EGYPT: Tahrir Square becomes sexual violence hotspot

Women lined Mohamed Mahmoud street in front of Hardee’s carrying signs against sexual harassment.

CAIRO: Meandering through the masses on Tuesday and Wednesday, hands were out and about, grabbing and groping women with impunity, Egyptian and foreign women have told Bikyamasr.com in the latest sexual violence craze to hit the country.

“I was pushing through and as the men were praying in the square, I had my butt and chest grabbed repeatedly by people,” said one Egyptian woman, who asked that her identity not be revealed.

She told Bikyamasr.com that “I was in shock, because the Islamists were in the square, but I guess it doesn’t matter who is protesting, women will be attacked.”

Other women, including foreign journalists, told Bikyamasr.com that they had been repeatedly groped on the streets near and inside Tahrir Square. For many, they said they will not return to the square during the evening in fear of being sexually assaulted.

The month of June has seen numerous reports of sexual violence in Egypt’s iconic square, highlighting that women’s rights and ending harassment continue to be on the outside looking in as political tension in the country amps up.

Last Friday was the worst day, with women, both foreigners and Egyptians, reporting that they had been sexually assaulted in the square take place following the disbanding of Parliament on Thursday evening.

“I was walking in the square and was hoping to be part of the calls for the SCAF to leave power when a man behind me grabbed by butt and started saying disgusting things to me,” one woman told Bikyamasr.com on Friday afternoon, asking that their identity remain anonymous.

“He asked if I was a slut and then swore at me when I yelled at him,” she added.

Others also reported being harassed on social media networks, highlighting the growing concern facing women in the country and specifically in Tahrir Square, where masses are gathering.

It came exactly one week after an anti-sexual harassment demonstration organized by over 20 Egyptian women’s groups in protest against the recent escalation of assaults in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was attacked about an hour and half after it began by unknown troublemakers.

The participants reported being attacked by a mob of “thugs” who attempted to throw rocks and glass at them, but the clash was over quickly as volunteers securing the protest intervened to stop it.

This was not the first time a women’s rights march was attacked in Tahrir Square.

Last March, and on International Women’s Day, a march of tens of women was attacked by a cynical mob of men who did not like women protesting for more rights.

Several female protesters were injured and one woman had to have 8 stitches in her head. Almost all of them were groped and sexually assaulted in the attack.

A 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) found that well over two-thirds of Egyptian women are sexually harassed daily in the country.

Right before the attack, and in the middle of thousands of protesters calling for change, the female protesters stood strong, denouncing the recent viscous attacks on female visitors to Tahrir Square, only a short time before they themselves were the victims of an attack.

On Friday night, and on the Friday of Determination mass protest that saw tens of thousands descend on the square, the attack proved the difficulties women face in Egypt.

The protest saw women and men from various age groups come together calling for an end to sexual violence against women in the square.

The participants held signs that read “It is my right to protest safely,” “Groping your sister is shameful for the square” and “Be a man and protect her instead of harassing her.”

“We are fed up,” protester Mai Abdel Hafez, 24, told Bikyamasr.com.

“We came to deliver a message that it is our right to protest and we will not avoid the square in fear of harassment,” she said right before the attack took place.

 

In Egypt, Tahrir Square becomes sexual violence hotspot

 

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