Friday, February 22, 2013

Women in Egypt Two Years After the Revolution

Various organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have expressed their concern with the epidemic of violence and sexual assault of women in Egypt. While harassment and gender inequity have persisted throughout Egypt for decades, the level of sexual assaults at anti-government demonstrations have risen both in numbers and intensity the past year reaching its height late January and early February 2013, which marked the two year anniversary since the fall of autocrat Mubarak (USAtoday). During a three-week period, dozens of women have reported being stripped, groped, and raped at demonstrations across Egypt.

Many activists exclaim that sexual harassment in Egypt is a reality and expect little to be done by police, but are refusing to be silenced. Throughout the world, people gathered outside Egyptian embassies in early February to denounce the occurrence of violence against women and particularly against female protestors (Trew). Statements made by the Shura council, the Salafi movement, other ultra-conservative Islamist that placed blame on the victims fueled the backlash of the violence. “They basically said that women are responsible for the horrendously violent attacks on Tahrir and said we should have specially designated areas for women to protest. We might as well have a separate Egypt for women,” said Mariam Kirollos, a member of the Human Rights Watch and a member of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment movement (Trew). Some activists believe, and I think they are correct, that the attacks are aimed at excluding women from public places, silencing them and breaking their spirits. “Women have been a vital part of protests and have sacrificed much in their fight for freedom and social justice.  Egyptian authorities need to honour their activism and pull out all stops to address endemic violence against women in all echelons of society,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International (Amnesty International).

Groups such as the Tahrir Bodyguards who have promised to protect female demonstrators have offered self-defense courses and also patrol the square. Further, videos of the assaults and marches have taken place in order to raise awareness about this issue (USAtoday). The fact that women are coming forward to talk about their harassment is a good sign for Egypt as it is typically seen as taboo. Michelle Bachelet Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women urges Egyptian leaders to put in place the legislation and mechanisms that ensure the protection of women and children and for women to continue to fight for their rights. “As a vibrant force in civil society, women continue to press for their rights, equal participation in decision-making, and the upholding of the principles of the revolution by the highest levels of leadership in Egypt” (United Nations). 

My huge thanks to my GA Jillian Underwood, who helps me stay on task in the blogosphere!


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