“No! We can’t let men do these things!” an exasperated young teen exclaimed after yet another girl told of the sexual harassment she endured. They all had stories of harassment: at home, at school, on the street.
I had gone to Cairo to observe a cutting edge program being introduced into public schools. It both taught girls to say no, and fostered sensitivity in boys. That was before Arab Spring hit Egypt. Afterward that teen emailed me: “Now everything will be different.”
Well, things are different, though not in the way she expected. In Tahrir Square last week, some 50 women held a march demanding an end to ongoing sexual harassment. An even greater number of supportive men joined hands to make a circle of protection around them. No one expected the mob of hundreds of men who descended, forcing their way through the protective circle. The guards fought back, punching and swinging their belts, but the mob of intruders was too big. The mob pushed the guards aside, then turned on the women. First they heckled, then they attacked. And I don’t mean just with mass ridicule, either–although that would have been bad enough. They really attacked. Shocked witnesses called it “terrifying” and “ferocious.”
The mob groped the women, then they forced their hands down the women’s clothes. They separated small groups of women and forced them into a corner where they proceeded to assault them. When the women finally managed to escape to a nearby building, the mob still wouldn’t quit. They gathered outside and shouted insults at the women.
So, has the standing of those brave Egyptian women who fought so hard for freedom really changed? Don’t bet on it.
What has changed are the women themselves. Instead of slinking home, beaten and scared, they hold their heads high and sign up for self-defense classes. Even better, they teach their children that there is another way. A better way. Ask one of those women and she will vow, “No! We cannot let men do these things!”
“The Egyptian girl says it loudly, harassment is barbaric!”
Chant at Tahrir Square rally