If you are a woman living in Egypt, you have to live with the crushing inevitability of sexual harassment. The problem’s magnitude is epidemic, as the United Nations (UN) women report in 2013 revealed that 99.3% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed. It’s a society in which, for most of its women, just leaving home can be a daily nightmare.
What is really damaging and daunting is to face sexual harassment in her workplace as well, especially if she is in a male-dominated profession, such as the media sector in general, or journalism specifically.
It is widely known that most of Egyptian women are always afraid to file charges against their harasser, but they became increasingly more afraid to take this step when they are harassed from their direct manager.
However, recently, there were two cases which challenged this stereotypical image, and had the courage to announce that they were victims of sexual harassment, in addition to filling charges against their harassers.
But the question remains, why do victims of work sexual harassments often refuse to go public or to file charges against their harassers?
Very few journalists prefer to go public or to file charges against their harassers
As previously mentioned, the two recent cases who filed charges against their editor-in-chief include Mona Yousry, who was a journalist in Rose Al-Youssef magazine.
Yousry accused the editor-in-chief the state-run magazine, Ibrahim Khalil, of sexually harassing her in his office.
“The story started in August 2016, when I received a personal invitation to attend the Carthage International Festival. Then I discovered that no one from the magazine is assigned to cover the festival, so I asked to the magazine if I could cover the festival for them as I will already attend it,” Yousry narrated to the Daily News Egypt.
Yousry continued that the editor-in-chief called her and asked her to come into his office in order to discuss with her ideas for the festival’s coverage.
Then she went into his office, and immediately she was surprised that the security personnel did not record on paper her attendance as usual. Then, she noticed that there was no one in the office except the editor-in-chief, and the one who welcomed her, which was unusual since it was a working day.
“After I entered Khalil’s office, he welcomed me warmly, and started to verbally harass me, so I realised what was taking place and I decided to leave,” she said.
“Unfortunately, when I excused myself to leave, he forced me to stay, and started hugging and kissing me. I forcefully pushed him away and decided to run,” Yousry continued.
“I was shocked to the extent that I did not know what to do. I sat in my home for two days after this incident. Then I went to one of the female rights organisations who advised me to file a case against him, and I managed to do so,” Yousry explained further.
Finally, after filling the case, Yousry unfortunately lost the lawsuit as it was saved due incomplete material evidence of the harassment which took place.
Meanwhile, the other case belongs to May Elshamy, an editor at the privately-owned newspaper, Youm7, who accused one of the media institution’s supervisors of “sexually harassing her in the newsroom,” said Elshamy in a statement published on her Facebook account on Friday.
El-Sahmy elaborated, “I was sexually harassed verbally and ( was being) touched within the newsroom.”
El-Shamy’s case is still ongoing.
On the other hand, Naglaa Ahmed, a journalist in one of the country’s large journalistic institutions, began narrating her story to DNE, stating that during her early career in journalism, she accompanied the editor-in-chief on an interview, who told her that he wanted a journalist like his wife.
“At the time I understood that he meant that he wanted me to perform by highly paying attention to for work as his wife did, so I told him of course sir, and then I got accepted as an intern,” she said.
Ahmed continued that she was surprised after returning home that he began to communicate with her via WhatsApp and share inappropriate images and videos, hence she resigned without making a fuss.
Sexual harassment for female journalists is not limited to the newsroom
“It is not just colleagues or managers that female journalists have to worry about when it comes to sexual harassment,” a journalist started narrating to DNE what happened with her starting with this sentence.
In her early career, she was attending a conference in Hurgahda with other journalists from another institution than the one she works for. On the second day of the conference, they had free time, so she went for a walk on the beach.
She found someone was annoying her by describing every part of her body in an inappropriate way, so she headed towards the beach’s lifeguard, demanding from him to go with her to the manager.
“I asked the hotel manager to call the police, as there were people attending this conference from over 120 counties worldwide, so I was wondering if the man was acting in this despicable manner with an Egyptian woman, what will he do with foreigners,” she said.
“The manager cooperated with me, then I discovered that this man harassed me was a colleague,” she said in surprise.
“I went to him and confronted him about what he did to me, and asked him what did you want?,” she continued.
Unfortunately, he denied at first that he knew her, and then she told him there is a witness who can make him remember her well, and that she will fill a case against him.
Then he apologised, explaining that he did not know that she was a colleague, elaborating that if he knew that she was a colleague, he would have never done that.
On the other hand, another journalist called Yasmin Ali, who works in the privately owned Sada El balad website, said that one day she was calling a source to get his comment on an issue, and he told her over the phone that ‘your voice is amazing, what about meeting in person instead of talking on the phone’.
The same journalist narrated that during her early career, before joining Sada El balad, she was undergoing training in a well-known institution, then while working with one of her colleagues, she noticed that he was not looking at her eyes or face while talking with her, instead, he was looking in her breasts. She then said that she used to pull down her veil in order to send to him an indirect message that she discerned his sexual looks.
Reasons behind the silence when sexually harassed
Despite common knowledge that silence about harassment is what enables harassers to persist, most often the victims prefer to remain silent, so DNE investigated this issue deeper to better the reason or reasons behind this silence.
