A number of things tell us that ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment is possible and that some things have already started to change. First of all, the social acceptability of sexual harassment has not always been as big of a problem as it is now. Instead it has grown over the years, and so it can also be reduced over time. Egypt also has a tradition of standing up to sexual harassment the same way as any another crime. In the past, it was not accepted and tolerated the same way as it is today and bystanders are known to have spoken up to harassers, and sometimes even chased them and/or shaved their heads as a mark of shame. All Egyptians can identify with traditions and values of respecting each other, stepping up to help each other, and standing up against crime.
Sexual harassment has already become much more acknowledged and it is being discussed everywhere, in media and activist communities but also among people in general and especially among youth. This is a great development from when we launched and no one wanted to talk about it and it shows that things have already started to change. This also means that more and more people are reporting it instead of staying silent (we received 1386 reports by January 2015), and in some cases harassers have, over the last few years, been brought to court and charged. The taboo of sexual harassment has slowly started to change. Some of the women who have been assaulted and/or raped in mob attacks in Tahrir Square have started to come forward to tell their stories, and so have male and female witnesses and volunteers.
The number of volunteers (we have hundreds all over Egypt) and activists and initiatives who no longer accept sexual harassment in their society and who are determined to fight it, also show that things are already changing. People are coming together all the time to work against sexual harassment and the number of new initiatives has increased rapidly over the last couple of years (from 0 in 2010 to dozens in 2015). The rate of change can also be seen in the streets during our community mobilization. When confronted with facts and information that break the stereotypes and myths about sexual harassment that lead to justifications, blaming, silence (and social acceptability), many people start changing their way of thinking about it, and then their way of acting too.
This is just one example: In April 2013 a young woman was walking down a street in Zamalek in Cairo when she was verbally harassed by an older man who also followed her. This caught the attention of the caretaker of a fast food chain restaurant located close by. The caretaker called the police who came by car and took the man into custody. The caretaker, when asked why he had intervened, replied reflecting HarassMap’s philosophy: ‘Because this is a safe area, sexual harassment is not acceptable here!’
Ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment – changing perceptions and behaviors – is a huge challenge but we believe that a lot of things have already happened to show that it is possible to bring about change.
Posted in: Sexual harassment in Egypt