Ilona Sābera – portfolio

blogging, journalism, semiotics, short stories

Constant defence mode: being a woman on Egyptian streets

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If in my previous post I wrote about difficulties I face as a foreigner in Egypt, now I want to try to express a woman might feel. Even if sexual harassment in public places has been a permanent occurrence, especially in the last three years, a recent event has led to a harsh debate. A 19 years old Egyptian woman was sexually assaulted by a mob in Tahrir square during mass celebrations marking the inauguration of the new president. A completely naked and bleeding she was caught on video surrounded by dozens of men attacking and a helpless police officer.

This highly graphic video is an extreme representation of women’s pain, a culmination of a tragic play were the crowd of hungry animals is dominated by primitive instincts and potential saviour is disabled and powerless. If there is no collective action to stop the attacker from the part of authorities or ‘not seeing’ by-passers, the destructive power continues to spread.

To shed light of what a woman might face I want quote an Egyptian journalist, expressing very well everyday distress of any female who chooses to leave the comfort zone of home, private car or secured neighbourhood.

It is not an attempt to discredit a country which I love for so many reasons. I just want to clarify that Egypt is not an easy place – the strongest one survives. Once you come here, you should be ready for a constant fight or a comforting life in isolation out of the ‘streets’. This post is putting under a microscope just one of the current issues which has numerous social, cultural and political implications. I do not want to simplify the situation nor scare anybody. I just want to share a story.

Arwa Gaballa:

What I, and other women, face in Egypt on a daily basis, cannot be described as “harassment” – because for God’s sake it’s not cat calls and winks we’re talking about.

It’s absolute terror, discomfort and invasion of personal space. It’s violence. Starting from being chased by shouting mobs to sick men trying to scare us, then laughing at our reactions, groping us or volunteering to show us their penises.

And of course there are the masturbating taxi-drivers and elevator men, the overly friendly security guys on the subway, the “accidental” front and back grinding on busy days and the stares…

Do you even know what it’s like to have men stare at your chest on a daily basis? Scanning you. Every centimeter of you scanned, judged and drooled over.

You feel like you’re public property. That you’re up for grabs. You try to protect yourself: You don’t stroll. You march down the streets. You stop wearing make-up and start dressing with the how-hard-would-it-be-for-somebody-to-forcibly-undress-me in mind.

You avoid eye contact to not give anyone the impression that they can go ahead and take your clothes off right in the middle of the street.

We’re cursed at too: Called ugly, cheap, slutty, fat, skinny, unattractive, etc. Many of the comments could never fall under “flirtation”, but are instead personal attacks that are unkind and hurtful. There’s nothing sexual about them. I can only describe them as (verbal or physical) violent attacks.

We’re terrorized and we’re frustrated and therefore aggressive and constantly on defence mode. It’s really not fun. So, please stop calling it sexual harassment. This is pure violence.  

 

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