On Thursday, outgoing President Adli Mansour issued a decree criminalising sexual harassment with 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.
Activists against sexual harassment say the decree is a step towards combating sexual harassment but is still not enough to end it. Some claim the law remains vague and that the penalties are insufficient. Many are sceptical that the law will actually be enforced by the police.
Others welcomed the step, saying it would not have been possible without the efforts of Egyptian women who consistently campaigned against sexual harassment, calling for safe streets for females of all ages.
These grassroots organisations, made up of volunteers, were the ones that played a role in the visible efforts on the ground to protect women against sexual harassment, especially during protests in Tahrir Square and other famous squares in Egypt. They also contributed by creating other initiatives on social media for women to report on and expose their harassers by sharing their testimonies along with pictures of their harassers.
A demonstration against sexual harassment (photo: OpANTISH)
One of the bigger groups of grassroots organisations that campaign against harassment, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpANTISH), posted a draft of the new law on their Facebook page and encouraged women to report the incidents they face, and even provided access to legal assistants who are willing to defend their cases.
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 LE5,000. 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 LE50,000.
According to a 2013 report by the United Nations, 99.3% of women in Egypt have been subject to sexual harassment. In most cases, the victims are usually blamed for the crime, and rarely are the offenders actually prosecuted. Sexual harassment increased in Egypt after the 2011 revolution when the state’s security weakened.