Breakthrough as Egypt jails ‘groper’
By Heba Saleh in Cairo
Published: October 23 2008 19:25 | Last updated: October 23 2008 19:25
A landmark court decision this week to fine and imprison for three years a man convicted of sexually harassing a woman on a Cairo street has been welcomed as a breakthrough by campaigners.
The ruling “sends a message to all segments of Egyptian society that sexual harassment is a crime and will not be tolerated”, said the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, an organisation that has been leading calls for a law that would impose stiff sentences for sexual harassment.
Sherif Gomaa, who was convicted on Tuesday, had got out of his car and groped a young woman walking with a friend in an upmarket district of Cairo. Although he got back and started driving away, his victim, a film director, pursued him and at one point jumped on the boot of the car. She eventually managed to get him to a police station.
Organisations such as ECWR say there is a need to educate the Egyptian public about sexual harassment, because many people believe it to be harmless, or else they accuse women of provoking such behaviour by dressing immodestly. A report by the group earlier this year said nearly two-thirds of Egyptian men admit to having sexually harassed women; a majority said women themselves were to blame.
The issue of sexual harassment on the streets and on public transport, long accepted as a minor social ill, imposed itself on public opinion here two years ago when a mob of young men roamed central Cairo on a public holiday and set upon women passers-by, tearing at their clothes and sexually molesting them.
The attack, heavily publicised by bloggers and initially denied by the police, came as a shock to a society in which safety on the streets has never been an issue. A similar attack on three girls on a shopping thoroughfare last month renewed feelings of outrage.
Most harassment against women in Egypt is verbal, but according to a survey conducted by ECWR, 40 per cent of the women polled said they had been touched inappropriately.
The survey also showed that women who wore Islamic headscarves were just as likely to be harassed as women with uncovered hair.
“Sometimes a man tries to stick his body to mine on the bus,” said Madiha Soliman, a 29-year-old cleaner who commutes into the city every day. “I tell him politely to move away, and if he doesn’t I take out one of the pins holding my headscarf and, if he comes too close, it pricks him. That’s usually enough to make him go away.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
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