Imagine being afraid of stepping outside of your apartment each and every day?
Imagine being afraid to walk down the street or take the subway or bus?
For women in Egypt they don’t have to imagine this. For them it is a reality.
According to a United Nations Entity for Gender Equality study, 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. The top two instances of sexual harassment included touching (96.5%) followed by verbal (95.5%).
These are astonishing numbers! When I first read them I thought I must have read something wrong, but sadly I wasn’t mistaken.
Not too surprisingly, another study found that 86.5% of women in Egypt don’t feel safe on public transportation or on public streets.
“Every morning, I have a huge burden on my shoulders, taking the micro-bus to my work. It is an hour away from my house. Harassment happens to me every day; is it possible that one day I will take the bus safely?” says Zeinab, a Cairo resident.
Despite the widespread problem, sexual harassment is not currently defined under Egyptian law.
How can you solve a problem if you can’t name it?
Luckily, UN Women has been advocating for legislative amendments, while working with partners towards a safe city model in Cairo. In that light they have launched a transit campaign which includes performing arts to raise awareness about the problem.
In metro cars campaign participants re-enact real sexual harassment incidents without letting passengers know that what they are seeing is really just interactive theater to spark a discussion about solutions. The campaign also hopes to get drivers to place stickers on metro car seats to advertise a hotline to submit complaints.
Some women are taking matters into their own hands by learning self-defense.
Tahrir Body Guard, an organization that was formed in response to the widespread reports of sexual assault in Tahrir Square, offers a free class for women where trainees learn techniques that target vulnerable areas and require little strength to protect themselves.
If women do experience sexual harassment, they can also report details to Harassmap an organization that uses online mapping technologies help women see which areas are most vulnerable. The organization also recommends self-defense training and lists places where women can learn.
While learning self-defense can be empowering for some women, for women in Egypt it’s also a necessity. Learning self-defense to ensure your safety in case something happens is one thing. Learning self-defense because you have a 99.3% chance of experiencing sexual harassment is something else altogether.
That being said, how can you not take matters into your own hands when the risks are so high? When nearly 100% of women are at risk for sexual harassment something is dramatically wrong and we need all sorts of ways to solve it. And in the meantime, I’ll sign up for a self-defense class myself just in case.
Photo: Franklin Joseph/flickr