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From Egypt: Absurd Rape And Abortion Laws And How Women Are Fighting Against Them

By Sarah Marzouk for Cake:

12289489_1092766854128620_4316031630771698717_n-833x540Last October, a young woman was sexually assaulted and slapped twice in one of Cairo’s malls. Instead of bringing the perpetrator to justice, the young woman found herself blamed. In an interview on a popular TV show in Egypt, the victim was asked whether she knew that her clothes were inappropriate and provocative. In a later episode, the TV presenter without any respect for the young woman’s privacy aired personal photos of the girl that had been stolen from her mobile phone by the program’s team; one photo in her bikini on the beach and being carried by a man, and another one of her holding a drink. Encouraging the sexist behavior that is spreading in the society, the presenter implied that a girl with such manners shouldn’t be surprised that she was harassed.

This is what you get when you as a woman live in a patriarchal social system, raised and treated as though you are inferior to men. The least you need are laws that preserve your rights as a human being, but even that becomes too much to hope for.

Sexual Harassment Is A Chronic Condition

Sexual harassment is one of the most critical social problems worldwide for its physical and psychological harm, and Egypt ranks the second country in the world after Afghanistan in terms of sexual harassment. A research“Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt”—carried out by UN Women in 2013 showed that over 99.3% of Egyptian women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.

In 2014, for the first time in modern Egyptian history, a sexual harassment law was introduced. According to the law, verbal, physical, behavioral, phone and online sexual harassment could attract imprisonment for 6 months to 5 years, and up to 50,000 Egyptian Pounds in fines. But the law is rarely enforced, as the police agents, who are supposed to be enforcing the law are part of a male-biased society. Most of the victims choose not to report acts of sexual harassment out of fear of social pressure, as people in the Egyptian community usually tend to justify such acts and blame the victim, implying that they have contributed to their rape or harassment because of the way they dressed or through their attitudes. Other victims choose to remain silent out of fear of being harassed and assaulted in police stations. In 2014, a female law student at Cairo University was sexually harassed by a group of male students inside the university campus and the university’s president blamed the student because of the tight and colorful clothes she was wearing. A TV Presenter, Tamer Amin, also blamed the victim for what happened, saying that the girl’s clothes were not appropriate, and justifying the actions of the perpetrators by saying that they were sexually repressed young men who live in difficult circumstances.

Rape And Victim Blaming Is Still A Problem

While the sexual harassment law is considered an accomplishment regarding women’s rights in Egypt, there are many sections in the Egyptian penal code which still carry forms of discrimination against women. According to Egyptian adultery laws, a man is considered to be committing adultery only if he has sex with a woman within the home he shares with his wife. For this, he faces the penalty of imprisonment only up to six months. On the other hand, a woman is considered to be committing adultery whether she has sex within the home she shares with her husband or outside of it, and faces a penalty of imprisonment for up to 2 years, under articles 277 and 274 of penal code.

In addition, according to article 268 of the Egyptian, penal code the crime of anal rape is considered as an “indecent assault,” in which the assaulter does not face the same penalty as for rape.

Abortion: Do You Have Your Husband’s Permission?

According to article 261, and 262 of Egyptian Penal Code, abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. However, according to article 61, a woman can only have an abortion if the pregnancy is life-threatening, or on grounds of necessity like cases of severe foetal impairment, but it has to be with the husband’s consent. For cases of rape, the grand Imam of Egypt has issued a fatwa stating that a raped victim can terminate the pregnancy at any point, but this is exclusive to supposedly “chaste” women—which is a controversial debate on its own. However, the members of the Center of Islamic Research disagreed with the grand Imam, saying that a woman is not allowed to have an abortion when the fetus is already living. In all other cases, a woman is strictly forbidden from getting an abortion.

The Continuing Challenges of Domestic Violence And FGM

According to a study by the Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey in 2005, 47% of the married women in Egypt reported being a victim of physical violence, and the perpetrator was an intimate partner in most of the cases. However, there is no law that either criminalizes spousal rape or deals directly with domestic violence. What is worse is that article 60 of the Egyptian penal code states “the provisions of the Penal Code shall not apply to any deed committed in good faith, pursuant to a right determined by virtue of sharia” which justifies this kind of violence under the terms of good faith.

Despite the fact that in 2008, another accomplishment regarding women’s rights in Egypt was achieved when the Egyptian Parliament passed a law criminalizing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the first conviction for FGM was held in 2015 after the death of a 13-year old girl. In a conference which was held to reveal the results of the 2014 Egypt Demographic and Health Survey, the Egyptian Health Minister announced that 92% of married Egyptian women experienced FGM. Regardless of the health and psychological consequences, FGM remains widespread in Egypt as a result of religious and traditional beliefs, most commonly in rural areas. The horrifying general belief is that such a procedure preserves a woman’s honor.

Fighting The Good Fight: Invaluable Organizations That Won’t Back Down

At the same time, there are many organizations which actively attempt to provide women with legal, and psychological support, and try to increase awareness about these incidents through different channels:

Established in 2010, HarassMap was the first independent initiative to work on sexual harassment. Its main purpose is to create an anonymous reporting and mapping system for harassment. This has yielded great results, so much so that activists from different countries have asked them for help to create similar initiatives.

Nazra for Feminist Studies is a group that aims to employ different programs, initiatives and activities surrounding feminism and gender issues. Nazra launched a campaign recently called “One Square Meter” in order to emphasize a woman’s right to privacy and personal space. They have also been trying to increase awareness of sexual violence and the related legal framework surrounding this issue in Egypt.

Speak Up is a campaign that was launched by UN Women in Egypt aiming to end domestic violence, asking every woman to speak up for her rights. They put up a billboard on the 6th October Bridge—one of Cairo’s biggest highway—with the picture of a woman’s face full of bruises, starting a conversation about domestic abuse.

Ikhtyar is a feminist group which is concerned with providing knowledge-based production in the Arabic language about social and gender identity. They have conducted self-funded activities over the past two years, which include study circles, and reading and discussion groups about gender. Ikhtyar is currently facing continuity obstacles because of the funds and needs everybody’s support.

Women groups and organizations play an important role in empowering women in Egypt in all aspect. Some of them try to improve the legal status of women by fighting discriminatory laws, while others work on educating women about their rights and encouraging them to demand these rights and to never back down under any circumstances. It is important in the coming years for these organizations to concentrate their efforts not only on demanding the government to change discriminatory laws, but also on enforcing them properly.

This article was originally published here on Cake.

You must be to comment.
  1. Jigsaw

    Feminists want equality but they want to rely and depend on a man's earnings, which I find rather funny. And they will never talk about the ever increasing false rape cases that have gripped society. Hypocrisy and double standards to say the least. Men and women are equal, but men better pay alimony, child support, reserve seats for women on buses and metros, rescue women first in hostage situations, when a building is on fire, and when a ship is sinking, less jail time for women for the same crimes committed by men, trap men in fake cases of domestic violence and dowry, child custody is always given to women, 97% workplace deaths and war casualties are men, men's health issues are ignored, majority of murderd and homeless are men, there is no awareness for prostate cancer even though the victims number the same as breast cancer, for which there is funding and support and awareness – where is equality?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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