Monthly Archives: February 2013

Guest Post: The Politics of Egypt’s Rape Epidemic

by Guest Blogger for Robert M. Danin
February 26, 2013

This post is written by Allison Nour, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In a powerful scene from the 2010 Egyptian film “678,” a veiled woman boards a crowded public bus on her way to work, squeezing through a mass of passengers in search of a space where she will feel least vulnerable to attack. Inevitably, though, groping hands reach her and she has no choice but to endure or try to quietly move away without drawing attention.

For many women in Egypt, this scene is far too familiar—warding off potential harassment has long been a part of their daily lives. A study conducted in 2008 found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in public and nearly half described the harassment as occurring on a daily basis. Few women file formal complaints against attackers, either out of fear, embarrassment, or the recognition that the police are unlikely to pursue such cases.

But in recent months, this atmosphere of impunity has combined with Egypt’s volatile politics to produce a spike in harassment and a new trend of violent sexual attacks. These mob attacks are directed primarily against women demonstrators in Tahrir Square. On the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprisings on January 25, at least nineteen female demonstrators were sexually assaulted. The reports are shocking: In first-hand accounts, women have described being suddenly set upon by large groups of men, groped, stripped of their clothing, and raped. At least one woman was sexually assaulted with a bladed weapon.

Yet the Morsi administration has done absolutely nothing to respond to this unprecedented, intensely violent, and organized wave of attacks. Inconceivably and unconscionably, the Egyptian president has yet to utter a public word to acknowledge the problem. His prime minister, Hisham Qandil, has offered only a passing reference to possible new legislation to address the issue. With clear video evidence of attacks shown on television and online, the government either lacks the will or the ability to confront the situation.

More unfortunate than the government’s failure to act is the exacerbation of the problem by some in government and among the Salafi leadership. During a meeting of the Shura Council last week, elected representatives—most of them Islamists—blamed the victims for their attacks. As a Salafi member of the Asala Party put it, “Women sometimes bring rape upon themselves by putting themselves in positions which make them subject to rape.” In a video posted to YouTube, an Egyptian Salafi preacher declares that women protesting in Tahrir Square “want to be raped” and are attending the demonstrations either because they are “Crusaders” or “widows who have no one to control them.”

These comments, while shocking to many Egyptian observers, unfortunately reflect the sentiments of many others in the country. Many Egyptians still believe that the blame for sexual harassment falls largely on women who fail to behave “modestly.” At best, the Morsi administration’s failure to address the problem stems from a belief that sexual harassment is a natural consequence of women participating in demonstrations. At worst, the government is complicit in the attacks as a means to tamp down turnout at demonstrations. Either way, with economic turmoil and electoral debates dominating public debate, the issue is unlikely to become a priority anytime soon.

The women at the center of “678”—fed up with feeling helpless in the face of harassment in the public domain—decided to fight back by carrying weapons and stabbing their attackers. While the story was powerfully portrayed, I remember thinking their approach was unlikely to catch on in real life. But as the problem of sexual harassment intensifies with no end in sight, I couldn’t help but think of the film as women brandished knives at a recent anti-harassment demonstration in Talaat Harb Square. As with so many of the challenges facing Egypt, if left unaddressed by the powers that be, those who suffer most will find a way to fight back, even if doing so means drawing the country further into chaos.

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Women’s movement to convey demands to Parliament

by Rana Husseini |             Feb 19, 2013             |             22:08

AMMAN –– Representatives of the women’s movement in Jordan said they plan to convey their demands on issues related to women’s rights and legislation to the newly elected Parliament, and female MPs in particular.

Newly elected female deputies recently urged the women’s movement to provide them with a list of demands to fight for in the Lower House.

“We are 18 women now and a minimum of 10 deputies can file a request to amend a law in Parliament. We want the women’s movement to help us sustain the fight for our rights under the Dome,” Madaba deputy Falak Jamaani said during a February 9 lecture.

“We realise that women in Jordan still face many problems and that there are discriminatory clauses that have to be addressed and we need the movement’s knowledge and experience in this regard,” added Jamaani, who became the first woman to win a seat in the Lower House through direct competition after the quota was introduced in 2003.

But one activist pointed out on Tuesday that a list of demands has been submitted to previous parliaments.

“We have presented a list of demands to former MPs, including female deputies, but we will do so again because we have faith that our demands will be adopted and debated under the Dome,” Jordanian National Commission for Women Secretary General Asma Khader told The Jordan Times.

Amneh Zu’bi, president of the Jordanian Women’s Union, echoed Khader’s remarks, noting that female MPs have been notified about the movement’s demands in the past.

Nevertheless, both activists said they will arrange meetings with the 18 female MPs to reiterate the movement’s demands and to urge them to form lobbies in the Lower House to tackle laws that discriminate against women.

Zu’bi said cooperation with the new female MPs is essential and “we should draft a working programme to unite efforts and demands”.

“We really hope that all female deputies will have the will and desire to work for our causes and to stay in constant contact with civil society,” Zu’bi said.

One of the most important demands for the women’s movement, according to Zu’bi, Khader and activist Emily Naffa, is to increase the women’s quota when the Elections Law is debated in Parliament.

“Having only 15 seats designated for women is not enough and we want more women to be present in Parliament to form a stronger bloc when issues related to women are debated under the Dome,” Zu’bi said.

Naffa agreed, noting that increasing the quota will strengthen their “presence and stand on important matters related to women and the nation as a whole”.

The 2012 Elections Law increased the number of Lower House seats allocated for women from 12 to 15, guaranteeing that women will have a representative in each of the Kingdom’s 12 governorates and the three badia districts.

A total of 215 women ran in the January 23 parliamentary elections to compete for seats in the 150-member Lower House. Eighteen women won: 15 via the quota, two through national tickets and one through direct competition.

Laws on the women’s movement list:

• Citizenship and Residency Law: It deprives Jordanian women from passing on citizenship to their husbands and children

• Article 308 of the Penal Code: It pardons a rapist from punishment or legal prosecution if he marries his victim and pledges to stay with her for five years

• Social Security Corporation Law: Gaps include not allowing employed or retired women to benefit from their dead husbands’ pensions and not allowing a deceased woman’s family to benefit from her full pension

• Landlords and Tenants Law: It allows widows to stay in a rented property for three years after their husbands’ death. Activists demand that widows be allowed to stay as long as they pay the rent on time