Egypt drafts legal amendment encouraging women to report harassment
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.”