Giving people “a sense of magnitude of the sexual harassment problem” was the motto of the #MeToo hashtag and was made true by thousands of stories that flooded social media for several days now.
Women from all over the world told their accounts of being sexually harassed, encouraged each other to speak up, and generated and expressed support as the hashtag attracted sexual assault victims and sympathisers from both genders.
But most importantly, #MeToo induced the exposure of the perpetrators, as some women did.
The hashtag quickly drew local attention too. It was translated in Arabic (Ana Kaman) and was popular on social media, despite little coverage in Egyptian media. Moreover, sarcasm and sexist jokes were condemned.
This coincided with a new study that confirmed the negative reputation of the country’s record in sexual harassment against women.
Cairo was named as the “most dangerous megacity for women” in a survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which asked women issues’ experts in 19 megacities on protection from sexual violence and harmful cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and access to healthcare, finance, and education.
“Women’s rights campaigners in Cairo said traditions dating back centuries made it a tough city, with discrimination rife,” the report published on Monday said. Cairo was followed by Karachi, Kinshasa, then New Delhi.
There have been previous social media initiatives and awareness campaigns in Egypt that aimed at condemning sexual violence against women, demanding the rule of law be applied, and encouraging women to speak up and create support networks.
In April, a hashtag was released, roughly translated into “the first time I was harassed, my age was …” where a great deal of accounts emerged on sexual assaults on girls at a young age by family members.
Much controversy also erupted in August over sexual harassment allegations when a Cairo University professor was faced with charges of forcing students into sexual acts using his authority over them.
Amid ongoing violence against women, an old case was re-opened this week: a victim of sexual harassment was assaulted by her harasser, who attempted to take revenge, after she spoke out against him in the media and he was was found guilty as charged.
The perpetrator had only been imprisoned for two weeks as punishment and was able to assault his victim for the second time. This time, the attack was not of a sexual nature, but rather an attempted murder.
Women face verbal and physical harassment on a daily basis in Egypt, especially on streets and in public transportation. Assaults increase during public gatherings, such as on holidays or protests, where there have been numerous accounts of gang assaults.
While the National Council for Women Rights undermines the problem—often claiming to receive no complaints during public holidays—the space for women NGOs to denounce sexual violence against women also shrank.