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Women's Rights Movements during Political Transitions: Activism against Public Sexual Violence in Egypt

  • Vickie Langohr (a1)
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The most famous demand raised by protesters in the “Arab Spring” was “al-shaʿb/yurīd/isqāṭ al-niẓām” (the people/want /the fall of the regime). Three years later, little progress has been made—outside of Tunisia—in permanently replacing authoritarian regimes with the formal institutions of democracy. However, new forms of activism have emerged that increase citizens’ ability to directly combat pervasive social problems and to successfully pressure official institutions to alter policies. The evolution of activism against public sexual violence in post-Mubarak Egypt is a concrete example. Sexual harassment of women on the streets and in public transportation, widespread before the 25 January uprising, has likely since increased.1 Many women have been subjected to vicious sexual assault at political protests over the last three years. But activism against these threats has also expanded in ways unimaginable during the Mubarak era. Groups of male and female activists in their twenties and early thirties exhort bystanders on the streets to intervene when they witness harassment, and intervene themselves. Satellite TV programs have extensively covered public sexual violence, directly challenging officials for their failure to combat it while featuring the work of antiharassment and antiassault groups in a positive light. These new practices facilitated two concrete changes in the summer of 2014: amendments to the penal code on sexual harassment, and Cairo University's adoption of an antiharassment policy which was developed by feminist activists.

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NOTES

1 In focus groups with women in five governorates in March 2013, Mariz Tadros found that participants unanimously reported large-scale increases in harassment since Mubarak's overthrow. Mariz Tadros, “Politically Motivated Sexual Assault and the Law in Violent Transitions: A Case Study from Egypt,” Institute of Development Studies, June 2013, http://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/bitstream/handle/123456789/2950/ER8%20final%20online.pdf?sequence=1&utm_source=idswebsite&utm_medium=down-load&utm_campaign=opendocs, p. 21 (accessed 13 October 2014). In contrast, The Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt conducted by UN Women found that only 48.9 percent of its respondents said harassment had increased in this period. “Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt,” UN Women, April 2013, http://harassmap.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/287_Summaryreport_eng_low-1.pdf, p. 8 (accessed 13 October 2014).

2 “Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt.”

3 Langohr, Vickie, “This is Our Square: Fighting Sexual Assaults at Cairo Protests,” Middle East Report 13 (2013): 1825.

4 Hind Ahmad Zaki and Dalia Abd Alhamid, “Women as Fair Game in the Public Sphere: A Critical Introduction for Understanding Sexual Violence and Methods of Resistance,” Jadaliyya, 9 July 2014, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18455/women-as-fair-game-in-the-public-sphere_a-critical (accessed 10 October 2014).

5 Vickie Langohr, “New President, Old Patterns of Sexual Assault in Egypt,” Middle East Report, 7 July 2014, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero070714 (accessed October 13, 2014).

6 Alvarez, Sonia, Engendering Democracy in Brazil: Women's Movements in Transition Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), 83.

7 Sperling, Valerie, Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia: Engendering Transition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 3435.

8 Author's interview, Cairo, Egypt, 26 May 2014.

9 Molyneux, Maxine, “Mobilization without Emancipation? Women's Interests, the State, and Revolution in Nicaragua,” Feminist Studies 11 (1985): 233.

10 Ibid., 232.

11 Wiʾam al-Tamami, “To Willingly Enter the Circles, the Square,” Jadaliyya, 30 July 2013, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/13273/to-willingly-enter-the-circles-the-square (accessed 10 October 2014).

12 Alvarez, Engendering Democracy, 108.

13 Al-Birnamig, 15 March 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE1msB3Hu7g.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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