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Rationalising sexual harassment in Egypt

Before I came to Egypt I was warned several times to be prepared to face sexual harassment. However the warnings had not prepared me for the reality that I have had to live with, in the past 6 months.Sexual harassment in Egypt is chronic and it has to stop. It does not matter whether you are black, white or everything else in between, just being a woman makes you a victim.

The first one slid his hands onto my lap, groping at my thighs and touching my breasts. Lesson Number one- never sit in the front seat of a taxi in Egypt unless you have other people you know with you in the same car. He was a taxi driver. I had not given him permission to touch me. I walked out of a moving taxi. My body is my sanctuary and if I cannot have total control over it then what am I-A tree that bears fruit but cannot eat of it?

The second one stalked me. I remember he was smartly dressed in khaki pants and a sky blue shirt, but beneath his neat exterior lay a rotten mind and rotten intentions- to harass me because I am a woman.

The third one grabbed my buttocks as I made my way into the subway station. I shouted at him and he ran away. Of course he had to, I was furious to say the least. I used to be feisty but Egypt has turned me into a fierce tigress. That is the only way to deal with a culture that is so pervasive it is almost normal.

The fourth, fifth and hundredth all whispered obscenities in my ears as they passed me by. They whistled and passed snide remarks as I passed by. They ‘accidentally’ brushed their hands against my breast and back as they passed and when I turned my head to ask they raised their hands to say 'I did not mean to.' Of course what they all did not mean was to get caught and be embarrassed for it.

The one who drove me to write this story also grabbed my buttocks on the subway on the morning of Tuesday 4 October. A few hours earlier someone had stolen my purse and all the money, bank cards and identity documents in it were gone. I was already upset so I turned and shouted. He showed no remorse. In fact he had an evil sneer on his face, showing satisfaction for having accomplished what he wanted, he had made me upset and so derived power from knowing that he had made me upset. Passersby looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Coupled with the racism I face in this country I retreated from Cairo and took days to find myself again and rebuild my strength. I also took time to reflect on the levels of sexual harassment in Egypt and I tried to rationalise it. I reached one conclusion; there is no rationalising such a terrible culture.

Could it be religion? I ask myself. But what religion condones the degradation of women and their treatment as mere sexual objects? What Deity condones the mal-treatment of half of its creation? If it is about Islam and its demands on how women should dress then I do not understand the patterns of harassment because whether dressed in a Jalabiya (long robe) and Burka (head cover that leaves the eyes out only) or tight skinny jeans, the men still harass you. If it is about Christianity, then these people are reading the wrong Bible because the word of God in Deuteronomy says “Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you.” If they believe that harassing women is good and right in the sight of the Lord, then I cannot stretch my tolerance to accommodate such misogynistic tendencies.

Maybe it is a lack of education but even the educated ones do harass women. Besides one does not need to be educated to know what respect for another human being entails. It should be one of those innate values that transcend religion, culture, education and gender.

Maybe it is a way of redefining their masculinity. I know under the previous regime men were humiliated, suppressed, denied room for expression and personal growth and so they could not provide for their families, they could not voice their opinions out of fear of arrest and detention. So maybe the whole political, socio-economic context emasculated them and made them feel worthless but how does harassing women make you more of a man. Does it not actually make you less of a man and a coward if you spawn your anger and frustrations on a ‘weaker’ sex? As one of my friends Christele Diwouta pointed out when they pull women down because they think it makes them better than us that confirms that they are already beneath us. That makes them cowards. What man calls himself a man when he derives a sense of worth from belittling women. That is pathetic.

I have a right not to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I have a right not to be leered at and treated like a sexual object. I have a right not to cower and wonder what a man will say when he passes me by. Real men treat women with respect. Real men protect their womenfolk. Real men do not hiss like snakes to express their interest in women, they engage them in decent conversations. So I declare today to all the men who sexually harass women in Egypt and anywhere else in the world. You are not real men. You are unknown creatures. You are diseased and you need healing. You are cowards!

stop_sexual_harassment.jpg

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Tripti's picture

Thank you for this...

I love your article...This is a grave problem even seen in my country....I admire your effort on voicing out and i am encouraged to do my part as well on spreading your voice...

MaDube's picture

Thank you

Thanks my dear. It makes me really angry when someone takes liberties with my being and my personal freedoms. In my own country sexual harassment as a general problem exists but mainly in the workplace and it is not as pervasive as it is here. I had not faced this kind of sexual harassment until I came here and so it riles me up so much. Thanks for your comments.

Stella Paul's picture

Remedy, according to me

Ok, not a single word would change if you changed the location from Cairo to New Delhi which, and I am quoting the very official records, is the most 'unsafe' city in this country. Imagine - I am talking about an emerging economic giant, the largest electoral democracy, the land of Gandhi and a cultural hub. The country capital is unsafe. Now imagine how the other cities are.Imagine what women face there day in and day out.

(In fact I am writing this 10 minutes after being stalked by a guy on a motorbike. I had gone to my dentist.While walking back home, the creep followed me and was muttering things. Good he didn't come close,or I was all ready to give him a kick. I am trained in kickboxing and I haven't practiced for a while, I know where it hurts)

So, I will not waste my energy, not at least in this case, in a scientific analysis. What I say is this: they do this because they don't get punished. They dont get punished because they don't get reported. They don't get reported because we forget it too soon. The day they start getting punished, they will stop doing this.

So, don't let go, report, shout, and get the message out that this is a crime. Magic won't happen, but progress will. Period.

