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Tahrir Bodyguards

Tahrir Bodyguards

As some of you may or may not know, some civilians have taken it upon themselves and formed a group, composed of men and women to fight off sexual harassment in Tahrir. They are known as ‘Tahrir Bodyguards’. The team of individual’s aim is to help women feel safe when going to Tahrir to protest. Before any protest they tweet out contact numbers of team members who will be in the square, they encourage people to save the numbers on their phones before they head down to march. The numbers are for people to call in and report sightings of sexual harassment and give the location of where it is happening so that they can dispatch members of the team to aid the person being wrongfully attacked.

Early last week they tweeted that they would be sponsoring a self-defence class and for those interested to sign up. I might not be a Tahrir goer, but I am one scores of women who experiences sexual harassment of one form or another on a regular if not daily basis. Frankly, I’m tired of it! I do not want to be the victim anymore, I wont to have the knowledge and skills that I need to be able to fend off an attacker and make them give up, or over power them enough to hurt them, so that I may get away. I took one on one lessons last year with a mixed Martial Arts expert and I learned a lot from him. So, why take this course? In my opinion, you can never know enough. I think the more you know the better and if I find myself in a situation a few of the techniques of the many I had learned will come to me when I most need them.

Thursday, 6th of February, almost 2 years since Lara Logan’s (CBS correspondent), assault took place in Tahrir after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. When Logan’s story came to light, it sent shock waves through the world and gave Egypt a BIG wake up call!
Harassment has ALWAYS been here, but since the down fall it is more rampant than before and frankly, I would rather not go out and stay home than have to put up with it. However, staying home is a form of defeat and I have as much right to be out living and my life than hiding in the sanctuary I call home. Not going out and staying home is making myself a sub-conscience victim. It also means that those individuals who go around inappropriately groping women win. Why should they have the upper hand? Why should I not be out enjoying and experiencing life?

Before entering the session I was approached by a CNN correspondent (Veronica), and asked if I would mind being interviewed. She asked me why I was taking part in this class. I can’t remember my exact words to her, but I was brutally honest. I said something along the lines of, Since the revolution, Egypt has become a lawless society and I no longer feel safe. There was a time when if I was being assaulted, people would run to my rescue, but now no one will, because people are more likely to think, that I deserved it. So, if no one is going to help defend me, then I have to learn to defend myself.
(This is MY opinion, based on situations I have been in, witnessed first hand and things that have happened to my friends. I’m sorry if it offends anyone but that’s just the way I see it)

In the class we were introduced to our trainer, Master Ramy Latchinian, former Tae Kwon Do U.S.A National Team Coach, and his student and former TEAM USA Patricia Stein. The Duo spoke to the class about the importance of being aware of what is going on around you in order to avoid putting oneself in an unnecessary situation. ‘If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of it, move away” Master Ramy advised. “If you see a group of guys ahead of you on the path and they make you uncomfortable, cross to the other side of the road, you don’t need to keep walking towards them.”

“The important thing when you are facing an attacker is to remain calm and have the upper hand by having the element of surprise. The attacker isn’t going to think that you are going to strike back. The best way to do this is to talk to the attacker and ask them to ‘Please’ leave you alone and while doing that grab their hand and pull a finger straight back or by placing your hand on the back of theirs and twisiting their arm in a way that gives you the power to control them.” Master Ramy explained and demonstrated.

As the course continued in the presence of photo journalists and news correspondents, a room of twenty or more women practiced the moves on one another. The grabbing and pulling back of a single figure can inflict a tremendous amount of pain and even break or dislocate it. The squeezing of the wind pipe with fingers and thumbs with a thrust upward is extremely painful. This particular move is not only painful but if too much pressure is applied you could sever the pipe and kill someone. Hooking your fingers and grabbing the perpetrator from behind the ears and pulling them downwards and giving them a swift kick with your knee is another swift and easy technique that anyone with little to no fighting experience can use to take back control of the situation.

