Necessary Reform to Egyptian Law & Procedure

The unfortunate reality is that Egypt currently does not have a law that addresses sexual harassment specifically. Engy Ghozlan, cofounder of HarassMap, says “The laws we have are insufficient. They do not criminalize sexual harassment of women and in the end it all depends on which judge you get “Currently sexual harassment can be tried under three articles of criminal law which are humiliation, inappropriate behavior, and rape.

While we have largely focused on the opinions and statements of non-state actors, it is interestingly to look at a statement from a formal prosecution official. According to the Egypt Independent Abdallah al-Mahdy, the head of Agouza (a Cairo District) prosecution services, states “”There are no loop holes in the judicial system, but the process is relatively long especially since a doctor’s opinion is needed in the case of rape for instance,”

However, Magda Boutros of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal rights disagrees by stating:
“Legal revisions and amendments are what is needed for the sexual harassment issue in Egypt,” she says.  “The law of indecent exposure of a female is only for public incidents – what about the cases that happen in private, at work, in schools and at a hospital? These are all loopholes that exist in our judicial system.”

The reality is that the Egyptian legal process in regards to sexual harassment needs to be completely overhauled.  There was fierce debate and pressure from activists to introduce a bill dealing strictly with harassment during the Mubarak era.  However, this initiative appears to have taken a backseat after the Egyptian revolution result in security and economic crisis engulfing the nation.

Leverage politics must be utilized to achieve this long due reform to the justice code.  It is an issue of human rights.  One must not ignore that Egypt is the second largest recipient of American aid after Israel. Ideally, there would material leverage over the issuing of this aid until the law was overhauled.  However, this will not be the policy of the any administration since Egypt’s role is providing stability within the region is far more pressing.  A strong and organized campaign can however put severe pressure under Egyptian legislators to overhaul the law.  The current majority of the Egyptian Parliament is Islamic led.  Ideally, they would address this issue since it is strictly against Islamic teachings.  While certain factions may believe in strict segregation of sexes and complete veiling of women, they must face the reality that VEILED women are harassed equally as unveiled women.  As a result, it is a national epidemic which does not differentiate victims in traditional terms of religion, dress, and nationality.

Unfortunately it appears that they do not share this sentiment, MP Azza El-Garf also known as “The Michele Bachmann of Cairo” of the Freedom and Justice Party. Garf, who is one of the very few female parliamentarians in the Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly, has called for the cancellation of the anti-harassment law. She justified her claims by stating that the indecent attire of women is what invites sexual harassment, hence harassers are not to be blamed.

Through accountability politics, the previous government had yielded to pressure by activists and acknowledged the problem.  While the current situation in Egypt may prolong the necessary changes to the law, there must be persistent activism to keep the issue alive.

While some may believe that harsher penalties are the answer, there are extreme difficulties in reporting the actual incident. Boutros sates that “Some victims were abused at police stations while reporting a harassment incident,”

One must also realize the taboo nature associated with such reports by discouraging victims to report the incident due to the shame that society associates with harassment.

Boutros proposes a simple yet important requirement which is here has to be a private room for harassment cases with a female police officer to make it less embarrassing for the victim,” .

Furthermore, “There have to be legal measures to protect the victim from the assaulter or his family during prosecution and trial.”  The current system provides little confidentiality to victims filing reports.  The Egyptian Independent cites the case of Catherine, an American woman living here, was sexually harassed in Heliopolis and decided to take the offender to the police station to report the incident.  Catherine stated “The police released all of my personal information (phone number, address, passport number etc.) to the guy and his family,” explains Catherine. “I know this because the next day I received a phone call from the guy’s fiance wanting to meet me.”

While the new draft law criminalizing such attacks currently is being discussed, many still view the harassment law as being hard to enforce in the absence of a completely competent security apparatus in the country.

Lebanese Nasawiya, “The Adventures of Salwa” & Delete Article 522

Throughout this blog, we have examined sexual harassment within the context of Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia.  However, it is vital to take a look at the activism involving this issue in Lebanon.  Lebanon, like various Middle-Eastern countries, is experiencing increasing rates of sexual harassment.