For everything else you faced, hugs!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

MaDube's picture

Hugs back to you

Thanks Stella and of course you are right, the absence of a punishment cause people to continue doing as they please because they know there are no major consequences for it. It is terrible. Nobody should ever think in their minds that they have a right to do as they please with another person's space and body.

As for that loser I wish he had come closer so you could have given him what he deserves. I am glad you are ok though and that you took precautions and are prepared to defend yourself.

Kudos :-)

Akech's picture

Madube! What an

Madube! What an experience???? So terrible.
I was thinking of ideas to document for a film and i think your highlighted experience would make a good a scene if you allow me to go ahead with it.

Keep on the good fight. You inspire me

Best regards
Akech

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

MaDube's picture

Thanks

Thank you Akech for taking the time to read my post and wanting to do something to change this practice. Maybe you could run by me the idea of the film and send me a message so I know exactly what it is you want to do :-)

RenKiss's picture

You may be interested in

You may be interested in something called Hollaback! It raises awareness on street harassment. I think the issue is also about power, people like to believe it's all about sex and men can't control their desires. But they do it because they can get away with it and it's way for them to have power over women.

http://www.ihollaback.org/

MaDube's picture

Hi dear

Thanks so much. I just checked out the site you referred me to and it is awesome. I actually just shared on my facebook wall this lovely cartoon that depicts the whole idea of sexual harassment. Thanks you also for reading my post.

Carlotta's picture

MaDube is spitting fire!! And

MaDube is spitting fire!! And with good reason too. First i'd really like to say I'm sorry about the loss of your wallet and second about the inhuman treatment that you are being subjected to. The men in Egypt are treating you like a piece of meat and that's really enraging. Being who i am, i'd want to drag you to the nearest police post but im sure the manner and places in which the abuse is done does not make is easy to go to the police because the men would run or pretend they accidentally groped you. Im sure the policemen would also laugh that you are reporting such an "innocent" act and would also grope you. I wish your story could be published where the whole world could see, naming ans shaming usually works wonders. Stay safe, MaDube.

MaDube's picture

Even the police would not

Even the police would not help. I had to change the subway station I used on my way back home because one of the police officers there would take my ticket everyday when I swiped it and keep it until he was done asking me silly questions. To avoid antagonising them I simply changed the station I used but it was annoying to have to do that. One more month to go and I sure have learnt a lot from being here.

joyacomeaux's picture

Thank you for sharing!

I had this happen to me while walking in Paris, France.

A middle eastern guy passed by me and grabbed me, so I know what you are talking about!

It brings rage that someone feels that they have the right to do this.

Women need to stick together .... I was also reading the posts about rape in Africa.

We have got to create the energy force to empower women to stand up for themselves.

I trust that the universe is gathering these forces of protection for all of us!!!!!!!

And so it is ....

Thank you for standing in your power as a divine being!

love,
joya

MaDube's picture

Thank you Joya for taking the

Thank you Joya for taking the time to read and comment. It is indeed infuriating that there are people who think they have a right to do as they please with women and their bodies.

zacyrus's picture

It's not the only country

Your experience is terrible. it is true we will make big efforts to fight against sexual harassment especially in developing countries. Our body is a precious gift from God, do not let them easily.
There is sexual harassment everywhere. At home, I'll share with you my story, there was seven years ago. My oldest son was a year, I have to find work to feed him. I met a friend, he introduced me to his chief editor. He is a journalist like me. I have not applied for a job, he did not ask for my CV, I was immediately hired as a permanent reporter. No training , I hit a full salary at the end of the month. Two months later, the head begins to touch my butt, to say the word vicious when he has the same age as my father. He tried to make in its requirements and has even dared to threaten me if I do not accept what he wants. There is no discussion, I gave up my work altogether, without notice to the directors and the managing editor. but what was extraoridinaire in this story, the newspaper's owner liked my articles and wondered where is the journalist who wrote a particular article. is the big boss that I tried and the chef was only silence.
the message I'd like to share with you, we must keep our personality, should never accept being a victim of such a shameful act.
Thank for your article
Riana

MaDube's picture

Proud of you

I am extremely proud of you for taking a stand and refusing to let that man manipulate you because he had given you a job. Many women in your shoes would have given in to keep the job but you stuck to your values. Well done!! Thanks for the reminder that we always need, to value ourselves and refuse to let other people cheapen us in thinking that we can get jobs or promotions in exchange for sex when we are just capable because we are good at what we do.

amiesissoho's picture

The picture is for action

My dear,

The picture tells a lot and a strategy to deal with sexual harassment. miss u

Amie

MaDube's picture

Hahaha. It is a good

Hahaha. It is a good strategy, is it not! Miss you too and looking forward to seeing you soon :-)

Maggs's picture

Keep you hands to yourself

Its like here at home MaDube, the way the taxi touts call women all sorts of derogatory names as they walk by minding their own business. I recall a time when there was an outcry (short-lived) and some folks said its just words, but it's not. Its abuse! I really didn't like the way they tried to play it down just because its words. Today its words, the next day they grab a part of your body then what next.... They keep pushing the boundaries and they are being allowed to do so by all the silence and complicity. Got to be nipped in the bud I say, before they normalise it.

maggs

MaDube's picture

Hey Maggs I agree with you

Hey Maggs I agree with you completely. You should check out the arguments I had with some guys in Zimbabwe on the issue of touts when they say things like 'sister makabatana'. I said dont tell us we are sexy. We know it already and the argument is very interesting. Check my facebook wall if you get time. Btw I brought similar dresses to the one on my profile pic if you are interested. Send me your number to my inbox here or on facebook.

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