Creative Solutions to Sexual Crime

Women's march in Cairo
Arabic: There is no need for men only. (Photograph: Virginie Nguyen, via Mada Masr.)

Official Egyptian statistics departments have recently published sobering numbers concerning domestic violence:

At least 18 percent of adult Egyptian women have reportedly experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of family members or close acquaintances in 2015, according to official estimates by Egypt’s Economic Cost of Gender Based Violence Survey (ECGBVS), published in June 2016.

Around 46 percent of married women aged 18 to 64 years in Egypt have experienced some form of spousal violence, whether physical, emotional or sexual, according to the same survey, which was conducted by Egypt’s official statistic body the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the National Council of Women (NCW) and the United Nations Fund for Population Agency (UNFPA).

One out of four married women has been subjected to physical violence at one point in their lives by their current or former husband, according to 2014 statistics from the Demographic and Health Survey.

(via Ahram Online)

And according to the UN, it is even worse for women outside the home. Back in 2014 I wrote about a Sunday School teacher training children to defend themselves against sexual harassment, and conveyed these figures:

According to a survey published by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 99 percent of Egyptian women have been subjected to sexual harassment.

This goes far beyond playful catcalls, with 96 percent reporting their bodies have been touched and 55 percent of these having had their breasts groped.

Egyptian society and government recognizes the problem and has recently increased fines and jail terms for offenders. But this article by Mada Masr concerns a victim who thought beyond punishment into transformation. And she went the extra mile to secure a greater justice.

When one woman was sexually harassed this month in Cairo, she made an unusual move: she came to an informal agreement with her attacker’s family and juvenile prosecution to drop charges on condition that the boy get therapy and do community service.

Having caught the boy who groped her hard from behind, after quite a chase, Mariam felt more confused than victorious. Quite a crowd gathered when she caught him. It was the evening of a match and having run through a few streets, the boy tripped by a full café.

“People assumed that I was chasing him because he’d stolen something from me. They asked me and I said yes, he stole something very important, my dignity.” Some of those who had gathered suggested she leave it now, she had caught, hit and insulted him, that he was young and she should forgive him. But those who stayed on the scene, all men Mariam says, encouraged her.

Then, when the police came and the 14-year-old was being put in the van, they hit him on the back of his neck. “I freaked out,” Mariam recounts. “We all know what happens in Egyptian prisons and police stations and detention centers. I felt I was caught between two fires. Either I get my rights and this boy is subjected to violence, or I let him go, he will carry on doing it, I’ll be passive and other things I can’t accept for myself.”

Fortunately, she found allies in the 14-year-old’s parents, and in the public prosecutor. They worked out an arrangement, one the court may even return to:

She told the prosecutor about HarassMap, an NGO that encourages bystanders and institutions to speak up against harassers and have a zero-tolerance attitude toward harassment. He was not dismissive, as she had expected, and took a contact so that he could deal with HarassMap in similar cases, also informally.

There are many problems in Egypt, but also good people. And often unreported are the small changes that ripple through society, as these good people labor on:

“There has been a huge shift, primarily around the question of who should be ashamed,” Abdel Hameed says.

Perhaps one day, none will need be.

Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Christian’s Sexual Harassment Campaign Endorsed by Government

Props used in the children's awareness campaign. The Arabic reads: Bad Touch (L), Good Touch (R)
Props used in the children’s awareness campaign. The Arabic reads: Bad Touch (L), Good Touch (R)

It is not often a Sunday school teacher gets a call from the Egyptian government. But in a time of rampant sexual harassment, as highlighted by an assault in Tahrir Square posted and widely viewed on YouTube, creativity in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable attracts attention.

The video of the naked and bloodied women, which was taken during Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s presidential victory celebrations, has been a wake-up call for a society where sexual assault of women seems to be culturally acceptable.

But one woman has been tirelessly working away at the root causes.

Eman Ezat
Eman Ezat

Eman Ezat is a children’s worship leader in Cairo who has worked with thousands of children to raise awareness about sexual harassment.

She and her team of 25 volunteers – both Muslim and Christian – have presented to over 10,000 students through skit and song. They have visited seven Egyptian governorates, working in churches, Islamic agencies, and government centers.


In addition they have given adult training to over 1,500 parents and 500 teachers in ten different schools, both public and private. Their work has been featured on five different Egyptian TV stations, including the government’s Channel One.

The result of which was a phone call from Ghada Wali, recently reappointed as Minister of Social Solidarity in Sisi’s cabinet. She has invited Ezat to cooperate in the training of all government-supervised nurseries.

‘Our first song, which is written in the Arabic language, is about teaching sexual awareness to children,’ says Ezat.

‘Don’t let anyone touch you, here,’ the song says, to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands. ‘It’s your body, no one has the right to do so.’

But Ezat is far more than a Sunday school teacher. A professor in the Faculty of Education at Cairo University, she has also been trained in the counseling of sexually abused children, and has worked with hundreds of cases.