Lebanese activist have undertaken the difficult battle to combat sexual harassment in Lebanon’s streets and in all realms of Lebanese society.  They strongly believe that  “Public space and private space is OUR space, and we have a right to exist without harassment on the basis of our sex, race, gender, or any other criteria.”

Nasawiya, a feminist collective in Lebanon, is attempting to carry out these ambitious goals through several initiatives which include anti-harassment campaign the Adventures of Salwa and Delete Article 522.

Who is Nasawiya?

According to Nawaiya’s website, they describe the organization as :

“Nasawiya is a group of young feminists who are working together to recreate a world free from sexism, and all other forms of exploitations and discriminations that collaborate with it: classism, heterosexism, racism, capitalism, etc. We see all these problems as interrelated and equally oppressive, yet we insist on addressing them from a progressive grassroots feminist perspective.

We are aware that our mission may sound too ideal, and that the issues we are addressing may seem controversial, some even taboo. Yet we believe it is time we went to the root causes of our problems; it is time we embraced the people that have long been silenced, by our society and then by many of the human rights groups in it. We strive to not only be a movement of educated and privileged women, but a movement by and for the single mothers, the refugees, the disabled, the sex workers, the migrant workers, the people of non-conforming gender identities and non-conforming sexualities, etc. We understand that we have been taught to believe that we do not have much in common, but having been united in marginalization, we can make an effort to unite in seeking a change in ourselves and in our society.

This change in ourselves and in our communities is first and foremost one of healing, of openly talking about the multiple sources of our pain—our personal and collective histories, in non-judgmental, women-friendly environments, and then working together to eliminate these problems.”

Nasaiywa’s Work Strategy:

“The Adventures of Salwa”

Nasawiya has taken a very innovative approach to the  epidemic of sexual harassment by launching The Adventures of Salwa is a campaign that raises awareness on sexual harassment through a series of videos and illustrations depicting the daily life of young Salwa.

According to The Adventures of Salwa website, “Salwa is an ordinary Lebanese girl that has been selected to be the spokeswoman for the campaign launched by a group of young feminists to combat sexual harassment.

Salwa and her sisters felt that the physical sexual harassment and the verbal abuse have reached a certain point that can no longer be tolerated in all the streams of the Lebanese society, being in the streets, transportation, workplace, schools and homes.

Therefore, they decided to launch this campaign to say to women who have been subjected to harassment, that the first step to combat it, is to break the taboo and start talking about it”

In my opinion, this campaign largely utilizes the notion of symbolic politics since Salwa can be interpreted by viewers as being a sister, mother, wife, or daughter.    Through this symbolic interpretation Nasawiya hopes to create awareness and increase their supporters.  While the issue may initially appear distant to various members of Lebanese society, Salwa really brings the issue closer to home by portraying herself as an ordinary Lebanese girl which effects almost every Lebanese family.

Delete Article 522

This campaign was recently launched on April 2, 2012 targeting the elimination of Article 522 from the Lebanese Penal Code, and drawing attention to outrageous loopholes within the law.  Amazingly, Article 522 allows a rapist to be exonerated of crimes if he marries his victim.  However, this legal loophole is not limited to rape but also in rape of a minor or disabled person, child molestation, and kidnapping.  It is incomprehensible that the Lebanese legal system would allow for the equivalent of a “get out jail free card” for these vicious crimes.

The official Delete 522 explanations for their motives of getting this law annulled are as follows:

  1. “It does not only apply to rape, but to all articles in the section (503 – 521) that include including rape of a minor, rape of a person with a mental or physical disability, sex with a minor, molestation of children, sexual harassment of children, exploitation of someone in a weaker position and forcing someone into sexual acts, kidnapping of women or girls (with or without intention of marriage). In all of these cases, Article 522 exonerates the criminal of his crime if he marries the victim. And yes, in all Lebanese confessional laws, women can get married under 18 (ages vary by sect).
  2. While it is clearly outrageous to us that a survivor of rape or sexual violence would want to marry her rapist, many families still view this as an “honorable” escape of the shame of rape and could force their daughter to accept it.
  3. The mere fact of having such an article in our Panel Code offers the rapist / child molester / kidnapper an escape clause which enforces the general mentality that sex criminals can get away with their crimes. And it encourages convicted rapists of seeking marriage with their victims.
  4. Because of this article, criminals who can prove intentions to marry their victims can gain the sympathy of the judges and receive a reduced sentence for their crimes even if they don’t end up with a marriage.”

