Egypt women wage war against 'sexual terrorism'
Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront "sexual terrorism."Updated: Mar 07, 2013 18:51 IST
Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront "sexual terrorism."
The victims of the attacks have been talking openly about their ordeals, insisting they will not be intimidated by a campaign they believe is aimed at shunning them from public life.
"We are not victims, we are revolutionaries. What happened to us has made us stronger and we will continue" to take to the streets, said activist Aida al-Kashef.
Harassment of women is by no means new on Egypt's streets, where they were often the target of verbal abuse and sometimes groping.
But since the revolution that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the problem has snowballed, with women now being regularly attacked by mobs of men in and around Tahrir Square.
The attackers have stripped women of their clothes with knives, sexually assaulted them and penetrated them with their fingers.
Yasmine al-Baramawy, who was assaulted in November, highlighted the degree of violence when during a talk show she held up the ripped trousers she wore the day she was attacked.
"They gathered around me and started ripping my clothes off with knives," Baramawy said.
She was then dragged several hundred metres (yards), while being touched and groped, until residents of neighbouring area saved her from the crowd.
"I didn't feel sad or feel that my pride had been damaged. I felt angry, and I want justice," Baramawy said.
Outraged Egyptians came together to form groups such as Operation Anti Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard that bring together volunteers to intervene to stop the attacks in Tahrir Square where police are largely absent.
The groups also offer medical and psychological support to the victims.
On January 25, as thousands of Egyptians marked the second anniversary of their uprising, at least 19 women were assaulted, according to Operation Anti Sexual Harassment.
Some argue the attacks are politically motivated.
"These attacks aim to exclude women from public life and punish them for participating in political activism and demonstrations. They are also an attempt to ruin the image of Tahrir Square and demonstrators in general," said the group.
"This phenomenon requires urgent attention and treatment, and is linked to the broader social problem of endemic and daily sexual harassment and assault of women," it said.
"We do not want to use the term 'harassment.' What is happening today is sexual terrorism," said Inas Mekkawy, a women's rights activist with the group Baheya.