Egyptian men aren't wired to instinctively blame victims of
sexual harassment - they are taught such falsities. Proposed
legislation would help, but what's really needed is an ideological
Harassed or sexually assaulted Egyptian women often find little
help in fighting back. Neither the Egyptian government nor much of
Egyptian society itself seems shocked or galvanized by lewd
catcalling in public, groping, or more serious assaults.
A main factor driving Egypt's seemingly ineradicable climate of
sexual predation is an indifference to such crimes among Egyptian
police. But there is an underlying reason for this indifference:
Female victims of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt are
usually blamed for somehow bringing the abuse on themselves. A
related falsehood is the notion that Egyptian women are overly
sexual beings who must be constrained.
These pervasive attitudes are infrequently discussed but airing
them is a crucial first step toward reform.
As a professor in Cairo, I see these misogynistic sentiments on
display all too often. A woman is called a whore in public? She is
seen as dressing like one. Groped by a man on the subway? She
must've allured him beyond his control with aromatic fragrances and
entrancing pheromones. An urban ambler exposes himself to a girl on
a sidewalk? She was probably staring lustfully at him.
Astonishing survey results
In a frequently referenced survey in 2008, nearly two-thirds of
Egyptian men admitted to sexually harassing women - and half blamed
the women themselves. Eight in 10 Egyptian women say they've
suffered such harassment, with half saying it occurs daily - yet
less than 3 percent have reported abuse to the police.
And according to more recent, and even more astonishing, data
from The Population Council, an international nongovernmental
organization, nearly 80 percent of Egyptian boys and men ages 15-29
agreed that a woman who is harassed deserves it if she had dressed
provocatively. Perhaps even more disturbing, 73 percent of similar-
aged females in the survey also claimed that immodestly dressed
women deserve any abuse they endure.
Many men in Egypt refuse to accept responsibility for harassing
women, and Egyptian police before whom these men might be dragged
often do the same.
The Population Council's survey also points to a darker truth:
Blaming harassment victims in Egypt isn't some organic byproduct of
a conservative society; this cruel blame game is explicitly taught
to many children in this country.
Fifteen-year-olds aren't wired to instinctively blame people who
are harmed by the actions of others. They are taught such falsities.
Interviewing a Saudi professor in his recent memoir, journalist
Neil MacFarquhar wrote that in Saudi Arabia, "conservative customs
in the kingdom basically teach that women are for sex, which they
crave," and noted the professor lamenting that Saudi "men think that
they will be corrupted [by unchecked femininity]. …