In my opinion, this campaign utilizes leverage politics specifically moral leverage.  By bringing this issue to the public spotlight, domestic and international, they are putting increased pressure on legislators. This can also be referred to as “mobilization of shame” since the assumption is that governments value the good opinion of others.  Through campaign, the credibility of the Lebanese government can face serious harm.  If this initiative is able to gain the support of strong institutions such as the U.N. or powerful NGOs, this seemingly fragile coalition of activists can gain influence which far surpasses their ability to influence state practice directly.

Phone Stalking —I can vouch for this first hand!

While sexual harassment in Egypt has been addressed on this blog largely within the context of pshyical and verbal attacks, it is important to note that phone stalking is another form of abusive that has increased largely as a byproduct of this epidemic.  Furthermore, the large increase of mobile phone usage in Egypt has only added to the issue which presents itself within the form of phone calls and texts.

According to the BBC, “Most of the harassment – calls and texts – are from young men who ring numbers at random” At the youth magazine Teenstuff, the girls we interviewed said they’d all experienced some form of phone stalking.

“I was once stalked by someone I know,” said 16-year-old Safeya Zeitoun. “He would call every hour.”

“I give the phone to my brother and he shouts at them,” said another 16-year-old, Marwa Makhlouf .

“I had a guy who kept calling me at 0400,” said Mona Bassell, 17. “He said: ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ as if he was a friend. I told him to stop calling but he said: ‘No, I want to get to know you.’

Nihad Qomsan, from the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, states “We know of some cases where it has turned nasty,” “We have had cases where the caller tells her, ‘I know you, I know your address’ or ‘I know where you work or where you study’. And he keeps calling – then the language becomes more threatening or insulting. By then it is too late.”

I personally have frequently holidayed in Egypt, and I can verify that phone harassment is very prevalent.  I have seen this occur with the majority of females in Egypt that I have interacted with.  While I don’t possess a legitimate statistical figure, I guarantee the readers of this blog that it is rampant!

Taking the Online momentum of HarassMap Offline–[crowdsourcing] To the streets! To the People!

While HarassMap may have made a strong impact online empowering victims of sexual harassment in Egypt to voice their grievances, it is only a natural part of this initiative’s evolution to have get deeply engaged with Egyptian society on the ground.  In essence, the soul behind HarassMap is the notion of crowdsourcing which implies organizing many people to participate in a joint project, often in small ways.  The online aspect of HarassMap is built around crowdsourcing by building up a database through reports of individual incidents of sexual harassment in Egypt.  However, there is a limit to the successes that can be achieved strictly through online activism.

Based on the data gathered on the website which displays places where harassment is widespread, the goal is to encourage shopkeepers to offer their premises as “safe spaces” where women can come if they feel threatened. Rebecca Chiao, cofounder of HarassMap states,  “But the website is only 5% of what we do,” continued. “We spend all of our time organizing in the streets.” Each month, mixed-gender outreach teams go out in their own neighborhoods to talk to café owners, gas station employees, local policemen, and other people who are on the street on a regular basis – to raise awareness about the issue of sexual harassment, and recruit local neighborhood “guardians.” The aim is to change the environment in the Egyptian streets so that harassers are no longer tolerated and encourage bystanders to speak up and defend victims of sexual harassment – whenever it happens.

While engaging the public can be achieved through online channels, Egypt is a situation where there is only 24% internet penetration nationwide.  HarassMap realizes this reality, and I believe it is the basis of its long term strategy.   Personal participation is essential relationship building and conversing with people allow organizations to engage individuals, correct misunderstandings, education, and help spread the intended message.


Photo Source: HarassMap Facebook Page

Chiao has also stated “Our main target group is bystanders. Our main goal is to change the environment in the streets that tolerates harassment behavior So we don’t target the harassers themselves directly. We target them indirectly by trying to build a community that makes it more uncomfortable for harassers to act like they do now. The way that we approach them is not so much as NGO people, or outsiders in any way. We don’t tell people what they should be doing, what they shouldn’t be doing. We talk to them as neighbors. We do our community outreach in the neighborhoods of our volunteers themselves. So we train community captains to assemble community outreach groups in their own neighborhoods, and we equip them with “lessons learned”, or ways that we’ve found successful from our other volunteers, to raise this issue in their neighborhoods. 