As the session came to an end Master Ramy, sat us down and talked to us about the importance of chosing our battles wisely. If we are in a position where weapons are being used, the best thing to do is to give the attacker the valuables that they want, the confrontation in these circumstances are risky. If you’re attacked and told to get in a car and drive, do not go anywhere with the person, the best thing to do is throw your keys far away and sit on the ground. It is most likely that the car jacker will not want to spend the time searching for the keys. Another piece of advice is do not carry a knife or a gun if you DO NOT know how to use them, if you feel the need to have something get pepper spray or a taser. If you are unable to obtain them then use your keys, carry them between your fingers with the key poking out and you can use it as a weapon and you can use your handbag to bludgeon someone too.

Ayman Mohy El Din, NBC (former Al Jazeera English) correspondent based in Egypt, asked the women present ‘I’m sorry to ask, but how Many of you have experienced some level of Sexual harassment?” approximately 80% of the women in the room raised their hands. A sickening and staggering percentage, which just proves more now than ever that this has gone on for far too long and needs to be brought to an end.

The two-hour session was informative, enlightening and empowering. I can honestly say that I left the center having learned something new to add to my growing repertoire of self-defence moves. On another note, it was encouraging to see a room full of women of all ages and nationalities taking part. It gave me hope that if we as women can stand united in the fight to eradicate Sexual Harassment, by sending a clear message to the attackers that we will no longer cower or be silenced and that we are going to take a stand. I think the road to change maybe underway.

Patricia Stein ended the evening by adding advice of her own, “When you walk in the street don’t look down at the ground or have your shoulders hunched forward, that is a physical sign of weakness and makes you and easy target. Walk with you head held up and your shoulders back, it gives off the message that you are strong.”

A BIG Thank you to Tahrir Bodyguards for organizing the class!

If you would like to join the Self Defence course then contact @TahrirBodyguards on twitter or email them at tahrir.bodyguard@gmail.com or you can call the International TaeKwonDo Center in Maadi to find out about courses offered there 01096979766.

Isn’t she embarrassed walking down the street with her head uncovered? How immoral!

Since the fall of the former President of Egypt, Sexual Harassment has been rampant like a forest fire throughout the country. Horror story upon horror story of attacks and incidents on women have been surfacing and making headlines. It’s getting worse and worse with each day that passes. Since Egypt’s first Democratically Elected President had been announced another serving of worry has been served up on to our plate.

The President as many are all well aware is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a lot of the élite, liberals and women quaking in their boots worried about Egypt’s future on many fronts and their place in the new Democratic Egypt. There is a vast majority on the other hand who find that our President previous association gives them the carte blanche to do as they please, when it comes to educating the public on what is right or wrong in the name of Islam. Sometimes I feel like things are looking more and more like a Mad Max movie.

Self-appointed groups and individuals feel they now have the right to tell people what to do, how to dress and how to behave. A couple of weeks ago there were two incidents in different places in Egypt that sent a ripple of fear and dread through the country. The phrase we are turning into the next Saudi Arabia or Iran was on the tip of everyone’s lips.

(If things don’t change and social order isn’t put in place, then I will have to agree)

In Suez an engineering student was badgered by 3 bearded men, who demanded to know his relationship with the woman he was walking with. When he told them to mind their own business they stabbed him. The stab wound was fatal. The woman was his fiancée.

Story has it that the men were caught and will be given the death penalty.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/46784/Egypt/Politics-/Suez-knifing-stirs-fears-of-moral-policing-in-Egyp.aspx

Another story was that a young man was playing his guitar during the call for prayer in the governorate of Ismaleya and others found this to be a sign of disrespect and took it upon themselves to teach him a lesson.  The lesson rumor has it resulted in a severe beating which lead to his death. It was also reported that a group of bearded men went into a café in Cairo’s, Madinat Nasr area and told the customers that they should go and pray. Unfortunately I cannot confirm these stories to be 100% accurate, but having lived in Egypt so long, when there is a story there is always some element of truth to it.

I can confirm two others stories from women that I know personally and experienced some very disturbing events that worry me and honestly have me concerned for the future wellbeing of Egyptian women.

The first story is of a woman who works at a hair and beauty salon in Alexandria. She is a single Mom of a 4-year-old girl. She said she was walking in a district of Alexandria holding her daughter when a car drove by. One of the passengers in the car sprayed her with an acid like substance that ate through her clothes. It made huge holes in her dress which caused her undergarments to show. Embarrassed, scared and shaken she got into a taxi to go home. The reason for the passenger spraying her was because part of her leg was showing in the dress that she was wearing.

