Egyptian Women Get Tough on Sexual Harassment

Egypt's women are learning to protect themselves from unwanted advances.

ByABC News
November 13, 2009, 10:22 AM

CAIRO, June 3, 2010 — -- Men have been doing it for generations, wooing women with their words, whispering sweet nothings to attract their attention. But on the streets of Cairo, where many men believe they're the Casanovas of their time, the matter of handing out compliments and making flirtatious remarks has taken a serious turn.

In a survey conducted by Egypt's center for women's rights, 83 per cent of the 2,800 women polled said they had been subjected to some form of sexual harassment. The center's chairwoman, Nihad abul Khomsan, said the survey ''shocked us.'' She said that ''most of the women who were harassed were veiled, so there is no relation with the type of dress you have.''

Nihad told us Egyptians are known for their hospitality and appreciation of beauty, comparing it to the Mediterranean style of life. But, she said, ''it is not nice anymore to say a rude word as a type of, or to show yourself as a cool person. It is not acceptable, and we build a campaign to say that even a nice word is not acceptable, thank you.''

Janan Sabe, the international relations coordinator at the center, told us that she is ''harassed daily, at least once a day, on my way to work, on my way to the store.''

She said ''it comes in various forms, sometimes a word, a whisper, I've been grabbed. The first time it happened, it was my second week living here. I was so shocked I didn't know what to do.''

Nowhere is it more evident than in the suburb of Heliopolis, on the outskirts of Cairo, where the young men and women wander the streets as soon as classes are over. One teenager told us, 'Of course we flirt. It's a very normal thing to do. It's in our blood.''

For the women in the country, the idea of being harassed has become part of their daily lives. One student wearing a headscarf told us, 'This is normal, it happens to me every day. If the boys don't flirt, they wouldn't know how to live.'' The way she deals with it, she said, is by ignoring them.