A leading human rights group said Wednesday that Egypt is failing to protect its women from widespread violence and criticized the country's authorities for "token" legal reforms that have not translated into real change.
“Recent measures to protect women taken have been largely symbolic," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, said in a press release. "The authorities must prove that these are more than cosmetic changes by making sustained efforts to implement changes and challenge deeply entrenched attitudes prevalent in Egyptian society.”
In June 2014, Egypt criminalized sexual harassment for the first time. Women's rights advocates have been skeptical of the new law, and have noted that some of its burdensome requirements -- such as requiring women who are sexually harassed or assaulted to have two witnesses to the crime -- may render it difficult to enforce. While no official data are available, Amnesty said the new law does not appear to have resulted in increased prosecutions or convictions.
The report paints a devastating picture of the systemic violence Egyptian women experience in all spheres of life -- on the street, in the home and in state custody -- and the "culture of impunity" that lets perpetrators walk free.
Sexual harassment is ubiquitous on Egyptian streets. In a 2013 survey by UN Women, more than 99 percent of women reported being sexually harassed in public. According to Amnesty, public assaults on women, such as the horrific attacks on female protesters by mobs that captured international attention in 2013, have been on the rise.
"Targeting women and girls for violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence during mass protests, also impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of other fundamental rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression and the right to participate, on an equal basis with men, in the political life and events shaping the country’s future," the report said.
Inside the home, violence is all too common, the report found, and there is little legal recourse for women who suffer spousal abuse. Egypt does not have a law explicitly criminalizing domestic abuse.
Amnesty cited a 2005 government survey that found 47 percent of married, divorced, separated or widowed women had experienced some form of domestic violence. In a 2008 survey, 39 percent of women interviewed agreed that a husband is justified in beating his wife under certain circumstances -- for example, if she burns a meal.
There are many hurdles to reporting abuse in Egypt and officials often don't respond to women who do come forward. Because of this, Amnesty said, women often remain in violent situations for years. There are only eight shelters in the entire country, and their staffs make reconciliation with the abusive partner a priority.
While there are no official data available on how many men have been convicted of domestic violence in Egypt, no one interviewed for Amnesty's report said they had ever seen an abusive partner successfully prosecuted.
The report also raises alarm about the treatment of Egypt's incarcerated women. A number of female prisoners told Amnesty they had been tortured and raped while behind bars.
“While a lot of the attention is on the situation of prominent male detainees, true horror stories have emerged from Egypt’s prisons about the inhuman and cruel treatment female prisoners have endured," Sahraoui said. "All women in police custody or in prison must be protected from violence, torture and ill-treatment, including rape and corporal punishment."
Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American women's rights activist, said it was incredibly important that Amnesty connected domestic, street and state violence against women.
"Women in Egypt are entrapped by institutional, systematic violence," she told The Huffington Post by email. "Unless combatting that violence becomes a priority, unless women can live safe and dignified lives, no revolution has taken place. We must overthrow the Mubarak at home as well as on the street, not just the one who sat in the presidential palace. That double revolution that us women must undertake -- against the misogyny of the state and the street, and by extension the home, is Egypt's key to freedom."
Read the whole report here.