It seems women’s rights in Egypt are persons non grata after disparaging reports continue to tell of increasing abuse against women in Egypt.
This week alone almost 100 women have reportedly been sexually assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the past four days of protests against Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, according to Human Rights Watch.
What’s not clear is why the numbers are so high to begin with. Jezebel has gone on to wonder whether it’s an issue of mobs trying to scare women off from joining the protests and give the anti-government demonstrations a menacing reputation, or just an issue of taking advantage of the melee. Of course one can wonder if women’s rights have ever been particularly spicy to begin with in a nation known for its stern patriarchal and blatant sexist disposition towards women. Whether as part of religious overtones or a cultural norm that holds women in disparaging terms. But the question one ought to ask is why in the face of calling for change in the country’s disjointed political affairs are women feeling the brunt of the unease?
Some say the attacks are staged by thugs who are abusing a security vacuum and confident of escaping prosecution.
Others say the assaults are organised to scare women off from joining protests and to stain the image of the anti-government demonstrations.
Not doing a good job of relating to the demise of women’s rights is the government itself, which many naturally have come to despise and wish to push aside, which if things keep heading the way they are will lead to an all out civil war given Morsi’s defiant stand not to resign.
Human Rights Watch none too pleased with how women’s rights have been negotiated have now also turned to criticize Egypt’s government and politicians.
Told Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director: “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.”
One woman required surgery after being raped with a “sharp object,” according to volunteers with Egyptian women’s rights groups. Others were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. Some were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they could get away.
Here’s a not too thrilling summary from HRW: Based on survivor and witness accounts, it appears that the attacks have tended to follow similar patterns. Typically a handful of young men at demonstrations single out a woman and encircle her, separating her from her friends. During the attacks – which have lasted from a few minutes to more than an hour – the number of attackers increases and they grope the woman’s body and try to remove her clothing. The attackers often drag the woman to a different location while continuing to attack her.
In some cases, the attackers have assaulted other women and activists with sticks and knives for trying to rescue the victims. Survivors and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that some of the men claiming to help the women during the attacks were in fact taking part, further disorienting victims, who could not assess who was in fact assisting them.
Few women have spoken out publicly about being raped during the protests, HRW goes on to take the following account from one local woman, Yasmine El Baramawy, a 30-year-old musician who was heinously assaulted last November:
At the height of the attack, I looked up and saw 30 individuals on a fence. All of them had smiling faces, and they were recording me with their cellphones. They saw a naked woman, covered in sewage, who was being assaulted and beaten, and I don’t know what was funny about that. This is a question that I’m still thinking about, I can’t stop my mind from thinking about it.
Police officers and hospital officials also regularly share information with the media about the identity of survivors without their consent; earlier this week, the Muslim Brotherhood’s website and print newspaper identified one survivor by name and nationality, which they got from a “Ministry of Health representative.”
“Impunity for sexual violence against women in the public sphere in Egypt is the norm,” Stork said. “Women in Egypt rarely report to the police when they have been sexually assaulted because they have no reason to believe that there will be a serious investigation.”
For more info, visit HWC.