By Nourhan Elsebahy
Sexual harassment is on the rise in Egypt, and even an increase in women wearing the veil has not prevented its spread, said experts during a debate at The American University in Cairo.
“There is a disturbance in our social structure where values are diminishing,” said Samir Naim, a sociology professor from Ein Shams University.
The debate was held in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, about who bears responsibility for the increase in harassment incidents.
Professor Mona Makram-Ebeid, distinguished lecturer at HUSS, said a number of recent incidents suggest veils don’t reduce, but actually spur harassment.
Women may think they are protected because they wear the veil, but the more women appear veiled, the less men learn to be decent civilized members of society, Ebeid argued.
There are also few protections in Egyptian law for women, she added.
“On the articles 268 and 306, a specific legal wording against harassment exists nowhere,” Ebeid said.
As a result, women are afraid to report harassment when it happens, she said.
Nihad Aboul Komsan, attorney and chairwoman of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, said her organization did a local survey on harassment, and found a majority of Egyptians blamed women for incidents.
The survey found young women are not the only targets of harassment in Egypt, that there are many cases involving girls under 18 and women over 40, Nihad said.
The number of complaints her organization receives are overwhelming, she said.
“Sexual harassment is taking place on the rush hour train at 2 pm and even on the early morning train, and on the crowded streets,” Komsan said. “Sexual harassment is prevailing anywhere at anytime, not unlike any time before.”
Komsan said her organization is engaged in outreach efforts with the public and the media.
There are number of reasons for the increase in harassment of women, Naim said, including unemployment and the difficulty many face in getting married.
“It is like the symptoms of a disease,” Naim said.