The second woman I work with and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and pushed me to write this post. Yesterday she posted a warning to all her contacts on her Facebook page, so that we would all be made aware of what may happen if women decide to take a public mode of transportation. My colleague along with her brother, sister and future brother-in-law were boarding the car at Sadat Metro Station (El Tahrir) and just as the doors were closing a guy pulled her by her hair. She said she didn’t hear the full sentence of what he said but it had something to do with her not being veiled. This is NOT the first time she has experienced something like this.

Over the past 20 years since I moved here with my family, I have seen the country grow more and more conservative. It wasn’t very noticeable at first. It was rare to see veiled women, now you are most likely to see veils and niqabs than a woman with her head uncovered in Alexandria. I have no qualms with people becoming devoted in their beliefs and dressing in the way that they think is modest or more appropriate. What I DO have and issue with is other people, particularly strangers who don’t know me and demand or try to dictate to me how I should be more respectful and how I should dress.

I know that one of Morsi’s spokes people came out and condemned the actions of these individuals but I’m sorry that isn’t good enough for me. If the President himself doesn’t come out and say that he will not tolerate and accept these actions of harassment on people’s personal liberties and that people will be held accountable and punished for them, then he might as well have a pom pom in each hand cheering them on. His silence is a sign of condoning of what has happened and what will continue to happen. (That’s how I am interpreting it)

If President Morsi meant what he said in his speeches that we are free to live our lives as we have in the past, then I think he needs to not only say it repeatedly until it gets through people’s heads but to show that he sincerely means what he says. Otherwise these self-appointed groups and individuals will continue to badger, harass and attack innocent people who are minding their business and just going about their day-to-day lives and it isn’t right!

I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, where the Mutawaa’s (religious police) would patrol the streets and make sure that people were abiding by the country’s code of conduct. IF this IS the direction that our new Elected President is going to guide Egypt towards then, I fear all hope is lost for Egypt. If Egypt sccumbs to becoming a country with blinkers on and where people are no longer permitted to be themselves and live freely, then we will be pushed back decades behind the rest of the world and that in all honesty would be DREADFUL. Egypt for centuries has always been a land that made history and has been (and continues to be), studied with fascination, awe and respect. I would hate to see a country with such a rich past and HIGH potential for a bright future be shut away and put down in such a manner.

How do we counter act this? How do we push back the threat of this wave that is hovering over us? I honestly do not know. I think WE are ALL open to suggestions, if anyone has any.

Otherwise the cartoon below might be what lies ahead for Egypt and for us;

The recent story of foreign journalist Natasha J. Smith has been circulating Cyber Space. The reviews of the journalist’s first hand account of what happened to her in Tahrir Square has been received with mostly horror, embarrassment and extreme disappointment. While others are somewhat skeptical and feel like the whole story is a hoax and made up OR exaggerated. Here’s the link to her account, read it yourself if you already haven’t ( http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/please-god-please-make-it-stop/ )

I shared the link on facebook and I have to admit that I was shocked at some of the men’s responses to the blog post. Their inability to understand the trauma of the situation of being attacked by a large group of men and having no one come to your aid. From the perspective of an Egyptian, I can understand where they are coming from. Egyptians are/were known as very generous, helpful and friendly people whom welcome tourists and foreigners to their land, but less and less of a positive image is being seen by my fellow country men and women these days. It seems to be one that has been replaced with contempt, hate and maybe even jealousy.

After my mother had read Natasha’s account, it triggered a memory of an instance that occurred 30 years ago here in Egypt, during one of her visits.

