Sunday, June 17, 2012

Egypt: Women Sexually Assaulted at March Against Sexual Harassment

By RYM MOMTAZ | ABC News – June 14, 2012

Egyptian activists held a daylong blogging and tweeting campaign to end
sexual harassment on Wednesday in response to a violent attack by mobs of
men on a march against harassment in central Cairo on June 8. The men had
groped and sexually assaulted a small group of women in Tahrir Square
who'd assembled to protest widespread sexual harassment.

Though sexual harassment has been an issue in Egypt for years, activists
say it has been used, over the past year, as a political tool by the old
guard in order to counter the revolution that toppled president Hosni
Mubarak in February 2011.

"Since March 2011 there has been an increased trend of sexual assault and
harassment, especially by the military and police," alleged Mozn Hassan,
executive director of Nazra, a feminist group.

During the early days of Egypt's revolution in 2011, prior to Mubarak's
departure, activists said that protests were remarkably free of the
groping and harassment that has long marked public gatherings in Egypt.
But since Mubarak stepped down, incidents of sexual harassment and assault
against female activists have made international headlines.
Military-administered "virginity tests" of detained female protestors were
followed by a brutal assault on female protestors by policemen in November
2011 and the internationally circulated photos, in December 2011, of a
veiled woman beaten to the ground by soldiers, ripping off her clothes to
expose her blue bra.

While the attack on June 8 was not carried out by members of the armed
forces, activists say it was the same kind of group assault in which a mob
of men, sometimes as many as 50 at a time, surrounded a woman, groped and
stripped her, and inserted their fingers into her private parts. One
female activist who said she was assaulted recounted on her blog, "The
moment I fell, hands were reaching to my pants unfastening them,
instinctively I fought to refasten as I was trying to get up […] the mob
was all over me with seemingly no one able or willing to help out."

Some activists believe the attack was a premeditated attempt to discourage
women from taking part in political life. "The men were very determined,
they were moving in groups, they all knew each other and it just felt
organized, reminiscent of the Baltagiya during the revolution," said Shady
Khalil, a protestor who participated in the June 8 march. The "baltagiya"
refers to mobs of men believed to have been paid by the Mubarak regime to
attack the protestors in Tahrir Square, famously carrying out one raid on

@jazkhalifa, a tweeter participating in Wednesday's online campaign,
expressed a feeling widely echoed online. "Sexual harassment," wrote
@jazkhalifa, is a tool to keep women out of the public spaces (streets)
and forcing them into the private spaces (homes)."

Activists concede that they cannot prove that the attack was a coordinated
effort, though they claim it is consistent with what they allege has been
a concerted effort by the ruling military regime to discredit the
revolution and discourage women from taking part in protests.

Despite the many reported incidents and promises of investigations,
activists say there is a culture of impunity that surrounds sexual
harassment. "There is no political will to punish anybody, whether
civilians or members of the armed forces who are supposed to protect
people," said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch. "This signals that the
state doesn't prioritize combating violence against women and that it is
acceptable". The "virginity tests" of 2011 were the only alleged incidents
of abuse to have been investigated and the alleged perpetrators were
officially exonerated.

Yet while accountability is lacking, activists note that the revolution
has made people more likely to speak up and report incidents. But Engy
Ghozlan, who co-founded HarassMap, a website that uses crowdsourcing to
map incidents of sexual harassment in Cairo, acknowledges that they are
fighting entrenched behavior. "In our society," said Ghozland, "men [need
to] understand that my presence as a woman is acceptable and not an attack
on them. This cannot be achieved by a president or one person. It is a
very long-term process."

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