June 2014 marks the first time in Egyptian history that sexual harassment is considered a criminal act. The decree was approved by the outgoing interim president Adly Mansour, after a recent increase in the number of sexual assaults in the country have lead to public outcry.
In the new decree sexual harassment is defined as “any sexual or pornographic suggestion or hints through words, signs or acts”. This is the first time that the term “sexual harassment” has been defined in an Egyptian law, and the first time it has been considered a criminal act, now punishable by prison time or monetary fines.
The law has increased penalties for offenders holding a position of power over their victim, offenders wearing a uniform, or if they are armed. A minimum of a two year jail sentence is in place. There are also increased penalties for repeat offenders.
Sexual assaults have been on the rise in Egypt since the 2011 uprising that lead to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. There has been an especially high number of mob attacks on women during political protests and gatherings. A number of attacks have also been reported by women attending University in Egypt. Many women have been targets of sexual harassment due to what has been deemed “inappropriate attire”, and some have been blamed for provoking men to behave this way with their clothing choices.
A 2013 study completed by the United Nations entitled “Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women” reported that 99.3% of Egyptian women experience some form of sexual harassment in their lives. Part of the problem also lies with women who feel ashamed or afraid and do not report their attackers, majority of sexual assaults go unreported. Women are urged to report the crimes that are committed in order to work towards changing the culture, however it is frustrating for them due to the fact that many attackers are not found, or not charged.
Along with the new law that has just been passed, several other initiatives have been put in place in order to help women and decrease sexual harassment, including volunteer groups to escort women, self defense classes, and a number of campaigns to shed light on the issue, and document the incidents.
Sexual harassment is prevalent in most Muslim majority countries. Studies have shown the countries that are considered the most dangerous for women as well as have the largest gender gap, have a majority Muslim population.
This info graphic created by Thomson Reuters Foundation after a study in 2011 shows that 3 out of the 5 most dangerous countries in the world for women are predominantly Muslim.
The 2009 Global Gender Gap report created by the World Economic Forum lists the bottom ten countries, nine of which are predominately Muslim.