And the first thing our volunteers do is they go to the people in their own streets. They introduce themselves, and discuss with them as neighbors about this problem, that isn’t a recent problem. It’s not an Egyptian tradition, it’s not in line with Egyptian values it’s not in line with either religion here. It’s something that’s recent and completely out of step with the traditions and values.

That’s the first thing they bring up. They talk about the days when our streets used to be free from harassment as it is now. When neighbors, people in the areas, used to witness harassment, the people in the street would stand up and defend the victim, and would speak out against it and tell the harasser not to do it. Even to the extent they would chase down the harassers and shave their heads as a mark of shame. And everyone knows the ones with shaved heads were caught harassing. This is the tradition.

So when we approach people in the community outreach, first we’re approaching our own neighbors. Second, we don’t tell them, “You shouldn’t do this”. We tell them “remember the days when it wasn’t like this. Weren’t things better then? Wouldn’t it be great if we could together make this happen again and be proud of our streets and be proud of the dignity and culture of our society?”

I believe that HarassMap’s strategy will be successful in the long run, because it takes into account the difficulties that are an inherent part of engaging the public on subjects that have long been considered taboo.  It’s much easier to engage fellow members of your own community since there is an understanding for the ultimate goal of communal benefit.  I believe this approach also considers that there will be critic among the target audience.  It is inevitable that organization will engage people who may have legitimate concerns.  One should not avoid criticism since it may prove to be an opportunity to understand and build relationships with the critics.  While it may not be initially success in certain cases, one msut realize that building relationships takes consistency and practice.  Within the context of sexual harassment, it is almost certain that even the extreme critics do not wish their wives, mothers, daughters, or sisters to be victimized in this brutal manner.

Idealistically, the long term goal of the HarassMap team would even extend to connecting their system to the police network to allow the forces of law and order to react quickly and catch offenders.  However, this integration does not appear likely considering the vast array of issues and instability currently facing post Mubarak Egypt.

“Bikya Masr” Timeline of Sexual Harassment in Egypt

Independent News website, Bikya Masr, had a great timeline on its website basically outlining the dates of major incidents and issues regarding sexual harassment in Egypt.  To give a quick overview, I thought this would be a great addition to share with you guys on this blog! Thank you Bikya Masr!


October 2006

Shocking sexual attacks during Muslim feast of Eid

National and international public awareness about sexual attacks in Egypt more or less started October 24, 2006, during the Muslim feast of Eid, when online activists posted videos of gangs of men rampaged through downtown Cairo, assaulting any woman who came near them, whether veiled or not.

Since this accident, Egypt is deploying additional police to a number of locations every year in order to combat any possible outbreaks of mass sexual attacks during these holidays.

NOTE: Every Eid holiday since the October 2006 incident has seen a massive number of attacks against women, in 2007 and beyond.

June 2008

Noha Rushdi’s successful story of breaking the silence

Noha Rushdi, a 27-year-old filmmaker, has been sexually assaulted, by 28-year-old van driver Sharif Gomaa as he drove alongside her, grapping her breasts so forcefully she had to fell. Instead of keeping silence, Noha gave a great interview with the weekly Egyptian independent Al-Yom Al-Saba’a and managed to drag him into the police station.

The man was sentenced to three years in prison under the current sexual harassment laws and fined nearly $900.  

June 2009

Video: Sexual harassment in Egypt

Women News Network published portions of videos, aiming to emphasize the horrific situation facing many women on Egypt’s busy streets: 

July 2009

Egyptian gets 45 years in prison for assaulting women

The “butcher” of Maadi – an upscale Cairo suburb – was sentenced to 45 years in prison on Tuesday in a rare display of punishment over crimes against women in Egypt. According to reports, Mohamed El Sayyed received the sentence after prosecutors argued successfully that he had sexually assaulted at least 9 women in the area, which earned him the nickname in the Maadi area where a majority of his attacks took place.

August 2009

Egyptian women’s group launches “game booklet” to fight harassment against children

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) has launched a new campaign as part of their “Making Our Streets Safer for Everyone” that uses a games booklet to fight sexual harassment against children. The new campaign, titled “Very Important” aims to combat rising sexual harassment toward children in the country.

