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Africa

Sexual harassment, an Egyptian disease

© Sonia Dridi/ FRANCE 24

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Sonia DRIDI

Latest update : 2013-06-10

On June 8th, FRANCE 24 brought you a special programme on sexual harassment in Egypt. FRANCE 24’s Sonia Dridi interviewed one of the few women brave enough to come forward after being raped in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the Egyptian revolution.

It happens almost every time they stroll along the banks of the Nile, meander through downtown Cairo, go grocery shopping or simply ride the bus: Egyptian women must endure indecent remarks and groping.

Whether they wear the Muslim veil or not, whether they are high-school students or housewives, sexual harassment is an everyday blight on the lives of Egyptian women.

According to a study published by a UN group in April of this year, 99.3% of women surveyed say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past, with the vast majority of them saying it came in the form of touching. .

Trapped in Tahrir Square

I was struck by this problem on my first trip to Egypt in 2008.

When I returned to the country in February 2011, as a correspondent for FRANCE 24, I realized that the worrying situation had not gone away.

In fact, it had reached alarming proportions, especially in Tahrir Square, the epicentre and one of the battlegrounds of the revolution that overthrew the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak.
Since the beginning of the 2011 uprising, hundreds of thousands of women joined the protests in Tahrir, but they became easy prey for attackers who took full advantage of the lack of security.

Tahrir became the scene of many sexual assaults. Some – directed at journalists and foreigners – were reported in the international press, but the vast majority targeted anonymous Egyptian women and have gone mostly unnoticed.

I myself was assaulted after a live report to FRANCE 24 from Tahrir in 2012, but escaped a far worse fate thanks to my colleague Ashraf Khalil who stepped in and led me to safety.

Unfortunately, the situation I experienced is commonplace in Egypt and many women do not escape their attackers.

Sexual assaults peaked on January 25, 2013, the second anniversary of the revolution, with at least 20 women attacked in Tahrir Square.

Some activists even say the assaults are part of an orchestrated campaign to keep women from participating in protests.

A woman speaks up

The depressing figures spurred Yasmine El Baramawy to come forward.

Baramawy was raped on November 23, 2012, on the sidelines of a protest against a draft constitution drafted mainly by Islamists. Her ordeal lasted more than one hour.

Her case would have also gone unreported, but earlier this year she bravely shattered taboos by telling her story on a popular Egyptian talk show.

Since then she has embarked on a daily struggle to raise awareness of sexual harassment in Egypt – a disease that rather than being treated is too often accepted, and even encouraged. Like many other activists, Baramawy blames the government for ignoring the issue.

I met her in February 2012 during an anti-sexual harassment march in Cairo. I asked her to once more recount the nightmare she lived through and explain her new crusade. I have also sought out other leaders, academics and activists to help understand the source of the problem.

***

This 26-minute report was followed by a live debate on FRANCE 24 (watch the video above).

Date created : 2013-06-07

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