” I was here on holiday from Canada with my two year old, who had never experienced swimming in the sea. My husband’s family owned a villa on the beach in Agami, ( a popular beach resort just outside of Alexandria). My husband had business to attend to in Sidi Kreer and suggested that I go to the villa with our daughter so that I could enjoy the beach and the sea. The villa was situated on the beach, so it’s not as though I had to walk far to get to the water. It was a case of walking directly from the terrace on to the sand. “

“I was ignorant to the culture and the social taboos of the land and I was obviously a foreigner. Blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin and everyone appeared to be extremely friendly. So, I ventured forth with my two year old in my arms wearing my one piece swimsuit, which by western standards was quite modest. I walked the few meters to the shore and entered the water. As I entered the water, my daughter was nervous once the water lapped against her legs and clung to me tightly and I was talking to her calmly and explained to her that there was nothing to fear…etc. As I was continuing to walk into the water reassuring her that she was safe, I was momentarily unaware of what was happening around me. Until I felt something grab at my crutch area. I almost stumbled, but righted myself and began to realise what was happening around me. I was waist deep in sea water, surrounded by about 10-15 men who were systematically diving underwater and groping me. The beach was crowded with men, women and children who were watching the scene with what appeared to be great amusement at the antics of these people. It got so bad, that I was losing my footing and about to submerge underwater still holding my daughter and I was calling for help. Nobody came to my rescue, fortunately I had the key to the villa clutched in my hand, with the point of it facing downwards, I was frantically stabbing their heads as they came up for air. Eventually I was able to fight my way out of the water trembling with shock and disbelief that people who called out friendly remarks and welcomed you to their country could see the horror that was unfolding and not do anything. Not one person came to my aid or my daughter’s aid. There must have been at least a hundred people watching and what shocked me most was that they found it extremely amusing.  How they would have reacted if it had been one of their own, I don’t know, but the feeling I got was, because I was a foreigner then I was seen as ‘fair game’. ” By this time my daughter was screaming and I was trying to fight my way out of the water and to the safety of the villa. It was anger and adrenaline that saved me.”

“My husband although Egyptian had left Egypt when he was seventeen years of age and Agami was a very deserted beach in those days, where you could swim freely without any problem, he was unaware of how much the culture had changed in his absence. “

“It has left a lasting scare and impression on my psyche but I do know that if Egyptians KNOW you and know your husband’s family it’s a totally different story. They do come to your aid as has happened to me in a couple of situations since then. As for this young journalist, I truly believe that what she wrote is genuine and is totally possible and accurate because of my own experience.”

-K.E -IrishAlexandrian’s Mum

This clearly isn’t a ‘NEW’ phenomenon that  has suddenly plagued our land, it has been here for quite some time but there is more and more light being shed on the stories that are surfacing thanks to modern media.

Men do not experience such traumatic experiences, they should be grateful. However, a part of me truly wishes that those who do harass women, have similar experiences so that they can get a taste of their own medicine and think twice before they attempt to invade a woman’s personal space.

PARENTS and TEACHERS, hear our plea, educate your sons on how to treat women ! It is up to us to eradicate this growing cancer that is polluting the minds of many.

As a woman living in Egypt for the past 20+ years I have seen the deterioration of men’s respect for women first hand. I remember when I first moved to Egypt at the age of 12 and going for walks in Alexandria with my mother. You would get the occasional cat calls and you would get one guy who would try an invade your space and try to touch you. For everyone guy who did try to sexually harass a woman you would have 10 others who would come to your defence demonstrating chivalry. Now, it’s the complete opposite!

The greater percent of the men of this nation would stand by and watch a woman being harassed rather than come to her aid. I recently came across a post on facebook about a foreign journalist who has had one of the most harrowing and traumatic experiences that I have ever read or come across here in Egypt. It saddens me that some of the men and women who saw what was happening didn’t try to come to her aid.

This has got to stop before it gets out of control, because if it doesn’t any woman who looks remotely foreign, has her hair showing or isn’t covered from head to toe!

 

PLEASE READ and Pass it on !

http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/?like=1&_wpnonce=a982312bd5&wpl_rand=6ee9fbeb5d

Don't be silenced by shame, Stand Up and Speak Up!

A few weeks ago I was on a walking tour with some my colleagues in Islamic Cairo on a chilly and somewhat gloomy Saturday morning. I was the youngest female in the group and the only one who had lived in the Middle East for 3 decades. Pete, one of the people on the tour approached me and asked me how I cope with living in Egypt and how do I handle ‘the men’ and being harassed on the street. I told him that I had written an article about Sexual Harassment and it had been published in Community times. Interested in my views and article he asked me to send him a copy and if I would consider being a guest speaker and give a talk to High Schoolers, I agreed.

