Activists from 17 Arab countries met in Cairo for a groundbreaking conference to address the pervasive sexual harassment of women in the region this week. According to the Associated Press, sexual harassment including verbal harassment and physical threats like groping or pinching, are going unchecked in the region because incidents are frequently not reported, law enforcement ignores reported incidents, and established law does not effectively punish perpetrators. This continuous harassment is driving women to both confine themselves to their homes and wear increasingly conservative clothing.
Egyptian activist Nehad Abul Komsan, who was a key organizer of the conference, said, “we are facing a phenomena that is limiting women’s right to move…and is threatening women’s participation in all walks of life,” according to Associated Press. Research unveiled at the conference indicated that more than 30 percent of Lebanese women, 83 percent of Egyptian women, and 90 percent of Yemeni women have experienced sexual harassment. According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Right, which organized the conference, of the women who had reported instances of sexual harassment to the center, only 12 percent also made a complaint with police.
Egypt’s deputy parliament speaker, Zeinab Radwan, spoke at the conference and asserted the need for a sexual harassment law in her country, which does not have a law that defines sexual harassment. According to Agence France Presse, Al-Destour newspaper reported that Radwan said, “There must be a law to protect Egyptian society from collapse…There is a savage attack on Egyptian women with sexual harassment on the streets. It has gone beyond all limits with the harassment of children.”