plaster on a gushing wound. The government must work diligently to prosecute attackers.


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.
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