Sexual violence is a problem that is rarely dealt with in Egyptian society and, when it is, blame is usually assigned to the victim. The violence often goes unreported for that reason, and because of the stigma that these attacks confer on women, who are then seen as shaming their families. This may not be new, but the steps that women are taking to prevent these attacks are.
Women of all ages in Cairo are attending karate lessons in an effort to learn techniques that will hopefully help them fend off their attackers. For these women, sexual assault is not a subject to be kept in the shadows and ignored; they recognize the dangers and speak openly about it, refusing to be shamed and stigmatized. “I was on my way home from school and I was attacked – I didn’t know what to do,” 14-year-old Shaza Saeed said. “But now I have learnt how to defend myself so I am not afraid any more. I think every girl should go to self-defense classes like this.”
In a recent study, 83% of Egyptian women say that they have experienced “harassment.” I do question if harassment is a euphemism in this case, as the women interviewed in the BBC article describe their harassment in terms that sound like sexual assault and attempted sexual assault. And in either case, a staggering two thirds of the men surveyed freely admitted that they had abused a woman. The Egyptian government has finally admitted that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with, and there is a bill in parliament that would define sexual harassment as a crime. Hopefully that will help to move it out of the shadows, lessen the stigma, and give women the confidence to come forward.