Violence and Sexual Harassment Plague Egyptian Women

For those of you interested in learning a little more about Egyptian women and the Circle of Hell we talked about in class, here is a recent article (January 2015) about it.

More than 99% of Egyptian women and girls interviewed for UN Women survey in 2013 reported some form of sexual harassment.

It is hard to be a woman in Egypt, according to Amnesty International’s report, “‘Circle of Hell’: Domestic, Public and State Violence against Women in Egypt”. Frequent domestic abuse, mob violence, torture, and sexual harassment in government detention are daily realities for many Egyptian women.

Although no recent data is available, we could gain a glimpse of the scale of domestic violence in Egypt through a 2005 survey. Nearly half of married women aged 15-49 reported domestic and spousal abuse within the twelve-month period before the survey review, and seven percent of the women interviewed reported frequent physical violence from their partners. Most common accounts range from beatings and whippings to being locked up inside the house and burning with cigarettes. Early marriages to much older men and childbearing before the age of 18 continue to be the norm in rural areas.

“He started beating me almost immediately after we got married… He was 20 years older than me… Then he started beating me regularly. Whenever we fought, whenever I would say something he did not like, he would beat me. Even when I would say I was hungry and wanted food for our baby, he would beat me and tell me it was not his problem. He hung a whip above the bed and would grab it whenever he wanted to beat me.”

— Om Ali, 25-year-old woman from Aswan

Mob sexual violence is still a common occurrence in Egypt. Women were stripped naked and groped by the mob in Tahrir square. The targeted women are often approached alone by a group of men armed with knives, blades, and sticks and are stripped naked and groped—in some cases, raped through the insertion of sharp objects into their vaginas—whilst encircled by the mob (coined “the circle of hell” by some activists). Groups such as OpAntiSH/A (Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault) and Tahrir Bodyguards have sprang up to monitor the situation and intervene if possible. However, without proper institutional support, mob violence against women will likely continue.

Torture and ill-treatment are common for women in government detention. Neglect of women’s basic needs such as menstruation and pregnancy is a daily occurrence, with no medical screening or insurance in place. Security forces have been documented with sexual assault, harassment, invasive search, and, in some cases, rape. Arrested female protesters often face beatings and sexual assault with threats of rape. Women arrested for criminal offenses often face electric shocks, torture, and rape. A woman accused of murder told Amnesty International that she was slapped, kicked, punched in the face, and later given electric shocks on her shoulders and nipples, then was blindfolded and raped.

An anti-sexual harassment law was added as an amendment to the Egyptian penal code in June, 2014. However, such measures are not enough to rid the country of its sexual violence epidemic. Successive Egyptian administrations have used women’s right as a public relations gimmick, but did nothing to implement effective measures against the issue. The authorities have continued in refusing to acknowledge the scale of the problem, and the law has yet to form a cohesive and sustained strategy. In short, the plight of Egyptian women could only be solved by the government taking a firm stance against sexual violence and harassment.




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