Illustrative photo (New Woman Foundation)

Egyptian Women Push Back Against Sexual Assault

Social media uproar focuses attention on widespread problem 

A hundred Egyptian women said on social media that they had been attacked by a serial rapist, focusing public attention on a crime that is rarely taken seriously in Egypt.

The posts led to a man’s arrest. The alleged perpetrator, a student at the American University in Cairo, is also accused of raping minor boys and girls. He was nabbed last week just outside Cairo.

The women were apparently inspired by the #Metoo movement and used the hashtag on social media.

“This was a shock for our society and we [now] have an official movement by the National Council of Women [NCW] to fix this problem,” said Nevine Ebeid, a gender and development researcher at the New Woman Foundation, an Egyptian feminist non-governmental organization.

The NCW was established by presidential decree in 2000.

“We hope that this time, it will lead to the approval of our comprehensive law to stem violence against women,” Ebeid told The Media Line.

We hope that this time, it will lead to the approval of our comprehensive law to stem violence against women

The law would “make it easier for women to achieve justice and would include protections and preventive measures against sexual violence,” she said. “In Egypt, we definitely have a problem with sexual violence.”

A 2013 United Nations survey found that 99% of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual violence.

Many believe the country’s strategy to combat violence against women has been a failure. However, Ebeid says she is optimistic in light of legal changes proposed in the past week. The initiative would shield a victim’s identity as well as her statements to police.

Noor, who agreed to speak to The Media Line on condition that her real name be withheld, said she still wakes up in tears and fears leaving her home at night.

“I take at least three showers a day, and have since [I was raped four years ago],” she said, “but I still don’t feel clean.”

I take at least three showers a day, and have since [I was raped four years ago], but I still don’t feel clean

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an Amman-based Middle East/North Africa consultant for Equality Now, a women’s and girls’ rights organization, says women in Egypt have scant legal protection against sexual assault and that any improvement is an uphill battle.

Marital rape is not a crime in Egypt, she notes.

“There is no bill against violence against women,” she told The Media Line.

There was once such an initiative, she says, but it “didn’t go anywhere in parliament because they could not get enough signatures.”

“Whenever you want to enact a law, it’s not an easy process,” Abu-Dayyeh said. “But in my opinion, I don’t think the parliament wants to take this up because women’s issues are not their priority.”

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