CAIRO: Dozens of students collectively harassed a young woman inside Cairo University on Sunday, prompting the I Saw Harassment campaign to call on the Ministry of Higher Education and the university’s chairperson to allow its volunteers into universities to campaign against sexual harassment, according to a Monday statement by the campaign.
Students from Cairo University’s Faculty of Law surrounded the woman, verbally abused her with sexually loaded speech, groped and attempted to strip off her clothes, the statement said.
The woman rushed into a ladies bathroom and was only able to leave the university escorted by the administrative security; with the harassers still following her, filming her and calling her names, the statement added.
The campaign published two accounts of the incident posted on social networking websites. One of the videos shows the woman walking amid administrative security personnel while someone can be heard shouting, “To tell you the truth, I don’t see these things too often.”
Cairo University’s account
Yasser Manna, deputy director of Cairo University’s administrative security, told The Cairo Post Monday that no physical or verbal sexual harassment occurred.
Manna, who is a police colonel, said the woman “was dressed inappropriately, so the students only surrounded, filmed and whistled at her, and just uttered some casual comments usually made by young men.”
Although Manna denied there could be any physical harassment within Cairo University, citing the heavy presence of administrative security, he stated there was verbal harassment and that they continue to address the issue regardless of the clothes worn by female students.
Gaber Nassar, Cairo University’s president, told ONTV Monday that the woman “entered the university in an abaya,” a long loose fitting cloak, because otherwise “security would not have let her in.”
Nassar claimed that she took off her abaya inside the university, revealing “unwonted” clothes underneath, adding that this still “does not justify any form of harassment she encountered.”
The “unprecedented” incident was recorded by the university’s surveillance cameras and will be investigated, Nassar said, adding that the female student or the male students would be punished for any illegal action.
According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women Rights (ECWR), 69 percent of sexual harassment incidents occur on the street and 29 percent in educational institutions.
Cairo University will not be lenient in addressing the issue, and while it does not set conditions on student clothing; both male and female student clothing should comply with “social traditions,” Nassar said.
However, Nassar did not provide details about what conformed to “social traditions.”
Manaa, on the other hand, called for “specific clothing standards” in universities to be outlined, claiming that outfits deemed unacceptable by security could be acceptable to the community from which the student comes.
“The clothing of male students, no matter what they are wearing, can never be provocative. Without clothing standards, if I prevented a woman from entering the university because of her clothes, she could file a lawsuit against me,” Manna told The Cairo Post.
Sexual harassment and women’s clothing
A 2013 UN Women study on sexual harassment in Egypt suggests that implementing specific clothing standards might not be an effective way to combat sexual harassment.
The report found that 75.7 percent of sexually harassed women had “conservative clothes” on and wore no makeup at the time they were harassed.
The study would also seemingly contradict Manna’s implied correlation between sexual harassment and the type of clothing worn by women.
The U.N. study indicated that 99.3 percent Egyptian women have been sexually harassed.
According to an ECWR 2008 study, 72 percent of sexual harassment cases in Egypt happened to women wearing hijab, a head cover, or niqab, full face and body cover. In 2008, that percentage was about the same as the percentage of total women wearing the hijab and niqab in Egypt, according to Harassmap, an initiative combating and documenting sexual harassment incidents in Egypt.
If approved, the campaign of I Saw Harassment inside universities would include raising awareness among female students on how to resist and act instantly when faced with sexual harassment, Fathy Faird, coordinator of the anti-sexual harassment movement told The Cairo Post.
The campaign will also target male students to educate them on the dangers of sexual harassment and how to positively intervene in such incidents.
It will also include raising awareness of administrative security personnel so that they are better able to counter violence against women, according to Farid.
Mannaa welcomed coordination with I Saw Harassment and such anti-harassment movements, but said “it is really the women who need to be more aware.”