Harassment's No Big Deal, Says Egypt's Council For Women Spokesman

Women in Cairo say harassment by men is a growing problem — but Egypt's National Council for Women says everything's just peachy.

A study found that 83% of Egyptians and 98% of foreigners experienced harassment in Cairo. Daniel Williams of the Times interviewed a group of girls who practice karate to "keep bad people away." A monthly magazine in Cairo has been running testimonials about women's harassment experiences, including the story of a woman whose buttocks were groped when she was walking with a friend. And Madiha el-Safty, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, says, "Changes for women are surface improvements. There is a deeper cultural problem: male hostility toward women who want to do more than stay at home."

Safty remembers a Cairo, less than 20 years ago, in which women could wear sundresses and short skirts. Now most wear long sleeves and headscarves, but the traditional wisdom that such coverings protect them from the advances of men seems untrue. 72% of the women who reported harassment were wearing headscarves at the time.

Egypt's National Council for Women, which should by all rights be addressing these issues, is in denial. Mohamed Nasef, a spokesman for the organization, says reports are "exaggerated," but also that harassment "happens everywhere." Of course, no one would use the everyone's-doing-it argument to excuse, say, murder, but obviously public humiliation, inappropriate touching, and even rape aren't crimes that the National Council for Women takes seriously. So far only one man has been convicted of harassment in Egypt, and National Council for Women leader Suzanne Mubarak says, "Egyptian men always respect Egyptian women." Since their government won't defend them, Cairo's women and girls must defend themselves. Karate student Nada Gamal Saad says, "No one is going to touch me when I can hit them real hard."

Covered Up, and Harassed, in Cairo [New York Times]