Tuesday, September 16

It's Time to Say: "Back Off!"

Hi again.. I'm saying 'HI' as I have recently come back from vacation. My absence was due to many reasons, none of which can be discussed here. Yet, from now on I can promise everyone that they would find a huge change with this blog. Let's make it a surprise..

Today I talk about sexual harassment.. Wait.. I know what you're thinking now. Please be patient.. No, it's not a "going-with- the-flow" kind of business. And no, it's not because I suddenly discovered (like many people pretend to do) that women are being harassed in Egypt! And no, I won't waste your precious time on the usual talk which is being reproduced here and there. Nonetheless, I can't hide how happy I am that Egyptians have (at last!) decided to speak up and publicly condemn this shameful practice, which had in fact turned into a massive plague during the past few years.

I'm glad that nowadays we openly admit that women are not safe in Egypt. And I salute the idea of the campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism. One of their TV ads show a truck driver harassing a female tourist, who angrily complains that "this has never happened to her anywhere else." The ad ends by telling the harasser, "You're not the only one to lose. We all lose." They might have as well added the label "ONLY IN EGYPT", although I don't believe it's true. Still, we should admit that sexual harassment is not as widely practiced anywhere else as it is in Egypt. In fact, it has become part of an Egyptian female's daily routine! You wake up, get dressed, head to school or university or work, get harassed on the way, and then get harassed again on your way back home.

I really wish to see an ad asking men to stop harassing Egyptian women. Don't get me wrong. I encourage protecting tourists with all my heart. Their safety is the least we can guarantee them while they're visiting our land. But don't you think that we lose more by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the daily suffering of our own women! Money is not the only thing to lose. And allow me to say that it is the last thing we should care about losing if we lose everything that makes us human.. I'm talking about honor and dignity.

This BCC report, titled "Egypt voices: Sexual harassment", is not only worth reading, but it is also worth writing about. In this report, several Egyptian girls talk about their personal experiences with sexual harassment. Up till here, there's nothing new. What's new is that those girls did so while showing their faces, stating their true names and professions! Now, many will consider this an act of outstanding courage. But I wanna tell you that one becomes that brave (or daring if you might say) when one loses hope. In other words, when you are fed up, and you realize that you're all alone and that things will never get better unless you scream out loud in the desperate hope that someone may overhear you. This does not decrease our respect for their courage, for it takes a very strong person to face a society like ours with such facts. There is no more "I heard that". There is no more "one of my friends got harassed". There is finally a confession in first person pronoun.. "I was harassed". And it didn't stop there, for they moved to describing real incidents.. what the harassers did to them and how they felt during and after this ordeal.

I don't remember how many times I have been verbally harassed. According to the latest survey, 4 out of every 5 females in Egypt get harassed on daily basis! This doesn't mean that the other 1 out of 5 were never subject to sexual harassment.. It simply means that they don't experience it on daily basis. And I believe that this is the first true figure to be announced about sexual harassment in Egypt.. or 'the cancer', as the The Egyptian Center for Women Rights calls it in its latest survey. However, I don't like this metaphor, as it makes harassment sound like it has no cure, while on the contrary, this disease can and must be cured. Its cure lies in the hands of many who have for long chosen to be passive and to simply live in denial. Finally, I'm glad to announce that we're waiting for a law that would punish sexual harassers. However, I don't trust how laws function in our dear third world countries. My own problem, I know.. but it may as well be yours if this law (in case it sees the light) didn't improve anything.

In my previous post I wrote about the ridiculous lollipop ad and warned that it will only serve to provide more support to harassers. I also said that females in this country have got the choice between allowing themselves to be reduced into inanimate objects, or fighting for their humanity and their basic civil rights in a safe street and safe means of transportation. I think it's time to be more specific about what is expected of a girl who values her humanity.

One of the girls interviewed in the report mentioned above said that her mother told her not to answer back to those who harass her. How many times have we heard this, huh? With all respect to our mothers who lived in a different Egypt and who safely wore mini skirts to university without ever meeting an indecent look or gesture.. this dusty advice can go straight to hell. Being raised in shame, swallowing all kinds of insult and abuse in silence so as not to disturb our patriarchal society in its sleep has caused us to reach this dead end we're facing today. Now, what should we wait for? For society to protect us?? Hahaha. Bogus!

I say we keep screaming. It's healthy. Better than increasing the repression and hiding the agony. It is time for this society to wake up and see what it has done to its women.. don't you think so? But meanwhile, you should also seek to defend yourself. Unless you care to stand up for yourself, nobody will care for you. You won't earn anyone's respect if you just keep enduring being slapped. You will turn from being the victim into being guilty. You will be the cross onto which society shall hang all its failures and rottenness. If you have respect for yourself.. and if you think that you deserve to be treated with respect.. raise your head up high and shake off all the shame and guilt that they laid on you. Defend your right and take back your street. Yes, it is yours! It's not Men's Street. It is your street as well. You are not an excess. You are not a lollipop or any goody they want to reduce you into. Put the shame on the one who deserves it. Make the insect who dares touch you or talk to you in an improper way see your disgust, and expose him in front of everyone.

