Sex Mobs Attacking Women In Egypt
Egypt is in the news again, for unsavoury reasons. Thanks to the Egyptian revolution, which has created a significant rift between the conservative fraternity and the liberals, sexual harassment has become rampant with violent mob-style incidents. Dressing in long dresses or baggy trousers with covered sleeves and a head scarf is no protection. Even a “niqab” or Islamic headscarf does not grant safety. And lots of harassers are young men who state that the girls have brought it upon themselves. Women are afraid to walk out on streets to their way to university or work without being groped or harassed. 60% of Egyptian men have admitted to harassing a woman and they are never caught.
This is an after-effect of the non-violent civil revolution in 2011. The military junta stepped down and their old constitution was suspended. The new president Mohammed Morsi was appointed in June this year. Tahrir Square or Martyr’s Square in Cairo is a busy and prominent site for Anti-Morsi demonstrators protesting against the political mayhem. And women, as in any political transition, face the maximum brunt. The shocking fact is that women are being attacked by mobs of angry men. Instances of these incidents reached their peak during Eid. Women seek refuge at nearby restaurants or run for safety to buildings nearby. Women going to work have to hear lewd comments about their clothes and suffer groping and touching - the sordidness increases to the extent of stripping women.
Now women activists have geared up to increase anti-sexual harassment campaigns in Cairo. Volunteers in groups of five take up vigil at public places, cinemas and restaurants. They raise a flag when they spot an incident of harassment. This brings others to help. Wooden towers are serving as watch-towers where men from self-appointed citizen groups wear green vests saying “Combating harassment “. They use binoculars to spot sexual harassment activities. On reaching the spot, some men form a barrier between the attacker and the woman and others take the woman away to safety. They have stun guns or spray paints and take pictures of the harasser and publish them or spray paint the message I am a harasser on him. Activists have also asked men to get off women-only cars at Cairo subway, considered a safe zone in Cairo for women. When these men refused, their pictures were taken and published on the internet.
Women are keeping pepper sprays handy to ward off attackers. The police are of little help – once when a volunteer was harassed, the police took the side of the harasser. In another shocking incident, harassers tried to strip a girl and the campaign activists saved her but her leg was broken in the assault.
This reminds us of atrocities women face in most war zones, be it the partition struggle in India, Kashmir acid attacks or even the barbaric incidents across cities during peace times. Political revolutions and transitions can unleash brutes in human souls, it seems. Or is it a chauvinism that can be curbed only through the fear of law?