Tackling harassment requires much more than a political revolution: it needs a social movement that restores people’s dignity and promotes equality.
I sometimes wonder if the 18-day Egyptian revolution would ever have a positive impact on the problem of sexual harassment in Egypt. Is it so hard to imagine that crude impropriety, which is endemic in today’s society, can perhaps perish the same way that Mubarak, along with his embezzling wife and his corrupt sons have?
Unfortunately, the answer is ‘yes’.
This time around public disobedience and a million-man march won’t get rid of the problem. Inevitably, people will realise that curing this social disease will prove to be much more difficult than the toppling of a 30-year old dictatorial regime. While the political setting may have changed, many aspects of Egyptian lifestyle, including the reality of sexual harassment, still persist.
Some have argued that Mubarak was the reason these molestations existed and sexual harassment was a direct result of his leadership. Ask any Egyptian mother and she will tell you that back in the 1970s women used to wear mini-skirts and received no uninvited attention for it, even in the poorest of neighbourhoods. Deteriorating living conditions under the Mubarak regime meant that men were unable to get married, which resulted in their sexual frustration and effectively gave them, what they saw, as a god-given right to cat-call, grope and intimidate women on the streets of Egypt. While this argument may have some truth to it, it doesn’t explain why boys who haven’t hit puberty yet and married men with children are guilty of the same crimes.
The main reason why it may be harder to remedy the situation and may take longer to bring about social change, as opposed to the recent political changes, is simply because human nature is quite intricate and old habits are hard to break. The lack of education is perhaps one key social aspect that explains the rise of sexual harassment in Egyptian society.
Education doesn’t just mean schooling. I would also hold women, particularly mothers, accountable for these harassments, not because they dress chic or stay out late at night, but because many of them fail to teach their sons what it means to respect oneself and respect women.
With a society that churns out millions of harassers and pours them on to the streets, in malls, on busses and in your own private university, no recipe for political change can be applied to abolish this social problem.
However, there have been many initiatives on both a national and international level to end these assaults on women. Media outlets have published stories exposing the dire situation in Egypt, social media platforms have encouraged tweets and blogs and designed polls to monitor the relationship between sexual frustration and sexual harassment, and the American University in Cairo has gone as far as to stage plays that address this very issue. While these are all positive approaches and create awareness in different parts of the world or on campuses, they aren’t reaching the majority of offenders.
It is imperative that the new government restore the concept of human dignity in order to stop the men who commit these deplorable deeds. But until then, if you fall into the category of ‘woman’, you’re likely to be approached and unwillingly harassed for a while to come, regardless of your social background or how you dress.
This article is part of a special series on sexual harassment. Published here with the author’s consent. © Kholoud Khalifa. All rights reserved.