The Rise of Sexual Violence in Egypt

Attending the events held at 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for the first time was truly an eye-opening and affective learning for me. The CSW session is an annual event held in NYC that provides a forum to women’s rights NGOs and activists from around the globe to discuss their progress within women’s rights advocacy. The main discussion of the 2013 session was themed around the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

One event that particularly sustained my interest was The Women and Memory Forum’s panel discussion titled “Women and the Egyptian Revolution: Documentation as Resistance”. The Women and Memory Forum is a women’s rights organization based in Cairo, Egypt whose mission is to document and archive women’s stories of sexual abuse as a way to garner critical attention and open up a discussion about women’s rights violations in Egypt. Since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, there have been an unprecedented number of violent gang assaults towards women in Tahrir Square. Many stories shared in the Forum are accounts of these experiences.

There is an unfortunate disregard for many of these sexual assaults occurring in post-revolutionary Egypt by both the Egyptian media and the political elite. Under President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, the omnipresent police ensured that sexual assaults were kept out of public squares, but since his overthrow the absence of tight security forces has allowed sexual assaults to increase, even in the public eye. However, many women have taken advantage of the weakened structure of authority by speaking out against the aggressive news media, even while elected officials maintain deep hostility to women’s participation in politics.

The absence of any real policy change or solutions to these attacks highlights a failure in Mohamed Morsi’s government to restore social order. Many women’s rights activists among others believe that the sexual assaults are organized and coordinated, possibly by state actors, “with the aim of silencing them, excluding them from public spaces and the political events shaping Egypt’s future, and breaking the resistance of the opposition” (Amnesty International). During the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (11 February 2011 to 30 June 2012), women protestors taking part of demonstrations calling for women’s rights and the end of sexual harassment were targeted. Thus far, there has been nobody held accountable for these crimes.

The logistics of archiving are crucial as women’s stories must be framed and presented within larger metanarratives. Many women say that the police add to their degradation by driving women away from demonstrations and political participative events and stripping them of their respectability. Feminist demands during the revolution were not a top priority within political groups.  Women’s demonstrations have not been widely accepted, thus there remains a wide sense of being left out among Egyptian women.

by Marielle Rodriguez, Spring 2013 Economic and Social Rights intern, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Marielle is currently a fourth-year student at Rutgers University majoring in Political Science and Visual Arts.

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