October 2009

Sexual harassment campaign for Egypt’s streets

When women walk the streets of Cairo, the near constant verbal and physical attacks take its toll. For Mona Hanafi el-Siofi it was simply too much, so she gathered some friends and decided they needed to take some action. She decided that one way of bringing attention to this growing problem in the country was to hand out pamphlets to perpetrators that listed a series of statements and questions.

Challenging Sexual Harassment on Cairo’s Streets

A new project aimed at combating sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo will soon be launched. The project, called HarassMap, aims to create a map of the ‘hotspots’ of harassment in Cairo – that is, the places where harassment most frequently occurs.

November 2009

Salma Hayek tells of being sexual harassed in Egypt

Salma Hayek told a symposium in Cairo that she was sexually harassed in Egypt when she was visiting the country when she was only 17-years-old. Her comments are likely to strike home for the millions of Egyptian women who complain daily of their poor treatment on Egyptian streets.

December 2009

Egypt: Demands for sexual harassment law

Egyptian human rights and legal activists for women’s rights called on the Egyptian government to issue severe penalties and the criminalization of sexual harassment of women in the street and in the workplace.

They demanded that the labor and penal codes should include more “visible and deterrent penalties to whomever harasses a woman,” expressing their dissatisfaction with the continued worsening of the phenomenon of sexual harassment of girls and women in public parks and streets during holidays.

February 2010

Egypt: Efforts to combat sexual harassment look promising

Egyptian member of Parliament Georgette Kellini of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), submitted a proposal of a draft law to address sexual harassment through the amendment of the Penal Code to the Egyptian Parliament last week.

The move is being welcomed by Egyptian women’s activists, who have long called on the government to take a more proactive stance on the rising problem of sexual harassment in the country.

May 2010

Interview: Police turned me away after sexual assault

Reem is a 21-year-old Egyptian woman who recently graduated from university and is looking forward to the future. Like the vast majority of women in Egypt, she was the victim of a sexual assault that took place in Egypt’s many public spaces: on the bus.

She told Bikya Masr the story of the incident, and more shockingly, what the police did – rather did not do – in response.

November 2010

Egypt reports massive sexual harassment during holiday

Egyptian police stations reported at least 600 incidents of sexual harassment during the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday last week.

December 2010

Safe Cities … Making Cairo safe for all

ECWR launched a public campaign with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), in cooperation with Cairo University and a number of partners of research centers, civil society organizations and governmental and UN institutions to develop and enhance women’s status in Egypt through a world free of violence.

January 2011

4 girls assaulted with acid in Egypt’s delta region

Two masked men threw acid on five female 11th graders after the girls left their school on Tuesday, in Bahareya Governate in the Nile Delta region.

February 2011

Sexual assault of US reporter Lara Logan

CBS US correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaultet last Friday in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in the midst of celebrations at the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. It had happened before, during the same revolution. The only difference was Ms. Logan was a foreigner.

March 2011

Sexual violence returns to Egypt’s spotlight

The sexual assaults against CBS US correspondent Lara Logan sheds light again on the problem of sexual violence and the denial of the problem in Egyptian society, being discussed in the following articles.

June 2011

Stories of harassment on Egypt’s streets

Bikya Masr has compiled some horrifying experiences from women in Egypt and what they face on a daily basis on the streets in order to publicize this growing problem in Egyptian society.

July 2011

Egypt teenager attempts to kill herself after being harassed

A 15-year-old girl jumped out of her second floor apartment in Marsa Matroh on Egypt’s northwest coast after she was sexually harassed by the son of the building’s owner.

August 2011

Egyptian women continue to struggle with the daily sexual violence against them

In a new indication that sexual violence is not restricted to how one dresses in Egypt, a fully-veiled woman was kidnapped and gang-raped for an entire day in Giza. Police arrested five men and have charged them with kidnapping, rape and robbery.

Egypt women launch a new facebook anti-harassment-campaign

An anti-sexual harassment page on Facebook launched an invitation to Egyptian women to go out during Eid, the holiday that follows the month of Ramadan, without worry of being harassed as this is the time of year where sexual harassment intensifies.

