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Cairo University launches 16-day campaign against on-campus sexual harassment

Over 99 percent of women in Egypt have been sexual harassed [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 29 November, 2016

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Cairo University has launched a new anti-sexual harassment campaign to promote safe spaces on campus in a country were most women have been sexual harassed at least once.

Cairo University's anti-sexual harassment unit has launched a new campaign to promote safe space on campus as part of the United Nation's 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign.

On the first day of the 16-day campaign, which runs from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November until Human Rights Day on 10 December, students and professors took part in a cycling event for awareness purposes.

"We want to deliver a message that women or men have the right to ride bikes, walk and run in the streets safely," Professor Wafaa Abdel Ghany told Ahram Online.

Other activities in the campaign include workshops and a band playing music on campus, as well as handing out brochures and hanging banners to introduce the anti-sexual harassment unit to the community, she added.

"The brochures advise women on what to do if they are sexually harassed," she explained.

"We included the information on the clauses of the existing law against harassment and penalties."

Egypt has some of the world's highest rates of sexual harassment.

A 2013 UN report said that 99.3 percent of women in Egypt had been subjected to one form of sexual harassment or another.

Cairo University has recently announced a set of policies and measures to contain the phenomenon on campus, including the creation of a unit to combat sexual harassment and violence against women.

"This is a good step for Cairo University and the other groups and campaigns that offered their help," said Professor Iman Ezzat, who took part in Friday's cycling event.

"The message we want to deliver is that our campus will be a safe space for all. Women as well as men can walk and move freely on campus," she added.

The British Council in Egypt has also partnered with Cairo University on the campaign, with a programme called "My Right", which aims to support women and girls who have been subjected to violence and raise awareness about sexual harassment and domestic violence.

"To be part of this, part of what we are doing as an organisation, is really important to us," said James Hampson, deputy director of British Council in Egypt.

"Empowering women and girls is an incredibly important part of what we are doing in Egypt at the moment," he added.

"Everybody knows that Egypt, like many countries across the world, has a problem around sexual harassment. So to get out on the streets to raise awareness and tell people about the cause and what people are doing about it, I think that's the important thing."

Sexual harassment on campus

Though it mostly takes place in the streets, sexual harassment has been an issue for thousands of students on university and school campuses.

A 2015 report by "I Saw Harassment", a civil pressure group that observes and documents crimes of sexual harassment against women and girls, described incidents of sexual harassment inside university campuses and schools across the country as an "endemic".

Female students are harassed by male students, individuals from the administrative security, and some faculty members, the report found.

The message we want to deliver is that our campus will be a safe space for all. Women as well as men can walk and move freely on campus.
- Iman Ezzat

Ain Shams University, another major educational institution in Cairo, has also launched a special unit to combat sexual harassment on campus, with hopes of raising awareness on ways to counteract the ongoing issue.

Inaugurated in April by a delegation from the Swedish embassy and representatives of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the unit offered a counselling room for people to report incidents of sexual harassment and speak informally about their experiences.

"As sexual harassment remains a controversial topic in Egypt the creation of informal channels for reporting sexual harassment is important," Jon Hedenström, regional programme manager at the Swedish embassy in Cairo, said at the time.

He added that courses and workshops would be held to "increase awareness about the negative effects of these behaviours", as well as to identify them and take action against them.

Law and social stigma

In 2014, Egypt passed a law criminalising sexual harassment, with a fine of 3,000 to 5,000 Egyptian Pounds ($168 to $281) and/or a jail sentence of no fewer than six months.

Besides the lack of specialised police or proper law enforcement mechanisms, the phenomenon continues to rise because victims of sexual harassment and related violence - mostly women - do not report the crimes committed against them for fear of the associated social stigma.

Even in cases when victims actually attempt to file a police report, they are usually advised to drop their charges to avoid "scandals" or "a bad reputation".

However, the past ten years have seen dozens of individual and institutional initiatives attempt to raise awareness and reduce sexual harassment.

Though some of these initiatives were deemed sexist, as they focused on blaming the victim and calling for more modest attire, others have managed to do admirable work monitoring, documenting, and combating sexual harassment - as well as raising awareness about the increasing rates of attack.

These include "I saw harassment", "HarassMap", "operation anti-sexual harassment/assault" and "Tahrir bodyguard".

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