Monday, June 20, 2011

Violence against women and harassment against women in Egypt

Dear readers

I mentioned in my last post that my nanny was assaulted on Friday for being Sudanese or dark skinned. However, I told this story to my class, and again on the bus, and now I am beginning to wonder if gender is a factor as well. As we say in the social sciences, perhaps there is an interaction effect between race and gender.

First of all, earlier this semester, a female student at the AUC campus was walking to her car at night. She was physically assaulted by a male assailant, and left with cuts and bruises, although she was able to fight him off. The guards did not come to her assistance, and when pressed, suggested that she had mental health problems.

In addition, an African American female student of mine who was veiled or covered, (i.e. she wore hijab) was also physically assaulted earlier this semester. At the time, I did not ask her the details, but we were concerned that it was due to her dark skin color. Then, last night, when I was telling my class this story, another brown skinned female student told me that she had been attacked in the metro. She defended herself, and had rocks thrown at her, and was left with cuts on her cheeks. Not only did the men and women around her not assist her, but the men around actually joined in on the attack like a mob.

So, at this point in the narrative, i.e. last night, I thought that perhaps dark skinned women are vulnerable to attack in Egypt. However, I got in the bus this morning, and a colleague, an archeologist, very blonde, very pretty, and very white, was recounting how she was physically assaulted by security in Cairo Airport. A male colleague was with her and confirmed her story. I told her that I had a female student attacked in the metro. She told me that she herself had been attacked in the metro, and that she had also had rocks thrown at her. She says that she has seen Egyptian women harassed as well.

Okay, so now I have several stories 1) an Egyptian student, veiled, 2) a Sudanese nanny unveiled, 3) an African-American student veiled, 4) an African-American student unveiled, 5) a white professor unveiled. When I read these stories together, I see that the only thing these people had in common is that they were women, and that they were violently attacked, and that no one helped them.

This makes me think that the Laura Logan assault, and the "virginity testing" incident are not matters of oppression of journalists, or violence by the SCAF. Rather, perhaps there is a real problem of violence and harassment of women in Egypt. This is by no means a representative sample, yet apparently other people have done quite a bit of research on this.

Please see the following links I found on this topic.

Egyptian Center for Women's Rights Report on Violence Against Women in Egypt. 

Nadeem Center: Women Speak Out

National Council on Women Study: Egypt Violence Against Women 

Your thoughts are welcome. WMB

Post script. (1:44 p.m.) Dear readers, I am seriously not making this up. I just checked twitter, and look what I found.

International Blogging Day Against Sexual Harassment ignites in Egypt.


  1. This is really scary. It reminds me of the upsurge in violence against women that has been going on in Russia really for the past two decades, since the end of the Soviet Union. One of the biggest unexpected aspects of the transition in the former USSR area was an overall breakdown of order in society; not just law-and-order, but social norms of self-restraint. And it seems that whenever this happens in any society, women are the victims in hugely disproportionate numbers as the community takes on Hobbesian aspects. Guillermo O'Donnell's essay from his _Counterpoints_ Collection (1999), "On the State, Democracy, and some conceptual problems" discusses some important implications for the construction of new democracy of the rise of general disorder, and it seems in Egypt, as in Russia, we are seeing gender-directed violence as one of the most horrifying by-products of the rise of disorder.

  2. From reading the websites you quoted, it seems as if women become victims all over the world whenever men figure out that they can get away with committing crimes of violence against women. It's not just in Egypt, but it's certainly a problem for women in Egypt. The only fix is to have a government that makes punishing violent offenders, especially when the victim is female, and especially if the offenders are police officers, a priority.

  3. Dear Henry

    You have made an important point. This is a problem world wide. I think we also need behavioral education, and social change in addition to tougher punishments.

  4. Hello and thank you for the interesting post and comments.

    I recently attended a session organised by Nazra for Feminist Studies against Sexual Harassment and Gender Violence with a blog and twitter event to precede it #EndSH, an event that discussed (mainly while I was there) the issue of sexual harassment.

    Although I left Egypt 13 years ago and now back for the summer, I found out that the issue of sexual harassment against women seems to be on the rise and / or has not changed since I left Egypt 13 years ago, where I too had personal experiences of harassment.

    I have written a post about the event and there are efforts that have been going on to raise awareness. Many women had blogged their experiences.

    Perhaps there is a rise of violence and sexual violence against women in post revolution Egypt, but sexual harassment has been around for many years before the revolution and it is an issue that needs to be looked at from many angles. I feel it's like an epidemic and it's one of the reasons why I don't live in Egypt anymore.

    Being able to walk freely without the fear of harassment is a quality I can't give up.

    Kindly check out my post:

    I filmed parts of the event and I will try posting some clips soon. It was clear from the conversations that all women are harassed sexually whether veiled or not.