November 2011

Two new iPhone apps launched to combat sexual assault

November 2011, two new iPhone apps were lauched to combat violence and sexual abuse.

Harassmap launches new sms aid for reporting sexual harassment

In the same month, Harassmap, a Cairo-based website that monitors and archives all acts of sexual harassment in the greater Cairo area, launched a new SMS short code system aid for reporting sexual harassment.

Egypt man killed after sexually harassing girls

An Egyptian teenager was killed in the city of Mansoura, in the Nile Delta region, on Wednesday after sexually harassing two girls in a public park. The victim, a 16 year-old student, had harrassed two young girls while they were on a walk in a public park, using an electric tazer, which made the girls scream in horror.

Writer Mona el-Tahawy details horrific sexual assault by Egypt police

Award-winning Egyptian columnist Mona el-Tahawy has recounted on her personal Twitter account the sexual assault at the hands of the Egyptian police after she was detained for nearly 12 hours on Thursday morning in Cairo.

French journalist’s assault puts female reporting in Egypt in perspective

After Caroline Sinz, a French reporter for public TV station France 3, became the third women sexual assaulted while reporting from Egypt’s Tahrir Square on Thursday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) advised the media on Thursday night that “there is no other solution” but to hold off on sending female journalists to

January 25, 2012

Women attacked, assaulted in Tahrir on uprising anniversary

At least four women are reportedly attacked by mobs of men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, having their clothes ripped from them and assaulted in horrific fashion. One Arab-American woman spoke out to on the attack.

Activists on Twitter condemned the attacks, demanding the demonstrators take action to end assaults against women.



Culture of Gender Violence Instilled by the Regime [virginity tests, “blue bra girl”] — Past & Present

The reality is that one cannot discuss the topic of gender violence in Egypt without realizing the role government has played in nurturing the culture of terror.  When I speak of the government, I imply the former regime of Hosni Mubarak and the current military junta led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.  The unfortunate truth is that under the Mubarak regime women faced violent sexual oppression and harassment which has not decreased since the fall of the regime.

During the initial months of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the military forced female protestors to undergo “virginity tests”.  The perverse irony of the situation is that these tests were basically forms of sexualized violence yet they justified under the premise of verifying that no other forms of sexual violence had occurred.  An unnamed military general had stated that ““We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place,” he said. “The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs].”

One can argue that there is so much wrong with this statement, but the reality is that one could expect no less from the mentality of individuals that supported the rape of a nation for over 30 years.  Mozn Hassan, director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a Cairo-based research organization, told CNN: “For years, Mubarak’s regime was torturing women, harassing women, detaining mothers and daughters and wives of prisoners to put pressure on them. For sure it’s the culture of the SCAF.”

Human Rights Watch reported that several women were arrested in November and December 2011 due to peacefully protesting.  Furthermore, they were the victims of both verbal and physical assault. These protesters were threatened with rape in detention, and stripped in the street “to deter them from protesting.” This type of brutal enforcement may surprise some, but the reality is that it is a systematic policy.  However, it does not receive the attention it deserves.  To put this brutal culture in a in a recent context, one cite the case of “blue bra girl”  According to Kainaz Amaria of NPR,  this was “A veiled young woman is dragged and beaten by Egyptian military during a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Her face is covered. Her torso is bare, except for her bright-blue bra; she’s a millisecond away from being kicked by a solider.”


The image rapidly transformed into a visual symbol of abuse of power by the Egyptian military.

Within the context of sexual harassment, there are three indictors of a systematic culture of violence which are: public cases of violence such as “blue bra girl”, a history of inaction by “Egyptian government and police forces have done little to nothing to try to prevent sexual assaults or to prosecute those who have committed such acts”, and the brutal virginity tests by the military.

Moreover, Nazra for Feminist Studies has documented various cases since the revolution that have included “arbitrary detention, beatings, attempted chokings, and sexual assault and harassment, including attempts to strip women, threats of rape, insults of a sexual nature, and other kinds of degrading and inhumane treatment.”