In her unofficial tally, 70 per cent of sexual abuse cases originate from within the immediate family. A further 20 per cent are the victims of relatives.

In such a context, her song is revolutionary.


‘Our sexual culture is based on shame,’ Ezat told Lapido Media. ‘This creates pressure on everyone which then explodes into harassment on the street.’

According to a survey published by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 99 percent of Egyptian women have been subjected to sexual harassment.

This goes far beyond playful catcalls, with 96 percent reporting their bodies have been touched and 55 percent of these having had their breasts groped.

The problem, Ezat believes, is that social taboos result in families leaving their children sexually unaware. As kids mature they pick up the worst attitudes from their peers as the sexual harassment culture reinforces itself.

Dignity without Borders recently produced video testimonies of attitudes towards harassment by male and female schoolchildren. Many of the children justified it as normal while others blamed the woman.

According to the UN survey, 37 per cent of adult women also held women primarily responsible.

Hemaya Arabic

Despite such cultural constraints, Ezat decided to educate children herself. In June 2013 she created Hemaya, Arabic for ‘protection’, to teach kids that their body belongs to them alone.

Political will

Government attention to sexual harassment is on the rise. In one of his first acts as president, Sisi visited the assaulted woman in the hospital, and gave her a rose.

‘This has never happened before,’ said Mona Salem, a researcher with the National Council for Women (NCW). ‘Before this they always blamed the woman. The political will is now present to address the issue.’

The State is beginning to address the issue culturally. The educational curriculum will be amended to raise awareness about harassment. An award will be given to the television series that best promotes women’s rights.

Salem also described recent NCW successes in opening a ‘Violence against Women’ unit in the Interior Ministry, helping police better deal with harassment reports. Specialised personnel will be present in every district.

But the best indication of government intention is Egypt’s first ever law specifically addressing sexual harassment. Punishments range from six months to five years imprisonment, in addition to hefty fines.

But there remains concern whether such amendments will be effective.

‘Egypt’s position has traditionally been dreadful in terms of lack of implementation of the law, victim blaming and a lack of reporting due to shame,’ says Mandy Marshall, director of Restored, an international charity campaigning to end violence against women.

‘There is clearly now a drive to do something about this but cultural attitudes take a long time to change and need to be consistently modeled by those in leadership and with power.’


This article was originally published on Lapido Media. I became aware of them when they came to Sunday School at our local church. Here are some more photos via

Translation: It's my body, no one has the right to touch it.
Translation: It’s my body, no one has the right to touch it.

Hemaya Children

Hemaya Children Group


Egyptian School Children on Sexual Harassment

These two videos, with translated subtitles, come from Dignity without Borders. The first interviews boys about their perception of sexual harassment, while the second gets the girls’ perspective.

Both are intriguing and shed light on what is widely acknowledged as a significant social problem. Listen in and find out why.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sexual Harassment

Flag Cross Quran


The problem is well known: Over 90 percent of Egyptian women complain of sexual harassment. The problem is well witnessed: Repeatedly at mass rallies in Tahrir women are sexually assaulted by groups of men.

Finally, perhaps, the problem is well addressed: The cabinet passed a law to criminalize such conduct and is undertaking plans to address the issue culturally.

The new administration of Sisi could hardly do otherwise. His inauguration celebration witnessed another incident, marring what he hoped would be a joyous occasion launching a fresh beginning.

Instead, the bickering blame game began. Some accused the Brotherhood, others the lax morality of a coup. In it all the suffering woman was not lost; Sisi brought her flowers.

But God, are suffering women lost? Is new legislation enough? And how long will it take to change a culture?

Protect women from violence, God. Protect them from words. Protect them from eyes. Protect their dignity in all public and private space.

Cultivate men. Refine their manners, God; increase their chivalry. Change their mentality. Discipline their passions. May they esteem each and every woman they encounter.

But plenty must change outside the individual as well, God. With whatever hope the revolution brought, it has broken down and is yet to build. And even before there was much that was crumbling.

Create a productive society that honors courage and beauty. Occupy idle hands; stimulate idle minds. But address this issue not through distraction, but through purity. Transform idle hearts.

Promote modesty, God, and pursue justice. Identify the criminals and redeem them. Convict the wayward thoughts of all, and have mercy.

May Egyptians be well loved, and well honored. Men and women together.



Sexual Harassment

750 - Young Arab woman.
Image via Wikipedia

During the past few weeks much of my activity at the office has focused on the supervision of others’ work and report writing. While this, unfortunately, has limited my own contributions, especially in this blog, I have missed the opportunity to link readers here to the reports we have produced. These are published on the Arab West Report home page; I will look to update these a little more regularly.

One such effort we have made is a short report about sexual harassment in Egypt, and some of the recent statistics and new technological efforts that help address the problem. Should we call it a problem? Is it a problem in America? I suppose wherever there are men and women this phenomena will occur, but this paper shows some of the cultural aspects unique to Egypt. Please enjoy, if it is correct to say so…

Click here for the link.