In his last hours as interim president of Egypt, Mansur Adly Thursday approved a decree that makes sexual harassment a criminal offense for the first time in Egypt. Although the law includes prison terms and heavy fines for offenders, women’s organizations considered it insufficient as it does not include the necessary mechanisms to be applied.
Specifically, the decree – an amendment to the Penal Code includes a penalty of imprisonment ranging from six months to five years depending on the severity of the assault and whether it is a repeat offender. In addition, it also establishes fines amounting to between 320 and 5,500 euros, a huge number given that the minimum monthly wage in the Arab country does not exceed 75 euros.
The criminalization of sexual harassment was demanded by Egyptian women associations, as for many women it has become a pervasive problem in everyday life. According to a recent study by the United Nations, 99 % of Egyptian over 18 claims to have had some sort of sexual harassment in their life, whether verbal or in the form of touching, while almost half declares having it on a daily basis.
However, women’s associations are not fully satisfied with the new legal framework. “The decree contains many weaknesses, among them, puts the bar high when it comes to prove that there was crime,” says Hala Mustafa, co-founder of the NGO Shuftu taharrush, one of the most active in this area. According to the statute, there must be several witnesses willing to testify before a judge and have no personal relationship with the victim.
Another complaint of women’s associations is that the Government has not established sufficient mechanisms to enforce the law, in particular, a training program for the police. The few women with the courage to denounce a case of police harassment, which until now is still punishable under the charge of ” physical aggression ” were often faced with a hostile attitude from the police. In some cases, agents have refused to register the complaint, made fun of the victim, or even harassed.
“Only criminalizing is not enough. To end the harassment it is necessary to promote a deep change of mentality in society. And I see that the current regime is to be a priority. In fact, the new president has shown a very conservative attitude towards the role of women,” says Mustafa referring Abdel Fatah Al Sisi, who on Sunday will be sworn in as president of Egypt after winning last week’s presidential elections.
A recent example of the lack of social sensitivity towards the issue of harassment, the rector of the University of Cairo, Nasser Gaber, blamed a student victim of sexual assault on campus by a group of boys for not wearing appropriately. “We do not require a uniform here, but clothing must be in accordance with the norms of our society,” he said. His remarks sparked a fierce controversy, and Nasser was forced to clarify them later.