This culture of sexualized violence serves three main purposes which are to humiliate, instill fear among the protestors, and to intimidate and silence the media.  In reference to humiliation one can elaborate by stating “Women who were part of the protests were reportedly called “dogs” and “whores” by the security forces, and the “virginity tests” were used to degrade female protesters through physical invasion and insult.”.  Under the second purpose of stilling fear, Magda Adli from the Cairo-based nonprofit El Nedeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence stated to the Daily News Egypt the message that the military wants to get across is ““Stay at home,” and “This is what will happen to you when you go out”.  Furthermore, she emphasizes such methods have been employed for the past 60 years.  Finally, this brutal strategy is aimed at silencing the media specifically stances where there are female journalists reporting on the ground.  It is a strategy based on silencing the messengers but has backfired in two specific cases of journalists like Egyptian American journalist Mona Eltahawy, American journalist Lara Logan, French journalist Caroline Sinz.  Ironically, it brought greater attention to the issue.

Sexual Harassment in Yemen

While Yemen is thought of as a very traditional country where conservative values are highly emphasized and Tribal loyalty takes dominance over state law, Yemen has not been able to escape the epidemic of sexual harassment of women.  The 12th annual Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) 2012 forum provided an ideal platform for an organic exchange of thoughts and initiative about gender issues and equality.

During this venue, Ghaida al Absi, a young Yemeni woman from the Kefiaia Initiative (“enough” in English) discussed the safe-streets campaign she helped organize and lead.  This was ground breaking since it was the first time that sexual harassment had ever been discussed openly or documented in the country.  Interestingly, a survey conducted prior to the campaign launch established that a whopping 98 percent of girls and women in Yemen had experienced some type of sexual harassment.

Absi stated “Society accepts it and women expect that they will be touched and talked to. We were trying to change this perspective and turn it into an abnormality rather than a normality,” The Kefiaia campaign incorporated the launch of an open source map to track incidents of harassment. Kefiaia also joined the Development House media organization in introducing an e-campaign that utilized articles and videos on Facebook and Twitter to call for volunteer work. It is important to note that The Development House is the first media organization in Yemen to concentrate in online social networking.

A separate initiative, during International Anti-Street Harassment Week which was held from March 18-20 under the name of “‘Aad Shi Akhlaq” (‘Are There Still Any Manners?’ was held.  There were several   symposiums on harassment were held in Sana’a which included a seminar and debate concerning the psychological effects of harassment on victims and a symposium headed by lawyer Ahmed al-Wadi’ee on relevant legal questions.  According to the Yemen Times,  “Aad Shi Akhlaq” is a national initiative that was started in December 2011 by five young women: Amani Abdul Qader, Shahba’a Al-Kibsi, Luna Al-Wadi’ee, Ghufran Jamal and Arbeil Nasr. These five women started the initiative as a direct response to unpleasant, personal encounters with on-campus harassment at Sana’a University. In a recent speech at an event by Shahba’a Al-Kibsi, she expresses her opinion and optimistic drive by stating “I hope that we can join hands in curbing this phenomenon before it spins out of control. Harassment is a crime that is punishable by law in many countries because it has negative psychological effects on the harassed. Therefore, it is everybody’s obligation to put a stop to this behavior, something which has become a daily practice in our Yemen, a civilized country with manners and values.”

While overall, one of the main strategies to combat sexual harassment is education and law enforcement, Yemen may benefit from a different approach.  Considering that the majority of Yemen’s population are conservative Muslims, it may prove to beneficial to approach the topic of sexual harassment by Islamic teachings.  This approach may have stronger effect on individuals who value religious teaching over state law.  In the context of Islam, sexual harassment is strictly frowned upon.

There have been similar attempts to implement this type religious outreach.  Interestingly, one such case is Egypt in 2009.  Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments, the government division responsible for the administration of mosques, distributed an informational booklet, Sexual Harassment: Causes and Solutions, in mosques  to 50,000 imams nationwide in Egypt.  The booklet lists five causes of harassment such as “weak religious awareness and mental and cultural emptiness.”  Furthermore, it proposes ways to tackle the problem. “When the imams realize that sexual harassment is a social hazard, and they understand the reasons behind it, then they start spreading the message,” says Salem Geleil, Egypt’s Deputy Minister of Endowments and the booklet’s editor.  While Yemen is not Egypt, both are Muslim majority nations.  This message from a well respected figure such as an Imam during weekly Friday prayers, may have a surprisingly positive outcome in Yemen.,8599,1909361,00.html