News about sexual harassment in Egypt is widely reported nowadays. Many cases were recently highlighted in different media outlets; such as the shocking video of a female student being sexually harassed in Cairo University two weeks ago, or the baker who killed a girl after failing to sexually harass her, and so on. Sexual harassment has become a horrendous epidemic in Egypt. On average, more than 90% of Egyptian women have reported being sexually harassed at least once in their life.
After serious efforts by different concerned actors, the National Council for Women, in collaboration with several other parties, drafted a law to counter sexual harassment and presented it to the presidency. It is expected that the new law will be officially acknowledged and adopted very soon, the presidency announced.
The text of the proposed sexual harassment draft law,
– Any sort of harassment of any female by following her, stalking, either verbally or by texting or via any modern communication tool, or through any other means, or sexual implications/ pornography either in private or public space, shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not less than one year and a fine not less than 10 thousand pounds and not more than 20 thousand pounds.
– If the offender commits the same crime again within one year of the date of the sentence of the first crime, the punishment shall be imprisonment for three to five years and a fine of not less than 10 thousand pounds and not more than 20 thousand pounds, while placing the convict under police surveillance for a duration equal to that of his sentence.
– If there are multiple perpetrators or any tool has been used for intimidation in the crime, the punishment shall be imprisonment for not less than two years and not more than five years.
– If the offender returns to commit the crime referred to in the second paragraph within one year of the date of the judgment of the punishment, he shall be imprisoned for three to five years, along with a renewal of police surveillance of the convicted for a period equal to the duration of the sentence.
Where the criminal commits the same crime, previously mentioned in the article above, at the workplace, or where the actor was the employer, or having authority over the victim upon the occasion of work, he shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three years and a fine of not less than ten thousand pounds and not more than twenty thousand pounds.
Examining the draft law,
Ramy Mostafa, a legal researcher, currently RSD Assistant at UNHCR, told MEMCS that this draft law has several positive aspects.
“Sexual harassment is finally encountered in the draft law as a sort of sexual assault towards women, as beforehand sexual assaults only ranged from indecent assault to rape – harassment was not criminalized. Therefore, this strengthens the punishment. Another positive aspect the law includes is that it implicates multiple perpetrators”, Mostafa highlighted.
However, he criticized the draft law’s categorization of the crime as a misdemeanor. If regarded as a felony, it would have a stronger impact in combatting the crime.
Mostafa concludes that, “The draft law marks a very good step. Yet, the law cannot combat the crime alone; societal awareness as well as ensuring the law’s implementation by the authorities through regulations and administrative orders, and particularly orders by the Attorney General, is crucial”.
Fathi Fareed, Coordinator at the “Shoft taharush” (I Witnessed Harassment) campaign, told MEMCS he believes that, if the law is adopted, it will hardly be effective.
“It didn’t include important clauses, such as psychological support for the assaulted victims, a minimum guarantee for witness protection such as that of their personal information, the minimum number of witnesses, the mechanism for reporting the incident, and most importantly a definition for sexual harassment”, he added.
Examining the law, Dr. Omaima Abu Bakr, Founding Member and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Women and Memory Forum (WMF) asserted, in a written statement to MEMCS, that “This is a first step in the right direction: the idea of at least acknowledging the existence of the problem and suggesting using the actual word ‘harassment’ to identify the phenomenon and criminalize it”.
Nonetheless, she added that more efforts are needed for specific definitions of what harassment really entails; in terms of the range of behaviors it covers, and forms of aggression that should be considered under the crime of harassment.
“More should be done in the area of implementation of the law, meaning establishing state and official mechanisms to guarantee measures for implementing of the law by the authorities, such as the police, prosecution, courts, and judges, and how to avert intimidation of the victims to prevent them from pursuing charges, sympathizing with the perpetrator on the part of the police or judge, or just making it difficult and shameful for the victim to go after the harasser”, she further emphasized.
On the other hand, Harassmap, a volunteer-based initiative, told MEMCS that, “advocacy for a new law on sexual harassment cannot stand alone in a context in which existing laws are not enforced because sexual harassment/assault is not seen as a crime by the society, or even as something wrong”.
Harassmap states that the problem lies in the social acceptability of sexual harassment, as it is the root-cause of non-enforcement in the first place. When sexual harassment or assault is perceived as a crime, perpetrated by the harasser and not a fault of the harassed, then laws will actually be drafted and implemented effectively.
Criminalizing sexual harassment is definitely a step forward. Nevertheless, it requires a clearer definition of sexual harassment as a crime and more guarantees to ensure its implementation. This law needs more effort to be effective, particularly given that the law has specific drawbacks. Meanwhile, social acceptance and media normalization of such a phenomenon are inarguably an impediment to countering this crime.
This feature was originally published in the Middle East Media Center for Studies website http://www.memcs.com. It is written by Mariam Mecky and Nada Salah.