Egypt criminalises sexual harrassment

On the 6 June 2014, the Egyptian government issued a decree that categorized for the first time sexual harassment as a crime, punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and a fine worth between $300 and $7000, plus the government increased the sentence for repeat offenders or employers. The decree amended current laws on abuse which vaguely referred to ‘indecent assault’.

This conduct is a welcomed move from the Egyptian government considering the fact that sexual violence has never been criminalized before and that sexual violence has increased during the past three years of disorder and democratic transition following the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

In 2013, a report by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, found that more than 99% of hundreds of women had experienced sexual harassment.

The decree is seen as a first step towards ending a chronic problem, but it remained to be seen if it would be actually enforced by the police. Indeed, Rare are the occasions where sexual harassers have been found guilty and the most of times it happened on vaguely charges of physical assault.

In fact, the victims are often blamed for their experience and behaviour, due to a patriarchal conservative culture and to gender stereotypes in general, which make difficult for victims to fill charges.

On Sunday 9 June 2014, five mob sex assaults were reported in Cairo's Tahrir Square during celebrations of Egypt's presidential inauguration.

The struggle against sexual violence thereby not only depends on legal enforcement but also depends on the societal changes itself to put an end to gender disparity. This requires for instance to increase the number of women ruling high positions in assemblies or justice, to develop women’s rights and support the women’s will to work and to be part of the society. Indeed it is also a fact that the majority of the victims of harassment are students and female worker.

Following the decree, the government must organize the judicial process, and introduce another broader law to outline all other forms of sexual crime to stop sexual violence against women.