A cabinet meeting on Wednesday concluded with the formation of an 11-minister committee tasked with combating sexual harassment, a phenomenon the Egyptian public are adamant to uproot.
The ministerial meeting resulted in a decree stating that “a committee headed by the Prime Minister is to be formed to study the causes of, and eradicate sexual harassment. The committee is to include the ministers of tourism, interior, local development, religious endowments, education, youth and sports, health and population, social security, culture, higher education and justice. The committee is to also be comprised of representatives from Al-Azhar religious institution, the Coptic Church and the National Council for Women and Childhood.”
Two women painting their bodies in red during a demonstration against sexual assault in Cairo, July 2014 (photo: Al Qabas)
The cabinet’s decision on Wednesday came on the heels of a meeting convened by Hisham Zazou, the minister of tourism, and representatives from the chambers of tourism and tourism and antiquities police, and hoteliers. Zazou spoke of the negative effects of sexual harassment on tourism, a source of hard currency Egypt needs at the current political juncture.
Egypt is trying to recover from a tourism setback (photo: Ayman Barayez)
The ministerial meeting also concluded that tourism chambers will now be tasked with revealing to the media the truth about reported sexual harassment cases, and whether the reported incidents did actually take place or, as in some alleged cases, are an attempt at receiving compensation.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab stated during the meeting that hotels are now obliged to conduct medical and psychological check-ups on the staff prior to joining their facilities. Applicants in the tourism business should also have a clean criminal record, Mahlab added.
Sexual harassment is a phenomenon that has been plaguing the country in recent years, and has escalated significantly during the past three years due to the thin security presence following the 25 January revolution of 2011.
During an anti-sexual harassment rally, a woman holds a paper which reads “I wish I can walk in the street without being insulted,” May 2014 (photo: UN Women/ Fatma Elzahraa Yassin)
Research from a 2013 study by UN Women found that 99.3 per cent of women have suffered sexual harassment in Egypt, and slightly less, 91.5 per cent, have experienced unwanted physical contact.
Days before transferring power to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, former president Adli Mansour issued a decree criminalising sexual harassment in a law that explicitly mentions the term ‘sexual harassment’.
The law makes the offence punishable by a minimum sentence of six months and up to five years in jail. The decree modified an already existing anti-sexual abuse law that vaguely defined the act and the offender.
The decree defines a sexual harasser as a person who is seeking “an interest of a sexual nature” using acts, words, or signs in a public or private place. This is punishable with a six-month sentence in jail and up to LE 5,000. Repeat offenders will have their penalties doubled.
A harsher punishment is inflicted upon an offender who holds power over the victim such as an employer, or if the harasser sexually abused the victim using a weapon. This is punishable by up to five years in jail and a maximum fine of LE 50,000.
Mansour’s decree was applauded and perceived as a positive step in the right direction.