CAIRO: Twelve Egyptian rights and anti-sexual harassment organizations Thursday followed the United Nations in expressing concern over gender-based harassment in Egypt, and criticized the government’s “lack of political will” to bring perpetrators to justice.
The joint statement cited the case of a female student at Cairo University March 16 who was harassed by a mob of male students on campus. The following day, some TV anchors and officials from Cairo University made remarks that cast blame for the incident on the victim’s choice of clothing: a wrist-length fuchsia sweater and black ankle-length leggings.
Yasser Manna, deputy director of Cairo University’s administrative security, told The Cairo Post March 17 “specific clothing standards” should be outlined in universities.
“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 said.
The head of Cairo University Gaber Nassar said in a phone interview with ONTV channel on March 17 that this is an “unprecedented” incident and that the student entered the campus with an abaya, a long loose fitting cloak, adding that otherwise, security would not have let her in with her “unwonted” clothes.
Gaber said that she later took off her abaya and appeared with her outfit that “led to this situation.” This does not justify the behavior that ensued, Gaber said, adding that an investigation was opened and whether it is the female student or her colleagues, they will be punished.
On the same day, TV anchor Tamer Amin said that the student went to the university in a “belly dancer” outfit, adding that this was the “courteous” way to put. He blamed her parents for letting her out in this attire.
He added that the some “frustrated” male students surrounded her, and he later called them “impolite.”
“Clothing is not a personal freedom inside places overseen by the state like a mosque, school, bank, or a university,” Amin said.
Amin accused the student of going to the university for “a reason different from study.” He said the male students were wrong because “if they could not lower their gazes, they could have at least kept looking without attacking her, even if she were naked.”
Amin said March 18, he was rather upset that “Egypt has reached this state” and his “agitation” over the “harassment crime” led to his previous statements.
“The offender was the male students. There is no excuse for a crime, but there is a reason. That is what I meant,” Amin added.
On March 19, Cairo University’s head Nassar apologized in a statement, reported Shorouk News, about his comments on the victim’s clothing, which resulted from his disturbance over the “unjustified crime.” He said the female student would appear in the investigation only as a witness.
“I personally join efforts to end violence against women on and outside campus,” Nassar said.
A U.N. statement, released by its information center in Cairo on Wednesday, called on the Egyptian authorities to “increase preventive measures to ensure women and girls’ safety in public and private spheres.”
Harassment poses a threat to women’s safety and freedom and prevents their engagement in public life, and the government should fulfill its constitutional commitments, the statement said.
The statement by human rights organizations, attributed mounting sexual harassment in Egypt, affecting as much as 99.3 percent of Egyptian women according to a 2013 UN Women study, to social normalization of sexual violence against women.
This normalization results from holding women accountable for their own assault, which gives citizens “state consent” to commit such crimes.
The statement also condemned media coverage of sexual violence incidents, which either “minimizes or sensationalizes” them.
The organizations called for a comprehensive strategy to combat violence against women by reforming the state’s security apparatus, amending school curricula to promote gender equality and to launch a campaign to change the perception that sexual violence results from women being a source of “temptation.”
This perception justifies holding women responsible for violent acts they face, the statement added.
In a Youtube video posted by Matrix Hassan on March 17, dozens of students were waiting outside the ladies bathroom of the Faculty of Law. When the female student got out escorted by administrative security personnel, the students, some with their cell phones to film her, whistled and cheered.
Vetogate interviewed some students who witnessed the incident and posted a video with their statements on March 18. Two of the interviewed students said this previously happened with her because she had worn “provocative clothes.”
Ahmed Abdel Azim, a student appearing in the video, said she comes to the university in an abaya and then “turns into a belly dancer.”
“It is not her fault or the students’ fault; it is her parents’ fault for letting her out in this clothing,” Abdel Azim said.
“It was a very strange scene. I saw a girl coming, and it was normal, her clothing wasn’t provocative,” Mohamed, another student, said. “No matter what, we should be a civilized people,” Mohamed said to Vetogate.