Egypt Announces New Courts Specifically Designed To Deal With Cases Of Abuse Against Women

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Ever since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread across the Arab world, including Egypt, where a wave of protests and demonstrations demanded change from various governments, there has been an increased amount of attention on that part of the world, especially Syria, where the civil war continues to rage on and millions of refugees desperately seek new homes in foreign countries.

In Egypt, the uprising culminated in a series of major protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo, which resulted in the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent tumultuous rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, before Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi gained power and still does to this day.

Aside from the ongoing politics in the country, every day life has been affected for many Egyptians, especially women. It is a country where violence, abuse and harassment are a major problem for women and girls. The UN estimates more than 99% of women and girls have experienced some form of harassment, and more than 82% said they don’t feel safe on the streets.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Gender Inequality Index of Egypt is 130 out of 187 countries according to the 2014 Human Development Report, and 77th out of 88 countries on gender empowerment and political participation. In fact after gaining power, President el-Sisi vowed to deal with abuse and violence toward women and now we are starting to see perhaps a glimpse of change.

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In an effort to deal with this ongoing problem, the Egyptian government have made a major step forward to help women. As part of the recently implemented Sustainable Development Goals which are a set of 17 goals designed to alleviate poverty globally by the year 2050, they have announced a new court circuit designed to specifically hear cases of abuse against women, Egypt’s Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zend announced in a statement at the end of November.

The idea of these courts is for women to obtain their “full rights” where perhaps they don’t in other areas of the justice system and in society. Concerned specifically with the mandate for Gender Equality in the Sustainable Development Goals, the Justice Minister said speaking about and demanding rights for women is the “soul of the law and its aim.”

It appears they are serious about cracking down on the abuse of women and have a legal system that enables laws to be better implemented. Ahram Online reports back in September, at the request of the Minister, a female judge was assigned as his aide, which is a big deal considering there are currently no female judges in any of Egypt’s criminal courts.

Although it is a step forward, there are some who don’t see a special court circuit as necessarily the answer to the problem.

“Development should be carried out through integrated operations implemented by the cooperative bodies under a unified philosophy and objective,” said Mervat El-Tellawy, chief of the Arab Women’s Organization, who believes development in women’s related issues shouldn’t only be executed through “isolated efforts by divided sectors.”

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It is important to see the Egyptian government take firm steps toward creating a society that is more gender equal, but the real test will be how it affects everyday women on the streets. The idea that a woman on the streets is “fair game” for harassment and abuse is no joke and cannot be ignored any longer.

In 2014 a 19 year old woman committed suicide after being harassed publicly, and what’s worse is that the police tried to cover up the fact that she was harassed. Luckily there were many witnesses to the event who spoke to the media to confirm this was not just any suicide.

And while there are instances of justice being one, it often doesn’t send a loud enough message. In 2012 a man was sentenced to 2 years in jail for grabbing a woman’s butt at a taxi stand, and also fined just over $300. The same news report states that since the Arab Spring and subsequent revolution, there has been an increase in harassment toward women on the streets.

Egyptian women are not waiting around for new laws and justice to favor them, they are taking action and creating ways to protect themselves and help other women prevent attacks. In a short documentary feature as part of Refinery29’s ‘A Woman’s Place’ series created by We Are The XX filmmakers Allison Rapson and Kassidy Brown, we learn about a group of innovative and social justice advocates from Egypt who have created an increase awareness about street harassment.

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Reem Wael is the creator of  Harassmap, an interactive online map where women can report experiencing harassment, to help women avoid those intimidating situations. Harassmap is currently the only organization in the country focused on dealing with street harassment issues, and when they started in 2010 there were many people who denied the existence of the problem, but now that they have numerous stories and data from various women, it is becoming clear just how pervasive street harassment is.

Basma El-Gabry is the founder of Girls Go Wheels, an organization that helps other women buy scooters and learn to ride. From her personal experience where she found less harassment when she rode a scooter through the streets as opposed to walking, she knew she had to help other women gain the same freedom.

Filmmakers Tinne Van Loon and Colette Ghunim who are based in Cairo have created a documentary showing first hand experience of what it is like to be a woman walking on the streets of Egypt every day. In September 2014 they uploaded a 1 minute video to Youtube called ‘Creepers on the Bridge’ where a camera attached to a woman’s body passes numerous men on a bridge, all of whom stare at the women incessantly and for an excessive amount of time.

The video went viral and was covered by international media, and it helped draw attention to their full-length documentary ‘The People’s Girls’ which features interviews from a series of women who are sick of not being believed when they say they have been the victim of harassment.

Part of the solution is exposing the constant harassment and victimization of women in public, but then authorities and the government must step in to make a change. Aside from these women creating ways to document and share the undeniable amount of harassment toward Egyptian women on a daily basis, men need to step up to the plate, recognize what is going on and be part of the change.

In 2013 an Egyptian TV station  hired a male actor to dress up as a woman for the day and documented what (s)he experienced from men on the streets. At one point actor Waleed Hammad said he feared for his life as one man followed him for 45 minutes and got aggressive when insisting he should give share his phone number with the stranger.

We are heartened to see the justice system taking this seriously and hope the issue of harassment and abuse against women will not be a tokenized agenda simply to appease the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. Instead, we hope to see a remarkable change in gender equality in a place where it is highly needed.

Take a look at the video below of the Egyptian actor Waleed Hammad dressing up as a woman for the day:

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