Watani International

Silence is not an option

For victims of harassment and abuse:


March, in Egypt, is Woman’s Month. The date 8 March marks Internatio­nal Women’s ay, 16 March is Egyptian Woman’s ay, and 21 March is Mothers ay.

In celebratio­n of women and their age- old battle against discrimina­tion, oppression, and gender biased practices,

this March highlights one of the recent moves in Egypt to promote the societal wellbeing of women through combatting harassment.

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For years on end, a woman subjected to harassment would lick her wounds in silence for fear of social stigma and humiliatio­n. 1ot any more. Egyptian women today realise that silence is no longer an option. Many women who fall victim to harassment or violence now file complaints with the relevant authoritie­s. uring the U1 16 ays of Activism Against Gender-Based 9iolence in 2021, which ran from 25 1ovember to 10 ecember, the Egyptian government announced tangible moves to confront violence against women.

Last year, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ratified Law 141 for 2021 which amends articles of the Penal Law to stipulate harsher penalties for sexual harassment. The Ministry of Social Solidarity issued the bylaws reTuired to regulate the work of centres that combat human traffickin­g. The General Prosecutio­n’s attitude, its firmness, integrity and transparen­cy in dealing with cases of violence against women have become all too remarkable. All these measures represent serious milestones towards reducing various forms of violence against women. It was noted, however, that the coronaviru­s pandemic gave rise to increased violence against women especially where digital harassment is concerned; this includes sexual harassment, cyberstalk­ing, deception, bullying, threats and extortion.

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Law 141 for 2021 toughens the penalty for harassment. Anyone who subjects another in a public or private space to sexual or pornograph­ic acts or insinuatio­ns through gestures, words, or actions in any sort of electronic communicat­ion or any other technologi­cal means, is answerable to the law. The penalty is one to four years in prison, and/or a fine between EGP100,00 and EGP200,000 US 6,300 to 12,600 , and is increased in case of repeat offence. The amended law imposes a harsher penalty when it is proved that the harasser intended to obtain from the victim a benefit of sexual nature. If the perpetrato­r comes from the victim’s family, or if he or she is in charge of the victim’s upbringing or observatio­n, if he or she is a paid servant, or if there are multiple perpetrato­rs, if the offender has educationa­l authority over the victim or has exerted any pressure on the victim, or if the offender carried a weapon at the time of the crime, the penalty shall be imprisonme­nt for a minimum seven years.

Rights activists and feminists applauded the official endeavours to confront violence against women. Maya Morsy, President of the 1ational council for Women, praised Law 141, describing it as “a new victory for Egyptian women and girls”.

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Lamya Lotfey who works with the 1ew Woman Foundation an Egyptian feminist 1G2 told W that there was significan­t progress in terms of the measures to combat violence against women in Egypt, as well as the proportion of girls and women who report violence or abuse. 2nce such cases are publicised, other victims of violence feel emboldened to report their grievances. This, Ms Lotfey pointed out, should spread a culture of reporting incidents of violence and abuse.

Ms Lotfey explained that in order for the official complaint to be valid, women must be aware of the legal procedures to be taken, including the necessity to have a lawyer.

Some women who were harassed, Ms Lotfey said, posted complaints on social media, video footage or stills of the incidents or of their harassers. In many cases, the General Prosecutio­n took note of the incidents and directly intervened even before the victims themselves filed reports. Ms Lotfey reminded of a victim whose harassment was captured on CCT9 cameras; the prosecutio­n took action through considerin­g the CCT9 footage an official report in itself and acted accordingl­y.

The police and General Prosecutio­n are now so alert to incidents of violence against women, Ms Lotfey said, that girls and women who had been harassed in the past and remained silent are now opening up.

Ms Lotfey explained that civic and citi en groups today launch campaigns to track incidents of violence against and abuse of girls and women, to help put them on the legal track in order to punish the perpetrato­rs. These campaigns, in addition to the media interest in women’s issues, have had tangible progress in addressing violence against women.

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Mona E at, activist and researcher in genderrela­ted issues agrees with Ms Lotfey in that the recent government efforts to combat violence against women are remarkable. She praised the recently announced initiative to establish a unit affiliated to the Cabinet to support victims of violence. Ms E at told W that several hospitals now have special units that offer support and medical help for victims of violence. She applauded the awareness and support offered by 1G2s in this domain.

“But we are still facing a great challenge,” Ms E at told W , “since rates of violence against women are still very high.” The number of gender violence incidents is huge, she said; this includes gang rape, assaults and sexual harassment, all of which more often than not lead to death or murder of the victim. “We need to confront such crimes and investigat­e the reasons behind them on all levels whether social, economic or political,” Ms E at said. “We also need to train law enforcemen­t officials to effectivel­y apply the law to achieve justice.”

Human traffickin­g

The Egyptian Women’s Issues Foundation praised the move by the Ministry of Social Solidarity to issue the bylaws that regulate the work of centres that deal with trafficked victims. In a statement, the Foundation stressed that the move was a long overdue step to support girls and women who fall victim to human traffickin­g. However, in its statement, the Foundation referred to shortcomin­gs in the bylaws. According to the Women’s Issues Foundation, the bylaws state that the officer combatting human traffickin­g is to accept all cases referred to the victims centre by government institutio­ns or specialise­d national councils, yet the bylaws fail to mention cases referred by civil society institutio­ns working with victims of human traffickin­g. The bylaws state that victims are to be admitted unless a serious reason exists for rejecting them; the bylaws fail to mention what these reasons are, let alone that the term “serious reason” is vague and may negatively affect the admission of victims to the centres. The Women’s Issues Foundation also noted t hat t he bylaws miss out on an i mportant axis: t he economic empowermen­t of victims of human t rafficking. This despite t he fact t hat t he Law for Human Traffickin­g stresses t he need to have a fund for t he support and economic empowermen­t of t hose victims.

The Foundation thus advised to involve other experience­d partners with the Ministry of Social Solidarity to manage and supervise the centres for human traffickin­g victims. It also advised that the centres should welcome not only victims of human traffickin­g but also girls and women in situations that may expose them to being trafficked.

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