Friday, March 20, 2009

Women's Rights in Egypt Gets an Extra Kick

Due to a recent rise in sexual harassment cases in Egypt, it is becoming socially acceptable for women to train in martial arts for the purposes of self-defense, as reported on the BBC News website. At the dojo featured in the article, women of all ages train wearing gis or track pants along with their traditional headscarves. The women train with each other and also with men.

In a survey of 2,000 women conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, it was found that 83% of them had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Even more disturbing, nearly two thirds of the men surveyed freely admitted they had abused a woman at one time or another.

The author of the report, Nihad Aboul-Qumsan, says too often the woman is blamed for dressing provocatively.

"Most of the people we questioned said there wouldn't be such harassment if women dressed in a modest way. But when we questioned women on what they were wearing when they were abused more than 70% said they were wearing a headscarf.

Egyptian women rarely report these attacks fearing public embarrassment and the resulting "dishonour" to their family. Plus, the police aren't usually very sympathetic when they do make reports.

According to the BBC News piece though, there was a landmark case last year in which a judge handed down a 3-year sentence to a man who had repeatedly groped a woman pedestrian as he drove alongside her in Cairo. The victim initially held on to her assailant's vehicle and eventually succeeded in dragging him to a police station.

Since that case, the topic has been more openly discussed in the media. The government belatedly has recognized they have a problem. A new legislation is passing through parliament that would define sexual harassment as a crime and make it easier for women to report it.

This is a great start, but of course this legislation will need solid support from Egyptian society as a whole before real change emerges. In the meantime, it's nice to hear that women are learning that they have the strength to fight back.

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