From the moment protests began in Egypt on January 25, women have been on the frontlines, demanding respect for the human rights of all Egyptians.
On Tuesday, in honor of International Women’s Day, women assembled in Tahrir Square to claim their human rights, the Washington Post reported. However, the demonstration was marred by an angry mob of men who beat and sexually assaulted the female marchers, insisting that a woman could never be president and objecting to women’s demands to have a role in drafting a new constitution.
The Washington Post reported, “Everyone was chased. Some were beaten. They were touching us everywhere,’ said Dina Abou Elsoud, organizer of the ambitiously named Million Woman March.”
In contrast to the status of women in Ancient Egypt, a period in Egyptian history which gave rise to powerful female leaders such as Queen Hatshepsut and Queen Cleopatra, women in Egypt today are underrepresented and sexually harassed. The gender-based violence seen in Tahrir square on Tuesday points to the long and difficult struggle that still lies ahead for women in Egypt to fully enjoy their rights.
According to a survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights, 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in Egypt. In addition, “20,000 women or girls [are] raped every year,” as cited in an article by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
This figure, coming from Egypt’s Interior Ministry, implies that about 55 women, on average, are raped daily. “However,” UNHCR reports, “owing to the fear of social disgrace, victims are reluctant to report cases, and experts say the number may be much higher.”
Incidents of sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt occur every day and in broad daylight. Sexual harassment can come in many forms. It can be obscene words, groping, being followed or stalked, lewd, lascivious looks, and indecent exposure.
Yet, the fear of being harassed was not enough to keep the women off of Cairo streets to protest against a government that has allowed the harassment of women to continue. The rampant incidents of sexual harassment against women convey a complete disregard for their human rights. Nehad Abu el Komsan, the Director for the Center for Women’s Rights told the Washington Post, “Egypt was more interested in political than public security … which often mean[s] that officials focused more on preventing political unrest than addressing social ills.” Although the government may say that women’s rights are a priority, women’s rights seem to be taking a back seat to other seemingly more pressing concerns.
The Convention on the Elimination of all form of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) guarantees women the right to the full participation and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.
How can women feel as though they are full citizens if they are constantly at risk of being harassed or raped?
Amnesty is concerned that women’s rights will be sidelined by Egypt’s new government. We urge the Egyptian authorities to respect and protect the human rights of women.
Women and girls from all over the world must unite to raise their voices and speak out against sexual harassment in Egypt and globally and claim their human rights. Sexual violence will only become history if our generation puts a stop to it today.
Heba Dafashy contributed to this post