Today is “End Sexual Harassment Day” in Egypt. Women and men, Egyptians and non-Egyptians are blogging, tweeting and Facebooking (yes – I’m sure that will become a verb some day soon) about their experiences with and attitudes towards sexual harassment. Seeing that this is something I’ve been wanting to write about for some time, I figured now was a good day to return to my blog.
I have to admit that I was really nervous before moving here. Egypt has maybe the worst reputation in the world when it comes to sexual harassment. And just like I’d been reading up on prices of rent, different neighborhoods, methods of transportation etc., I’d also read lots of things about what to expect as a woman in Egypt. Nothing good it seemed.
So I was very happy when at a dinner party a few weeks ago, I could honestly say that after two months in Cairo, I still haven’t been harassed. Sure, I get the same oggling eyes every day in the street – some of them looking at me as though I’m the devil in disguise, others trying to imagine what’s under the clothes. And yes, I still haven’t experienced one day without some guy commenting on me (luckily I never walk anywhere without my iPod, so I can’t hear what’s being said). The guys hanging out of their cars yelling at me were embarrassing, but I got through it. And maybe I have had to make a special contact on my phone, so that it lights up “Don’t Answer” whenever a guy I don’t know (but who wants to know me) calls (so far there are seven numbers on that list). But so far no one has touched me in a way I found inappropriate, so I really haven’t been harassed, right?
That’s when things became quiet around the table, until one man quietly said “But all of those things are harassment”. It wasn’t until then that it dawned on me that my whole definition of what constitutes harassment has changed. I had to change it, because the thought of not being able to leave my home without experiencing some kind of harassment just seemed too depressing.
I don’t know if that’s the right strategy though. Because it’s not OK to keep calling strange women at all hours of the day and night. And it’s not OK to shout at them in the street. And it’s not OK to tell them what you want to do with them, while they’re trying to mind their own business. It’s just not OK!
I honestly don’t know what, if anything, can be done about it. It’s probably going to take a few generations to change the way many men here perceive women. But then again – I thought it would take generations to change the political system here, yet Mubarak was toppled in 18 days. So maybe the Egyptians can do this as well. I came too late for the political revolution, but I would sure love to be here for the sexual.