Women in Egypt have for years been dealing with a major problem they are unable to speak about – sexual harassment.
According to a 2013 study by the UN, 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment.
The narrative however started to change eight years ago when Noha Elostaz broke taboo by disclosing details of an assault on her as she pushed for a conviction of her harasser.
She thus became the first woman in Egypt to win a conviction against a man for sexual harassment. Eight years on, activists and lawyers say they see progress and a change in attitude as more harassers are being jailed.
“Today, “Sexual Harassment” is a crime in the law books and there is a punishment for it. That makes a difference. All movements since 2011, political and non-political, have helped, and many women have began filing complaints. There are cases that have been won,” said Mozn Hassan, the Executive Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a leading women’s rights group.
Noha Elostaz attests to the progress being made in the fight against sexual harassement saying: “Now I hear about so many cases, girls who take men to police stations, and people now have a sense of familiarity with this act. In daily life, things have improved”.
But the change does not seem to happening fast enough for some women like Yosra Abdelaziz who has tried unsuccessfully to report harassers including her own brother.
“Now I see that the scandal is the solution. Everyone asks me why I no longer talk to my brother. I tell them it’s because he did that. Even at work, because we work together when someone asks me, I say it’s because he did this,” Yosra said.
The issue of sexual harassment came to the fore in a 2006 public debate when scores of men assaulted women in central Cairo during a public holiday.
According to the 2013 UN study, some 82.6 percent of Egyptian women said they did not feel safe in the streets.
But a lot has gone into the fight against sexual harassment. After the 2011 uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak, anti-harassment graffiti have spread across downtown Cairo with volunteers organized to rescue women from mob attacks and more women also sharing their stories publicly.