Sexual Harassment Has Become a Way of Life for Egyptian Women: Report

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 3 2008 11:44 AM

Even wearing modest head-to-toe clothing does not seem to be saving women in the Arab world from the unwanted male attention.

A recent report by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women polled reported having been sexually harassed, while nearly half said the abuse occurred daily.

Women are coming forward to complain about the lewd comments, groping, stalking and other forms of sexual harassment, that they have to face, despite a majority of them wearing the veil, known as the hijab.

"The issue of sexual harassment has become less taboo recently in the Egyptian media within academic circles, and has even become a part of daily discourse among women in Egyptian society, regardless of social or economic status or political belief," The Washington Times quoted the report as stating.

Religious and political leaders perpetuate the behaviour, says Mona Eltahawy, a New York-based Egyptian journalist.

"Men and women are getting married later, so obviously men and women are both sexually frustrated, but women have no way of showing their sexual frustration," she said.

"A combination of religion and politics tells young men and women that unless a woman [is covered up], she is fair game. And now men enact their sexual frustration on women without any sense of shame," she added.

The women's rights centre has declared sexual harassment a "social cancer" in Egyptian society and has organized campaigns for tougher laws to protect women on the streets.

The Yemen Post last month reported that men were using headset cell phones to send offensive messages to women.

Sexual harassment has often gone unreported in Middle Eastern countries because the victims are sometimes blamed for inciting the abuse.

According to the women's rights centre's report, 53 percent of Egyptian men blame women for "bringing harassment upon themselves," while most women said it is wrong to talk about being harassed or report it to the police.

Of the men surveyed in the Egyptian study, 62 percent admitted perpetrating harassment, and, of those who admitted the behaviour, almost half attributed it to repressed sexual desires.