Egypt drafts le­gal amend­ment en­cour­ag­ing women to report ha­rass­ment

The National - News - - NEWS - HAMZA HENDAWI Cairo

Egypt’s govern­ment drafted an amend­ment to the law to pro­tect the iden­tity of vic­tims of sex­ual violence, a move de­signed to en­cour­age more women to report such of­fences.

The amend­ment was passed on Wed­nes­day, af­ter scores of vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment or as­sault in Egypt broke their si­lence and shared their ex­pe­ri­ences on­line.

The un­usu­ally can­did ac­counts came af­ter a man was ar­rested last week amid ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault and black­mail from about 50 women.

Pros­e­cu­tors charged the man, a for­mer stu­dent at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity in Cairo, of try­ing to sex­u­ally as­sault two women and an un­der­age girl and black­mail­ing oth­ers.

The case un­leashed a wave of anger over how such crimes are pros­e­cuted.

It also led to some soul search­ing about the sta­tus of women in Egypt’s pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety and how they are ob­jec­ti­fied in pub­lic.

The Na­tional Coun­cil for Women, a state agency with a man­date to pro­tect women’s rights and wel­fare, said it re­ceived about 400 com­plaints about violence against women be­tween July 1 and July 5.

Egypt is no­to­ri­ous for sex­ual ha­rass­ment and a 2017 by the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion found that Cairo was the most dan­ger­ous megac­ity for women.

On Wed­nes­day, the govern­ment said the amend­ment to the law was de­signed to pro­tect the rep­u­ta­tion of vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault, im­moral­ity or ha­rass­ment.

It said the de­ci­sion whether to pro­tect the iden­tity of the vic­tim was at the dis­cre­tion of the judge.

The next step is for Par­lia­ment to ap­prove the amend­ment.

This is a fore­gone con­clu­sion as the cham­ber is packed with govern­ment sup­port­ers.

The amend­ment was warmly re­ceived by the Na­tional Coun­cil for Women, whose pres­i­dent, Maya Morsi, said it was an “im­por­tant step that his­tory will re­mem­ber”.

The coun­cil quotes her as say­ing the change in the law re­flected “the in­ter­est of the state in com­bat­ing and erad­i­cat­ing this crime for the pro­tec­tion of Egypt’s women and girls”.

The Egyp­tian pub­lic, and par­tic­u­larly women, wel­comed the amend­ment, but some felt a change of at­ti­tude was also needed to com­bat the prob­lem.

“I want to see the of­fi­cials that take a vic­tim’s report deal with her with kind­ness and com­pas­sion,” one woman said on Face­book on Thurs­day.

“The sex­ual ha­rass­ment-rape cul­ture needs to change and it will when more women speak up and more men sup­port them.”

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