I am always willing to share my work with others and get their feedback, but as the date for the talk loomed closer I wasn’t so sure if I could follow through. The memories and the feelings of the experiences I had and trying to find the words to describe the situations and how it affected me wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. I found myself in a tug of war ‘don’t do it, you don’t need to go through all this again, it’s in the past.’ ‘You have to do this, you have to speak up and let the younger generation know that this isn’t acceptable and that women and men shouldn’t brush this under the carpet any longer! Women have been silenced long enough; you need to speak up and out about it.’ My worry was resurrecting and awakening the emotions that I had worked so hard to tame and keep locked away. Would I be able to handle it even after all the time that had passed?

The voice of reason won the battle and I didn’t bail out. To help me I wrote out key points to help me stay on track as a guide line to the discussion and talk. I knew that if I let my emotions get the better of me; it may turn out to be a bawling session and a mockery of something that I feel very deeply about.

The day of the talk, I had butterflies in my stomach and when I saw the young faces of Egypt’s future I became more nervous, my face flushed a bright red and my skin burned, my voice quivered and my hands shook, but I kept going.

After introducing myself to the class, giving my nationalities and making sure that they knew that although I am of mixed ethnicity that I was also ‘ONE OF THEM’, an Egyptian woman. This seemed to wake them up a bit and grab their attention. I discussed the different forms of sexual harassment (Degrading and graphic terms said, the skin crawling looks of being undressed and devoured by the other person and the physical (which on its own comes in many forms))

I told them that most people assume that women or teenage girls must have done something or dressed provocatively to have provoked or asked for the attack to happen. I then told them that my earliest memory was between the ages of 10 or 12 and I was in a shopping mall with my family when I had my first experience and that is when I saw the students get their wake up call! I had reached them; they were seeing it not only from an Egyptian woman’s point of view but from a kid’s point of view. They knew that there was no way at such a young age I could have provoked an attack or had known what sexual harassment was.

Unfortunately children here lead very sheltered lives and do not know what dangers await them outside their apartment doors. They know that there are bad people and that there are thieves but they aren’t made aware of the others that are lurking about. Our girls are clueless and defenseless, I am certain that none of them would know what to do if they were put in a situation like that.

There are many subjects that are taboo in this part of the world and have been locked away in a dark corner of everyone’s mind, simply because they choose not to believe it exists and it will go away on its own. In a perfect world, perhaps it would work, but we do not have that privilege.

Not talking about ‘Sex’, ‘The Body’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’ makes things worse, the predators and prowlers who take advantage of the women walking in the street minding their own business may not have been made aware of what some people will do and how they may violate them. They mightn’t understand or know what their instincts are telling them when they sense an intruder in their personal space. Women being shamed in to guilt and silence just make the offenders more powerful and willing to repeat their acts on other innocent and unsuspecting women?! How can we condone such a thing? We need to arm these women with knowledge of how to recognize a potential offender and how to fight them off. Letting them walk around unarmed with the basic knowledge is just as bad as the person committing the acts themselves.

I know full well what goes through a woman’s mind and the mental torment that follows after an attack. The incident replays itself over and over in your mind, you wonder what you may have done to have provoked the attacker, what you could have done differently. How dirty you feel and no matter how hard or many times you try to wash yourself, the dirt doesn’t seem to go away. It seems to linger on and beneath the skin. You just want to curl up somewhere dark and hide away, BUT if we do that, they win and they strip us of our dignity.

After one of my attacks, I said enough is enough, I will not be silenced! I am not doing anything wrong and I certainly DON’T WANT this to happen! I am going to fight back and I will not let them silence me. This is MY body and they have NO right to touch me!

The examples I gave not only hit home with the girls in the class but it also hit home with the boys. Especially when I told them that on more than one occasion there were men who saw what happened and did nothing. No one came to my aid and I had to fight the sicko off myself!

It isn’t only the women who have to stand up but it’s also the men who have to as well.

I am grateful that the school and the teachers are broaching the subject and are discussing it openly and honestly with the students. I feel that more schools and homes should do the same, If we are ever going to make the streets safer for women to walk down without constantly having to be alert of everyone one around her.

