Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Harassmeter Survey

Source: Harassmeter's FB Page
With work overwhelmingly busy and little motivation, I have two important blogs to get out but I feel the Harassmeter is the most time sensitive. I was sent an invite via one of my Facebook friends about an online survey gauging the reactions of sexual harassment in Egypt.

Harssmeter was started by a group of four Egyptians who chose to “tackle this issue as a result of a workshop by World Learning and the Jordanian Center for Civic Education.” Aiming to get 1,000 responses, I decided to post the link (available in Arabic and English) for any of you living here (male and female, foreign and local) in hopes of getting more responses to the survey. Sidenote –SurveyMonkey is a valid surveying tool often used by companies to generate new ideas.

The group defined sexual harassment as “intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.” It said that sexual harassment has many forms:
Verbal harassment (varies from inappropriate comments to sexual comments or suggestions)
Body check up (staring or facial gestures and expressions)
Harassing phone calls.
Following/ stalking
Showing sexual parts
Physical harassment (touching or groping)

Earlier today I took the survey with the first three questions were standard: age, gender and veiling (this is an anonymous survey so no names are obtained). The other questions are as follows:

Do you think Egypt is facing a problem of sexual harassment?
This is really a no-brainer since in my blog “Twice Branded” a poll was taken in 2008 that had 2,000 respondents with 62% of the Egyptian men admitting to harassing women.

Do you personally know someone who was sexually harassed in Egypt?

Over 80% of Egyptian women are harassed with over 98% of foreign women incurring the wrath of inappropriate testosterone. If you don’t know someone who has been harassed, then please tell me what rock you’re living under.


Were you personally ever exposed to sexual harassment in Egypt?

I wouldn’t know how to react walking out of my flat without enduring some sort of harassment. Even one day I was sort of dressed like a boy and wearing a baseball cap – I was still harassed…


When harassed, how often do you talk about it to someone?

Obviously it is commonplace and just like anything that occurs on the regular, you don’t always discuss it. I would also feel that more foreigners bring up the topic as opposed to Egyptians, yet Egyptians that socialize often with foreigners will also give their opinion when the topic is discussed.


When harassed, how often does someone step in to help?

In my personal experience, I’ve only had one man try to help me and it was during Ramadan (he was also walking with another female). Once when I was in a situation and reacted, two veiled women behind me that saw all the events told me after I retaliated: “It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t mean it.”


In the past six months, which kind of sexual harassment were you exposed to THE MOST?

The choices consisted of exposing oneself, harassing phone calls, followed, physical harassment (groping or touching) and rape. The problem I had with this is that it’s pretty apparent that the #1 choice is going to be verbal harassment, but it doesn’t negate that the other choices also happen often.


Were you exposed to sexual harassment in the past six months?

Again, it’s rare that you can go one full day without harassment. And even if you do go one full day, I’d be willing to bet that it was because you stayed in your flat for 24 straight hours.


In the past six months, how many kinds of those mentioned above were you subjected to?

My answer was two, but here and there, I will have three or four of those choices.


When was the last time you were sexually harassed?

This morning?


Where were you harassed the LAST time?

Public transportation, public venues (cinemas, malls, cafes, etc), school or university or work


What was the approximate age of the harasser?

I actually wanted to pick all of the above, but I chose the ages between 18-25; however, I feel that a great deal is from teenagers (which would fall under the age of 18).


When you were harassed that LAST time, what was your response?

Choices: remained silent, responded (verbally or physically), asked for help, went to a police station

Do you carry a self-defense tool with you, when outside? If so, what kind (spray, electric shock device, weapon such as a knife)?

Since both men and women are asked to take this survey, the question “Have you ever harassed somebody” would be applicable to the males.
Something tells me that even if men did harass a woman, they might not consider it harassment.

When someone gets harassed verbally, what do you think they should best do? When someone gets harassed physically, what do you think they should best do?

Remain silent, respond, ask for help, go to police


When you witness someone being harassed, what do you do?

Interfere, nothing, never witnessed it

Which of these statements do you agree with?
A woman is more likely to get harassed because of the way she dresses.
It doesn’t have to do with what the woman is wearing. A harasser will harass anyway even if the woman is covered.

