CAIRO: A training program on the treatment of victims of gender-based violence (GBV) for medical staff has been very effective, detailed and with role-playing, Shubra Public Hospital nurse Shaima Saleh enthusiastically told The Cairo Post following a Sunday conference on the launching of a protocol signed by the government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The first step of the protocol includes a medical guide prepared to provide doctors and nurses with information and instructions on the needs of GBV victims following assaults, including psychological and medical first aid, consulting, and means to immediately collect and preserve forensic evidence.
“This is a medical, scientific achievement that Egypt lacked in its efforts on addressing violence,” said program speaker Mervat al-Talawy, head of the National Council for Women (NCW), noting that combating GBV is not just about arresting perpetrators, but to also provide care to victims after the assault.
Talawy called for preserving women’s rights or “half of the country’s force and manpower will always be beaten, violated and unproductive. How are we supposed to compete with other countries? It is like walking on one leg,” Talawy added.
Thus far, 1,000 copies of the medical guide have been distributed at a number of public hospitals, and 32 doctors and 17 nurses have been trained on the management of GBV victims, with plans to expand the scope of beneficiaries, according to Germaine Haddad, a UNFPA Egypt program officer.
The guide includes means to protect victims from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies resulting from rape, as well as documentation mechanisms. The project as a whole involves the NCW, the National Population Council, the Forensic Medicine Authority, Ain Shams University and the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Health.
Conference speaker Nadal Jaime, a UNFP representative, thanked the government for “this progressive step.”
“The training has been very open and all our questions were informatively answered by the doctors. All the questions asked at the conference and more were previously tackled with us…We are happy to provide the kind of care we learned, because victims usually open up to us even more than doctors,” Saleh told The Cairo Post with a cheerful smile.
The Egyptian legislation and culture
Dr. Mohamed Bahaa Shawkat, the head of the committee tasked with writing the guide and delivering workshops, noted the term “gender” does not have an equivalent in Arabic and thus may cause confusion.
The term is translated in Arabic as “the social type.” During his presentation of the guide, Shawkat added that the training committee explained the term fully at the workshops for medical staff.
The guide, which at its core is to treat victims, was mostly derived from U.N. guides and similar experiences combating GBV in other countries, according to Shawkat, who is also a reproductive health and medical training consultant at Ain Shams University.
However, Egyptian legislation does not fall in line with international law.
According to international law, unwanted sexual penetration of the vagina or anus of the victim using the penis or any other object is considered rape, as is coercive fellatio.
“The definition of rape is incomplete in Egypt. It is described as one specific form. But that is not the role of the guide at this point,” Shawkat said answering a question from The Cairo Post during his presentation.
Only non-consensual, out of wedlock vaginal penetration with a penis is considered rape under Egyptian law. Any other form of coercive sex, including anal and oral rape and penetration with other objects or body parts, is considered “indecent assault,” and leads to less severe penalties.
“We treat victims of anal rape and other forms of sexual assault as vaginal rape victims and provide them with all the psychological and anti-disease transmission measures,” Shawkat told The Cairo Post on the sidelines of the conference.
“The project is integrated, as doctors, we present medical opinions. The aspect of legislation falls under the NCW and every legislative body,” he said.
Following questions from The Cairo Post and other attendees at his presentation, Shawkat acknowledged the guide does not tackle abortion resulting from rape—which remains illegal in Egypt—or male victims of sexual violence.
“Rights [laid out in the Constitution] will remain ink on paper if not applied correctly, scientifically, accurately… also if societal cultural remains unchanged. Violence is a culture, a wrong one,” Talawy said at the conference.
She called for changing “wrong customs and traditions” under the premise that they are part of Egyptian culture. In comments she made to reporters, she praised the guide because it would make open-minded doctors and others follow the same rules.
FGM also discussed
In her speech, Talawy condemned the recent acquittal of a doctor who allegedly performed female genital mutilation (FGM) on a 13-year-old girl in the Nile Delta that led to her death. She also criticized “reconciliation sessions,” which residents of some rural areas hold with the recognition of authorities to reach an agreement that often includes monetary compensation instead settling matters in courts. Customary reconciliation sessions include tribal, sectarian and murder issues, and Talawy implied the doctor was acquitted due to a reconciliation session.
The family of the Delta girl received 5,001 EGP ($700) from the doctor in compensation, after which the doctor was acquitted, The Guardian reported. The case was just one in several in which judges did not use laws set for GBV, and instead used clemency for perpetrators.
Judiciary can do more to prosecute GBV
In 2013, the Cairo Center for Development adopted the case of a 9-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by her uncle over eight months. Although private doctors told the girl’s mother her daughter had lost her hymen, the forensic medical report said it was still intact, and that rape can occur without the tearing of the hymen. But, based on this medical report, the forensic police report led to the case being considered indecent assault instead of rape.
Also, if the victim is a minor and the perpetrator a relative in a case of indecent assault, the perpetrator is supposed to be sentenced to 25 years of “rigorous imprisonment,” according to article 268 of the Penal Code.
The uncle, however, was sentenced to only five years in prison in absentia in December 2013. Activists have since called for obligating judges to explain grounds of clemency in the findings of cases.
“It would be great if judges, and everyone else no matter what their rank, go through training. Nobody knows everything,” Talawy told The Cairo Post on her way out of the conference.
FGM, sexual violence remain problems in Egypt
In a 2013 report, UNICEF reported Egypt has more cases of FGM than any other country in the world, with 27.2 million women having undergone some form of FGM. In another report, the U.N. agency stated that 91 percent of married Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone FGM.
In April 2013, The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women issued a report showing the most recent statistics of sexual harassment in Egypt. The study found that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have been exposed to some form of sexual harassment.
And Egypt’s not the only country with a dismal record when it comes to punishing perpetrators and aiding victims of sexual assault and rape.
One in every three women around the world has been physically or sexually abused, mostly by intimate partners or family members, according to the latest U.N. figures.