After the talk, four of the staff members who had been present for my talk said that not only were they moved by the talk, but that the students seemed to really relate and were fired up about bringing about change and doing something to make more people aware.

I know I had my doubts about giving the talk, but I am glad that I did. I may have reached someone that day and given them some tips to recognize the warnings and let them know that they are not alone in this.

I have been a victim of Sexual Harassment, I will NOT be silenced and I AM speaking out against it.

NB: My Mom just called me in a panic, because she thought that I had been raped and not told her about it. Sexual Harassment doesn’t have to be an assault to that degree. No, I have not been raped, but I have had men full clothed try to force themselves on me and touch me in places that is in appropriate. That is also sexual harassment and it isn’t right!

I have lived in the Middle East (Saudia Arabia and Egypt) for 30 years now. In both countries I have witnessed and been a victim of sexual harassment. One of my earliest memories is of, going to the Mall in Saudi Arabia with my family for an outing and I would be holding either my mother or my father’s hand and Saudi men would try to pinch my behind or try and pinch me in other inappropriate places. At the time I didn’t understand why they would want to do that, I still don’t know what it is about  10 year old girls that would turn on a man. I begged my father to buy me an Abbaya (long black cloak that women wear in KSA to cover themselves up). He fought me tooth and nail and opposed the thought of his daughters having to cover up at such a young age, but when the situation was explained to him, he gave in and willingly bought it. It’s odd how a black cover would act as a protective shield against unwarranted and wanted attention.

When my family and I moved to Egypt in the early 90s, shortly after the first Gulf War, I experienced different kinds of harassment and on different levels. I remember going for walks with my younger sister and mother (who is blond and blue eyed), and constantly being harassed. The men would walk up to her confidently and ask her “how much?” or offer her “1 pound” for her services. The fact that she was married with children didn’t faze them in the least bit! (What high morals they have and great examples of  ‘Good Muslim Men’-NOT). If that wasn’t enough, some men would be a bit sneakier in their approach and try to follow us home to find out where we lived. Luckily we were very observant and would notice their predator tracking behavior and go in to a shop, where we would know the shop keeper and tell him that someone was following us. He, his sons and employees would come to our aid and go out and ‘greet’ the prowler with heavy slaps on the back and rough him up a bit. Other men in the neighborhood would then join in and descend upon the poor guy like a pack of wolves encircling their prey.

As I grew older and matured, the same would happen to me. I would be very conscience of what I would go out wearing in public. I would check and double check that I was conservatively dressed and wouldn’t attract unwanted attention, (Shoulders covered, check! Cleavage covered, Check! Shirt or t-shirt  is below  waist length, Check!) I became paranoid! (I still am to some extent)

The funny thing about that is, it wouldn’t matter how much clothing I wore I would still get harassed by men in the street. I have had cat calls some very flattering but mostly very degrading! I have been groped, grabbed, pinched, rubbed against, followed on foot, followed in cars by men of all ages (including those who are meant to serve and protect us), pushed up against a wall where a guy tried to smother me with his lips and have had someone jump in to my car window and try and put his hands all over me. I have also ( I think everyone has had) the crank callers, the heavy breathers and the ones who are gutsy enough to describe their dirties fantasies on the phone too.  I have so many stories and instances that the list just goes on and  to this day, it still continues to grow…

The instances mentioned above are mine, but I know of many other situations that have happened to people I know. Can you imagine coming out of a building and having a guy push you back in against the iron gates of the elevator and ejaculating on you?! Now tell me that she asked for that, when all she wanted to do was get to her car and go back to the safety of her home.

After an attack like that, you feel dirty and violated. You just want to cry a river and cleanse yourself, but not matter how much soap you use or scrubbing, you can’t get rid of that feeling. It takes a lot of talking, time and support from people who care to get over something like that.