While I chose choice number 2, I do feel it’s a little of both. Sure it isn’t acceptable under any circumstance, but at the same time, you have to adhere to the culture and standards (sure Egypt wasn’t always so conservative and true I still wear sleeveless, but I gave up showing leg unless I’m going from my door in a friend’s car to a particular place – I can’t decide what’s more attractive to men here, my collar bone or ankles…)

Do you think too much exposure to video clips and foreign movies helps increase sexual harassment?
Definitely not. I once witnessed an old Egyptian movie on an Egypt Air flight that had a horrible rape scene. Blame the West all you want because that’s the game right: blame everyone else instead of taking responsibility.

Which of these statements do you agree with the most?
Women should wear appropriate clothes. It is their responsibility; and if they don’t, don’t blame the harasser.
It is a joint responsibility; women should follow the country’s clothes tradition, and men should not harass.
Sexual harassment by all means is a crime; it is never the responsibility of the woman. One should not harass no matter what, and women’s clothing should never be an excuse for someone to commit such a crime.

I chose option 3 although I do feel that you have to be more aware of the country/culture and dress code.

Which of these statements do you agree with the most?  
Do not blame the harasser when getting married these days is so demanding and expensive.
People have basic sexual instincts.
The society and the marital status should not be an excuse.

To be fair, I’m unsure why those are really options (so obviously I opted for option 3). Besides, it doesn’t matter if the men are married or not, you find harassers in both the singles and married individuals.

Which of these statements do you agree with the most?  
Sexual harassment is more likely to happen in poorer neighborhoods with higher unemployment & illiteracy rates.
Sexual harassment happens everywhere. It’s an entire culture phenomenon, regardless of the harasser’s societal background.
Sexual harassment can be higher in upper class neighborhoods with more media exposure and more westernized physical attitude (on the females’ side).

I said option 2, but I do feel that more harassment happens in the areas with a high influx of foreigners residing – it has nothing to do about the class. For instance, many Egyptians patrol Maadi, although they live nowhere near the neighborhood, just because of the high percentage of foreigners residing.

Are you familiar with the penalties that have to do with sexual harassment?
We are all aware of the law that was passed during Mubarak’s rule back in 2008-2009. Not that it was ever enforced at that time, it definitely isn’t enforced now.

Do you want to see a law addressing sexual harassment?
Revert to the previous statement – a law doesn’t matter if it isn’t enforced. This society is still corrupt and will remain that way for awhile (ie just paying “baksheesh” to get out of trouble)

Do you think a law will help eradicate the problem? Why?
See above.

And the final question:

In order to end this problem, what are the solutions that you think can be done? What are the most important steps that need to be taken? Please share ideas that you think can solve this problem.

What might be surprising is actually the Egyptian female attitude toward harassment that I've seen in various neighborhoods. For instance, at my office, one employee came in and began to tell of how she'd been harassed on a microbus earlier. Two of the Egyptian females and a Palestinian female married to an Egyptian (all veiled) said, "No, that wasn't an Egyptian. It was a foreigner, Egyptian men don't do that."

When it's happened to me, they simply say it's because I'm foreign as though that makes it alright.

I've also seen the highest rate of harassment coming from teenagers, even those from so-called "high society." They have no respect and I have to wonder if it's because it isn't addressed at home. Do mothers not teach their sons? Men tell their young sons it's okay to grab me or say things simply because I'm foreign. It's disgusting.

And yet, older Egyptian women claim that Egypt wasn't always like this (around the 70s and 80s), it's progressively gotten worse. The law that was established prior to Mubarak's ousting didn't matter - even the police harassed. It doesn't matter if you're foreign, veiled or niqab: everyone is harassed, but I was more so astounded by the attitudes and sentiments I've heard from many Egyptian women. So that's where I think the first area to tackle is: letting women know that it is NOT okay to do this. Hoping that one day they instill this in their sons and society.

So I encourage ALL of you, male AND female who have lived and/or are currently living in Egypt, to click on the link and take the survey to help the group reach their 1,000 responses.

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