When feminaust co-founder isBambi and I were in Zurich earlier this year for International Women’s Summit and YWCA World Council we met an amazing young woman Sandra from YWCA of Egypt who spoke at one of the plenery events about the greatest challenges she saw the women of Egypt were facing, even since the revolution. Primarily she was concerned with the astronomical levels of street harassment that women face in Egypt, harassment that goes largely unreported and unpunished due to shame, fear and lack of political, judicial and police interest. She showed us a short clip for the film Cairo 678 and we were all struck by the feeling of utter helplessness of the women coupled with the brazen nonchalance of the perpetrators.
Street harassment in Egypt isn’t like that which we face in Australia. Here at home, my experience of street harassment is open, it’s men calling from their cars, honking their horns, yelling obscenities and reacting aggressively, but generally remotely, when my response isn’t positive. In Egypt, the street harassment is far more widespread but far more covert. It’s physical, it’s hidden, it’s not spoken of and it literally has the power to immobilise the women who experience it on a daily basis. The word harassment in my mind doesn’t even cover it, I believe it’s assault, in Australian legal terms it would be assault, it’s unwanted touching, groping, fondling and the women who experience it have little option but to move away or put up with it. Neither the law, society nor even their own families are interested in protecting them.
In Cairo 678 the protagonists are three women from very different places. An observant, economically disadvantaged mother of two, a young would-be stand up comedian and an affluent wife and artisan. All three experience sexual harassment in their daily lives and all three deal with it differently, the most dramatic response being to stab the harassers in the groin with a pen knife. The story is chilling, the fear that these women carry of being outside their own homes is sickening. But, the result of the assaults is not just fear, it reaches into their lives in tears at the things most important to them. Their relationships, their jobs, their families.
I challenge anyone to watch this film and remain unmoved by the portrayal of human failure and frailty, but mostly, by the absolute universality of sexual harassment in Egypt. For these women, it is not a case of if they will be sexually assaulted but when and how often.
Cairo 678 was shown in Melbourne as a part of the Amnesty International Stop Violence Against Women Film Festival. Shown are feminaust co-founders isBambi and MsElouise demonstrating their support for Egyptian women’s full participation in the political processes of the new Egypt. You can show your support by visiting the Amnesty International website and Voting for Women’s Rights in Egypt.
Also keep your eyes and ears out for a short podcast from the young women of YWCA World Council coming soon to feminaust featuring the views of Sandra from YWCA of Egypt.