CAIRO: The increased level of violence against female protesters aims to send a message to women to avoid protests lest they face the same brutality, a women’s rights expert said.
Several videos and images showed a heightened level of violence towards female protesters when military forces cracked down on a peaceful sit-in in front of the Cabinet last week. One notorious video shows a woman being dragged and stripped as soldiers kicked, beat and stomped on her.
“There has been a clear escalation of violence against females, this time from a higher authority [the army], the level of violence is more brutal and it is on a bigger scale,” said Yara Sallam, Women Human Rights Defenders Program manager at Nazra for Feminist Studies.
Sallam explained that the revolution paved the way for women to enter the public sphere and it wasn’t limited to the known activists or those coming from political families. She said the authorities especially targeted women who have no political background.
“When [activists] Mona and Sanaa Seif were taken into custody earlier this week they weren’t beaten up as much as the other females,” said Sallam, “There is a class and gender targeting, they target the simple people they’d be able to label ‘thugs’ and don’t know anyone so they won’t create any noise.”
Ehab Asheya, 35, who is currently receiving treatment at Qasr Al-Ainy Hospital after he suffered a gunshot wound in the leg as well as bruises all over his body when he tried to help his female colleague who was being beaten by military police.
“We were running and we fell, they started beating us up with sticks, my colleague fell unconscious within minutes but that didn’t even stop them, they continued beating her all over,” he told Daily News Egypt.
She suffered a fractured skull, he said.
Military police did not only use violence against women when they dispersed the sit-in, but several women reported assaults when they were taken for interrogation.
Hend Nafei Badawy, a teacher’s assistant, was briefly taken into custody, received 30 stitches and has bruises all over her body. “She was one of the first to be arrested and was beaten up every time someone comes in and they collectively beat them all,” said Sallam.
There were 11 women in custody under investigation, two of whom were released. There was a 15-year-old, who was extremely frightened as she was being interrogated that she suffered from a nervous breakdown, Sallam said.
“The objective is to send a message to everyone to stay at home, this is what will happen to you if you take part in a protest or demonstration,” Sallam noted.
“If you noticed the video of the female they’re stripping and dragging on the ground, for a split second one of the officers tries to cover her, there is a sense of confusion which clearly shows that they were ordered to do that,” she explained.
Five human rights organizations; Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Women and Memory Forum, have released a joint statement condemning the violence against women during the crackdown on the sit-in.
“The level of violence deployed this time by the armed forces shows that the use of force to disperse sit-ins and demonstrations and the targeting of women human rights defenders is not a coincidence, but rather a systematic policy pursued by the armed forces and police,” they stated.
UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet denounced the excessive use of force against protesters during the past week. “We call upon the Egyptian authorities to ensure their full protection from violence from any side, and their full freedom to play their essential role in building the new political institutions of Egypt.”
Bachelet pointed out that the upcoming constitutional revision process provides “a unique opportunity to engage the widest possible cross-section of Egyptian society in re-visioning the future of the country.”