I am tired of having to torture myself by replaying the events back in my mind, action for action wondering and question if I wore something that provoked the attack or if it was my body language, did I look the person in the eye and did they take that as an invitation?  I constantly wonder if I did something to provoke them. Every time, the answer is the same, ‘NO’. If you are going to debate the matter with me and tell me it’s because I’m not veiled then, please stop reading and continue your web browsing elsewhere. Don’t you dare insult my intelligence and say that the reason it happens is because my hair isn’t covered! Don’t! The truth is even women who are veiled are subjected to the same kind of harassment, if not worse!

When are people going to stop being in denial and face the facts?!

We don’t enjoy it and we certainly don’t provoke it! So, if it isn’t us, then hmmm…. I wonder who might be the problem. Whose brain might need to be rewired?

Why is it that (those kind of) men think it’s o.k. to treat women with such disrespect? We aren’t sexual objects or rubbing posts. That isn’t why we were put on the planet. I know that Islam is all about treating women with dignity and respect. So,  can someone please tell me where are they learning this form of behavior? Why have the women been quiet about this for so long?

Last year Community Times dedicated a page every month to sexual harassment and I was one of the contributors. I took the step to come forward because I wanted other women to have courage to speak up and know that they are not alone!

Before the revolution an Egyptian an Arabic movie 678 came out and hit the cinemas across the country. It’s whole purpose was to shed light on sexual harassment in Egypt and how even when you tried to report the incident at a police station women were be belittled or made to feel that they were the reason behind the act. In my opinion it was a powerful movie with a strong message. I hope women here and in the region will answer to the call and stand up for their human rights and take a stand against sexual harassment and bring an end to the tolerance and the acts.

I still think twice about what I’m wearing before walking out the door to go somewhere, but when I am out. I will not allow anyone to touch my body. It is my temple and I will defend it. I will not allow them to turn me in to a defeated or whimpering victim.

I am against sexual harassment and you should be too!

A strange name for a movie title, but once you watch the film, you understand why it is so aptly named

Let me first say, that I am not the biggest fan of modern Egyptian cinema, I find most of them a waste of a cinema ticket because they lack quality and originality, but there are a few that are worth seeing. This movie is one of the exceptions, it is a must see and I think every male in Egypt should go and watch it to know what women have to put up with on a daily basis, when they leave the safety and sanctity of their homes, just to go to school, work, visit a friend or meet up with friends.

The movie sheds a bright light on Sexual Harassment of women in Egypt and how it is brushed under the carpet like it doesn’t exist. The movie shows the life of three very different women, from different classes and backgrounds in Cairo.

The first of the three women that we meet is a veiled woman, who works in a government office and lives in what looks like a council building. She develops a fear of taking the bus, (public transportation) because some of the men on the bus tend to use the crowded bus as a cover to rub themselves up against a woman. With her limited salary she ends up spending it on taxi fare to avoid the harassment. Her shame and disgust of what men do, causes her to make excuses and push her husband away.

The second of the three women, is an affluent woman from high society and is an artists. She started giving talks of how women need to stand up against this kind of harassment and tried to encourage them to speak up and defend themselves. Her experience of sexual harassment was of the worst kind. She had accompanied her husband to the stadium to watch a football game between Egypt and another country. When the team won, she and her husband went out in to the street to celebrate with everyone else. She was snatched away by a man in the crowd and raped.

The third is a young girl in her early twenties who is from a middle class family. She had a funky but conservative way of dressing. Her Fiancé was dropping her off across the street from where she lives, when a man driving a pick up truck grabbed her by the breast and pulled her along as he drove.

Fate brings the three women together and a kinship forms between them. There is more to the movie than that, but I don’t want to spoil it all for you.

What I like about this movies is that it shows that even if you’re hair is covered and you dress very conservatively you can still be a target. For a change it shows that the women are not trying to provoke the men in any way, that it is the men, who launch themselves at women. It shows how humiliating and degrading it makes women feel, when men touch them,

I have lived in Egypt for close to 20 years now and I can tell you many stories of my own personal experience of harassment. My earliest memory was when my sister and I were walking home from one of the small shops. I must have been around 13 at the time which would have made my sister 8. I was talking to my sister as we walked and when I turned to look at her, she was gone. Some guy had just grabbed her by the arm and pulled her from my side. I turned in his direction and started yelling and screaming profanities at him, which caught people’s attention and the guy, was then beaten by shop keepers and other people in the street.
Almost two decades later, if a woman screams for help, she has a better chance of people coming to her aid if she yells ‘harami’, which means ‘thief’ than if she yelled help, because a man is attacking her. Why, well because, no one would come to her rescue, they would just think to themselves, ‘she deserved it’, ‘she provoked him’ or ‘of course he would she isn’t veiled. If she covered her head, he wouldn’t do that.’