In answer the aforementioned question, Gawaher Al-Taher, director of justice programme in the Centre For Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) told DNE that the problem of sexual harassment at work increases since women constantly fear losing their job, due to the masculinity culture, which will always blame the harassment victim whether for going pubic announcing the harassment, or for how she was dressed, how she was talking, in addition to the fear of spreading a bad reputation about her.
She gave the example from the last sexual harassment’s incident which took place in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement, which a woman published a video of her harasser on Facebook. However, she was fired from her job despite the fact that the harassment incident itself was not in her workplace, but they got rid of her due to their masculinity culture, and blamed her for her reaction to the harassment.
“So what do you think this masculinity culture will do with women when the harassment happens in the workplace, and when the harasser is the one you are complaining to,” she wondered.
Moreover, the Rose Al- Youssef victim said that following her harassment incident, it was then published in newspapers, and she was writing the cinema column in Al-Ahram on a weekly basis, so she found the editor-in-chief telling her ‘look at the scandals you created.’
She said that after that, she decided to leave her employment there, noting that during this period, her career was destroyed, and that no newspaper or magazine welcomed her due to this incident.
“I think the main reason for increased harassment cases in every job and not only in journalism, is that women do not go public, so harassers become more emboldened and harass many more women, andv exploit their power over women to satisfy their own sexual motives,” Al-Taher explained.
She explained further that women also have a fear to go public or to file a case against harassers as they have fear that lawyers would exploit minute legal details to acquit the offender, giving the example that in many cases after the victim files a sexual harassment case, the harasser files another case against the victim accusing her of stealing, or libel, or anything else, but mostly if we are talking about harassment at work, it could be libel or accusing her of harming him.
Hence, the harasser at that point begins to bargain with the victim to waive the case.
In terms also of the law, there is another challenge that meets most of the cases that fill a case against harassers in a closed area like work, which is that there is no marital evidence for the harassment.
As for Magda Adly, president of El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, she also agreed with Al-Taher regarding the problem and the burden of providing evidence concerning the harassment and that of filling a case against a case, noting that in a society that suffers from the masculinity culture, and that deals with the victim as if she is the one who is responsible for the harassment, no woman would choose to put herself in that situation just to retaliate except for a small minority, so the prosecution should take this in consideration.
Yousry, the Rose Al-Youssef victim, confirmed their statement, explaining that her case was saved and shelved due to missing material evidence for the harassment.
Does the sexual harassment law in Egypt need amendments?
This made DNE ask if the sexual harassment law in Egypt need amendments, and Adly told DNE that there is a difference between the law’s text, the application of the law, and encouraging people to use it.
She continued that there is a law for sexual harassment, but the question is the enforcement officers and in particular the police, and does the public prosecution really respect the plaintiff when they go to report, or does the masculinity culture dominate the situation?
Yousry answered this question and said that unfortunately, when she went to report, she took with her a relative who is a counsellor in the State Council. However, the first thing that the prosecutor told her was that all female journalists who work in the journalism field are not “proper” women, and that as long as they choose that career, they should accept whatever they face, noting that the police officer initially asked her how she was dressed when the incident took place, and that perhaps she talker in a manner which encouraged her harasser to approach her, while others advised her not to file a case due to the fear of getting a bad reputation.
Hence, Adly told DNE that there should be workshops for the enforcement officers so as not to be dominated by their masculinity culture, and in order to not make women fear reporting harassment, which as a by-product increases harassment.
She also pointed out another problem which is that if there are any injuries as a result of resistance or aggression by force, it only takes15 days for these injury signs to disappear, which it what happens as long as the prosecution sends the case to the forensic medicine for investigation, the signs disappear so if there is evidence, it will be lost.
Hence, Adly suggested that there should be a prosecution’s special unit for violence against women, where a representative from the public prosecutor’s office, a female representative from the police force, and a doctor, so the woman faces the committee only once and narrates what took place, therefore saving time and also protecting women from psychological issues of recalling the same incident all over again.
The question is how to end the fight of a case against a case? DNE asked a lawyer this question, Tarek El Awady, who said that it is really a significant problem, but the right to report any complaint is guaranteed to everyone, so in that case the prosecution investigates both filled cases, noting that maybe the woman did not reveal the entire truth.
He stated that there is a law for sexual harassment in the workplace, which is Act 360 repeated B, which stipulates that whoever has authority whether it is a teacher, manager, etc. and harasses a woman who has less power, he could receive a minimum year imprisonment sentence.
“So, Egypt doesn’t need amendments to the law itself, since any amendments in the law will be ineffective as the law is constantly full of loopholes or minute details which law-abiding people always exploit to save the offender from punishment,” he confirmed.
“All that can be edited in the law is intensifying the punishment and ensuring the victim’s protection from arbitrary dismissal if they report the harassment, or in the case of dismissal, guaranteeing her compensation separate from normal dismissal,” El Awady explained.
“I think the most urgent issue required to end this harassment phenomenon is to change the masculinity culture,” he insisted.
Finally, it is known that laws enforce societies to conform to public order and it imposes humanitarian structures to uphold decent human relations, while society imposes modes of human relations, demanding laws to improve the population’s life, so it is not only about culture or laws, however both should be improved, yet perhaps culture is the fundamental part that can help in improving the sexual harassment phenomenon.