At the end of April Clarion Project spoke with leading Egyptian women’s rights lawyer Reda el-Danbouki. We asked him about the situation women face in Egypt, which was ranked the worst place to be a woman in the Arab world in 2013.
He told us that women face harassment and worse on a daily basis, but are reluctant to go to the police.
By way of explanation, he shared a personal story of a close friend of his, Lamar aged 25, who was abused in the street and found the police to be on the side of her harassers rather than helping her. They dragged her father down to the station and proceeded to intimidate and insult her until she left the police station in tears.
We got back in touch with Reda and Lamar to ask her some more questions about her life. Not only did she answer our questions, but she told us what has happened to her since.
In helping bring us Lamar's story, Reda told us that her story brought him to tears.
(Lamar’s name has been changed for her protection.)
How did it make you feel to be disbelieved by the authorities whose job it is to protect you?
Lamar: I went to the police and I imagined that they would help me, but I found that they have solidarity with harassers. They also harassed me themselves.
How often do women get harassed just walking the streets? Have many of your friends had similar experiences?
Lamar: Women are being harassed every day, every hour and every minute. I am being harassed by my co-workers and sometimes even by my manager. I am being harassed on public transportation, on the streets, while coming back home and even by my neighbors. My friends suffer the same problem.
Who do you feel in Egypt cares about these issues that you can turn to and talk with?
Lamar: The only ones who care about this subject are civil society organizations, and of course I can also talk to Reda el-Danbouki.
Why did the police bring your father to the station?
Lamar: The police insisted that my father will come in order to humiliate me and force me to withdraw the complaint even though I am perfectly capable of filing a complaint and I have the right to do so.
Is harassment more common at certain hours of the day and in specific places?
Lamar: There is no specific time for harassment. It happens everywhere and all the time.
How does the legal system deal with cases of harassment if they reach court?
Lamar: If a case gets to the court, most of the time molesters are found not guilty. It is like the judges encourage molestation. In very rare, rare cases you have verdicts against them.
Why do you think harassment is so widespread in Egypt?
Lamar: Harassment and molestation is widespread in Egypt because we live in a patriarchal society. They think that we women are their property, it’s like we are the food they eat or just a fruit they buy. We are merely bodies in their eyes, they see us only as breasts and behinds. They don’t see our minds and they don’t care about it.
What do you think can bring about change in Egypt and stop this rampant harassment?
Lamar: Things can be changed in Egypt if we prepare the women and empower them. This has to come from the decision-makers. We also need to have a female police force that will deal with these issues, meet with victims of harassment and help them.
The youth civil society organizations have the ability to stop it, but most of them are working without any support. They desperately need more money and to have broader reach.
After answering our questions Lamar told us what has happened to her since she last spoke with Reda el-Danbouki to tell him about her harassment. This is what she said:
For the last two days my father has been beating me severely, and he doesn’t allow me to leave the house. I called the police and told them that I was imprisoned, that my father beats me and also gave them the address of the house, but the police didn’t respond. One senior police officer told me “you must have done something bad and that’s why he beats you.” He didn’t help me at all and he slammed down the phone.