Having lived in both in Alexandria and Cairo, I have found that the harassment is worse in Alexandria. I can’t go anywhere without hearing cat calls, having someone attempt to pinch my behind or to invade my personal space. I have learned to march not walk, wear an expression on my face that reads, ‘touch me and I’ll break your hand’. I wear sunglasses to cover my eyes so I don’t make eye contact with any of the men, so they don’t get the wrong idea or interpret it as an invitation. I make sure that I am conservatively dress, and that my clothes don’t cling to my body as another precaution.

I applaud the script writer for having written the story. I also salute the producer and director for bringing it to the big screen and creating awareness.

          I have just recently become a fan of ‘Community Times’ a magazine published in English here in Egypt. It’s very informative and up to date with what is going on in the country, as well as being very well written. In the December issue of the magazine they have dedicated a section to ‘Standing Up To Sexual Harassment’.

        A little over a week ago I heard from a reliable source that Egypt is now the number one country in the world for crimes of rape and sexual harassment according to ‘The American Embassy’s’.

       I have to commend ‘Community Times’ for allowing women to come forward to speak up about the traumatic experiences that they have experienced. It is a subject that is shied away from and should never be spoken of. When a woman does make a complaint or try to press charges she is usually made to feel that she provoked the attack by ‘asking’ for it some how. ‘Community Times’ is trying to change that so that eventually enough voices will be heard so that it will cause a change and authorities will have to listen!

       Having lived here for as long as I have, I have unfortunately had more than my share of ‘Sexual Harassment’ experiences.

       I remember walking home from school one day with my mother and sister and this car pulled up next to us and the driver called out to my mother ‘how much you want?’

       On another occasion I was walking next to my sister and talking to her when she was next to me one minute and gone the next. A man had grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to his side.

     As I got older, I dressed more conservatively to try to draw less attention to myself. Being fair-skinned with freckles, colored eyes and straight hair doesn’t go un-noticed here. It didn’t always work though.

        Of the many incidents I will share two. I was returning from University and had just parked my car in the garage across the street from where I live and as I was walking towards where I lived and about to round the corner, some guy pushed me against the wall of the Lebanese Consulate building, behind the guard post and tried to press his mouth against me. I couldn’t find my voice to scream or yell, but my instinct of trying to throw the person off me. What seemed like ages they guy eventually ran off.

       Another instance I had a late night lecture at university, when for some unknown reason the security guards kicked us off campus. I was sat in my car right out side the University gate, waiting for a colleague to come back from making a phone call. When some guy jumped in through my car window and tried to put his hands all and lips all over me!

    Every time something like that happened I would feel dirty and have moments of doubt that perhaps I had some how provoked an attack and that I deserved it. The incidents would be on auto replay in my mind and when I’d close my eyes to sleep, I would relive it over and over again. I didn’t ask for it and I certainly didn’t want it to happen to me.

In every instance I wasn’t dressed provocatively; I was dressed modestly and by no means inviting a violation of any kind.

I have decided to take a different approach and NOT let these men win and make me their life time victim. I won’t let what happened to me imprison me in my mind or my house. I won’t put my life on hold and sink back in to the shadows. I pick myself up and hold my head up and continue to strive forward. I have also learned some defense techniques to help me if I am ever faced with another situation again.

I decided to write a piece for the Community Times and to assist them in their quest to give women a voice. Revisiting the experience brought back memories that I had tried to lock away and feelings that I had hoped I would never feel again. However, reliving the memories for this cause was worth it. It’s high time that ‘we’ come out of the shadows of shame and speak up, to try to stop men from disrespecting woman and mistreating them and being able to walk away without knowing what pain, trauma they have inflicted on the women that they targeted.

I AM STANDING, SPEAKING UP AND SPEAKING OUT AND SHOUTING OUT NO MORE!

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