“I Saw Harassment”, a non-governmental initiative countering sexual violence against women, led an awareness campaign Monday evening in one of Cairo’s dynamic districts in El-Korba, Heliopolis, by randomly addressing passers-by on the issue of sexual harassment.
“We observed a positive response from male citizens, who usually put the blame on women. Our team aimed at convincing them of one absolute truth, which is that women do not bear the responsibility of their exposure to sexual violence,” Fathi Farid, coordinator of the initiative, told Daily New Egypt Tuesday.
Farid added that they also explained the legal consequences and punishment they could face as a result of that crime. Sexual harassment is punishable by a fine and a prison sentence of one year, subject to increase if the perpetrator is in a position of power over the victim, such as being armed or being a public official.
When addressing women, the initiative focused on sending several message, such as “do not be scared to face the harasser”, “expose them”, and most importantly reinforce the idea that as victims, they are not to blame.
Having been active for several years now, “I Saw Harassment” established a fast guide for rescue calls. These were distributed during their campaign in order to help women report sexual harassment incidents they face in public and work spaces, in addition to private places, including among family members.
Those telephone numbers include hotlines for the Ministry of Interior’s department for fighting violence against women, as well as for metros, and the complaints department at the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and NGO El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
“We see that in general younger women are more aware and receptive to the messages. But for men, it is hard to determine which age group is more attentive to the issue,” Farid stated.
Moreover, the capital and big cities differ from other governorates, let alone rural areas. “At least in Cairo, there is a public admittance of the issue, but the further you get from the big cities, the more the denial of the problem, which eventually changes to speaking of the consequences and the pain suffered from the violations,” Farid explained.
When asked about the main obstacle they face in those areas, Farid said “mocking the initiative, which brings down the morale of the team”. However, he added that “at least the assaults on team members have ended”.
The issue of sexual harassment in Egypt had taken a violent pattern in the recent years, particularly after the 25 January Revolution, especially during protests. But even before that, group harassment had increased; whether in the case of a group of men targeting several girls during events that include large public assemblies and public holidays, or a group of men targeting a single woman.
In mid-July, and with the end of the holy month of Ramadan and celebrations of Eid El-Fitr, there would be higher expectations and preparations to counter sexual harassment in streets.
“For that occasion, we call on the Ministry of Interior to be ready with training security forces and to provide female police officers to support sexual harassment victims,” Farid said.
The act itself – verbal or physical – is not the only thing the victim has to suffer. The legal prosecution of the perpetrator(s), for those who try to, is also often an emotionally and physically tasking process, mainly because it is nearly impossible for a women to catch the harasser and drag him to the police station.
“That is why it is very important that the ministry enables victims to file police reports on the spot, at the location of the incident, instead of requiring them to go to police stations,” Farid concluded.