Here are some final tips which are personally tested and proven to reduce harassment. Preventing it, though, would need a collaborative effort. Remember that by being passive you are not only harming yourself, but you are putting hundreds at risk. Think about it.

1. Have a serious look on your face whenever you're walking down the street. This would give any harasser an indication that you're not the quiet, shy kind of girl. He would be reluctant to approach you for fear that his assault might provoke you enough to scream and scandalize him.

2. When you ride a bus or metro, or if you are in a crowded place, don't look around you as if you are expecting to be harassed at any moment. Harassers smell weak girls who are already scared. They know that fear will paralyze you for a few seconds, and that is all they need. Instead, stand up straight. Act confident. Look people in the eye. And if you meet the eye of someone you suspect of being a harasser, don't ever look away. Give him a slight grim mixed with the "Don't-even-think-about-it" kind of look directly in the eye.

3. If you have to walk down a quiet inner alley, don't walk close to the buildings. This will encourage any harasser, because he knows that chances of you being noticed by passers by or inhabitants who might be present in their balconies is minimal. Instead, walk towards the middle of the street. You might think that hiding makes you safe, but in fact you are trapping yourself, being blocked from view. It is also recommended, in case you pass by this alley on daily basis, to save the number of the nearest police station on your mobile.. preferably saving it as "1police", for example. This will make it on top of your phone book list for a fast dial.

4. If you think you're being harassed, do not deceive yourself into mistaking it for a joke. Many girls endure inappropriate comments or gestures made by their colleagues, bosses, teachers…etc, trying to convince themselves that it is just their way of joking, or that those persons have a crude sense of humor! They think that rejecting these acts or being firm would cause embarrassment and unneeded tension! Baby, if you feel bad, awkward, offended, uneasy, or that something is wrong, then it has to be as such. Sugar-coating harassment won't make it sound any better. If you don't stop this early enough, the person who is harassing you (whoever he is.. and yes, he can be as old as your grandfather) will take it as a green light to proceed to more daring stuff. Don't be a willing victim. Denial always makes things worse.

5. If you get harassed, make a scene. This does not only teach your harasser a lesson, but it also makes you stronger as you discover how cowardly those harassers turn to be. You will be more able to defend yourself. Once you lose the fear.. fear of the harasser and fear of speaking out.. you will be amazed as you encounter less and less harassments. By then, you'd think that those insects that roam the streets have suddenly disappeared. But no.. The harassers didn't disappear.. it is the new you that they fear.


sa3id said...

I am speechless when i look to the state we have reached, the bbc is making a report with real testimonies about sexual harrasment to egyptian women in egypt, yet the local authorities don't take any movement, are we that numb?
I would like to report another incident that happened to my friend's mother ( notice she is a mother of a 15 years old son, she was 37 at that time ), she was in the car with her father ( 68 years old by that time ) with the windows opened, when a taxi driver in the car next to them put his hands on her breasts??!!!!, can you believe that rudeness??? a middle aged woman riding with her father in a car and get her breasts touched???, the thing is her father went mad, he grabbed a screwdriver which was all he could find and tried to threat that taxi driver who went screaming in fear but no one, i repeat no one tried to do anything as if she deserves to be harrassed, really shame on us, shame on that society

raaasa said...


We should all be screaming.

Excellent article.
Thank you,

Raouf said...

Fantasia, you are right in your analysis and I applaud the suggestions.
This is not an issue of tourist versus locals but a festering mentality that has invaded Egyptian men and is kept going by a conspiracy of silence.
Not answering the harassment may have been appropriate at some time when the harassers realized their stupidity and just stopped.
But what we see today is NOT harassment but clear, consistent and unabashed aggression against all women.

We need to ask men, why do you do this? Why do you look away when you see it happening in front of you? Why do you raise your boys to not respect women?
We need to ask women, why do not speak the awful truth to your father, mother, brother and neighbors. You know you are not the only one who is harassed, why do you carry the shame that is not yours?

When the conspiracy of silence stops then the psychology of the problem will change.

Fantasia said...

dear sa3id,

I'm horrified! That's the least I could say after reading your story.. WTF? Imagine someone grabbing your breast inside your own car! And of course, the shameful, illogical and inexcusable silence of the people around you only adds insult to injury.
What horrifies me even more is that such passive behavior from the passers by has become the norm! You can't help suspecting that each and every one of them must be a harasser himself.
Thanks for sharing this, though. That's what we need at this point.. an eye-opening, real-life horror that is enough to disturb the dead in their sleep. Hope our society would come to its senses soon.

Fantasia said...

dear raaasa,

I can never thank you enough for your continuous support to this blog. Your comment was truly encouraging and helped boost my spirit, in spite of the lump that is still in my throat after reading the story in the previous comment.
Miss your longer comments, though :)

Fantasia said...

dear rauof,

Yes.. the conspiracy of silence.. that's it. The silence that aims to let the victim realize that she is all alone, and that nobody is willing to stand up for her. The silence that tells a shameful story of a sick society, void of any ethical code or human conscience. The silence that degrades all women and labels them as "the scum of earth", preventing them from having their basic rights in life. The silence that makes the devil proud.

How can we stop it when this patriarchal society refuses to treat its maladies? They wanna invoke slavery and harem.. only this time the crime won't be only committed against female prisoners of war or those of a different race.

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde