Egypt's Ongoing Problem With Sexual Harassment

The attack on Lara Logan last week illustrates the kind of intimidation and objectification endured by Egyptian women on a regular basis. Sexual harassment is an epidemic in Cairo. Young men loiter on downtown street corners and make lewd noises, belittling comments and gestures at women who pass, sometimes even physically assaulting them. When I was working in Cairo in 2006, a video was posted on YouTube showing the attacks of two young women by groups of men in Cairo's downtown shopping district during the holiday of Eid Al-Fitr. In the same busy streets around Tahrir, it showed two veiled women brutally assulted by a surging mob of men. Multiple videos of the attack--and from others that took place the same day --were posted on Youtube. No charges were ever filed against the attackers. The videos, as well as the attack on Logan, show an extreme version of what women here face on a daily basis, every time they leave home. The Mubarak government refused to deal with the Eid incident, insisting that Egypt's streets were safe for women, and calling sexual harassment an "isolated" problem aimed only at girls wearing skimpy clothes. Polls say otherwise: 80 percent of Egyptian women surveyed say they have been victims of sexual harassment. Egyptian girls, unable to walk freely down their own streets without being groped or catcalled by groups of men have tried to fight back with a website to map and document each incident. Another initiative suggested carrying postcards to hand out to perpetrators that read, "I am not a dog in the street! Oh, young man, I could be your sister! Oh, older man, I could be your daughter! Why are you doing this to me? Why you don't respect me? So please, respect me and respect yourself!"

I hope the new government will pass laws that will give women the freedom to move about freely and safely.