Gennaio 13, 2016

Why the “tradition” of sexual harassment affects Egyptian economy and society

Why the “tradition” of sexual harassment affects Egyptian economy and society

Being a woman in Egypt involves going through the torturous experience of sexual harassment on almost daily basis. According to a research done by UN Women, 99,3% of Egyptian women reported to have been sexually harassed at least once in their lives.


Several NGOs started working against this epidemic, yet most of their work tends to be focused on the social and psychological effects of the harassment; the negative consequences of the phenomenon on women’s career development and their role in the labor market are usually overlooked.


According to a statement issued by Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, in Egypt, men’s participation in the workforce is almost three times higher than that of women. Sexual harassment is one of four factors thought to be the cause behind this discrepancy, according to


Sexual harassment has become a routine act in Egypt. People are no longer surprised or provoked when they hear of a harassment incident or an assault case. The harassers acclimated the Egyptians with sexual harassment. A large portion of the society currently deals with harassment as a fait accompli. People try to fit their lives around it, instead of digging at the roots of the problem. Now, many Egyptians have a growing tendency to create a safe environment for women through restricting the women’s mobility, instead of punishing the harassers.


Women tend to think twice before leaving their houses. They might cancel unnecessary meetings, or get someone with them. They also avoid going out late, taking streets that are not highly populated, going back to the streets where they have previously experienced harassment. “If something happened to me in this place, I might not walk through it again … I’ll take a street next to it,” Jihan, 18, told Harassmap, a volunteer-based social initiative founded in late 2010 with the mission of ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt.


According to a study by Harassmap, 95.3% of female respondents reported having been harassed in the past, most commonly during the afternoon, either on the streets (81.4%) or on public transport (14.8%).


Public transportation, which is the main way of commuting for most Egyptians, is one of the swamps of sexual harassment in Egypt. There, the likelihood of being harassed is high as women are confined in a closed place, which makes them easy targets for the harassers. Eventually, women, in order to protect their vulnerability inside public transportation, take precautionary measures that consequently limit their mobility. These measures vary from boycotting public transportation in general to limiting its use to certain hours in the day, usually in the daylight.


Women in Egypt take longer routes to reach their destinations for the sake of avoiding harassment. They also pay more money – when they can afford- to use safer transportation, which also isn’t a guarantee for a harassment-free commute. Even women who ride cabs and private cars face harassments. Some women have even changed the way they dress in order to avoid the harassment, but nothing has changed.


Sexual harassment impacts women’s perception of their safety in public space, and restricts their movement and mobility, which virtually restricts their access to basic rights such as right to education and work. They are confined by gender-based restrictions, which limit their opportunities. So, for example, a woman might not get a job – or at the very least might not get promoted – not because of her incompetence but due to her failure to abide with its late working hours or long hours of commute that exposes her to sexual harassment or facing work place harassment. According to a study conducted by Karama, 20 women of those surveyed were absent from their work due to harassment; some of them were exposed to damages due to their absences, including salary reduction and deprivation from incentives until resignation.


These restrictions have a substantial impact on women’s spending patterns and the to economy in general. According to a study conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), around 10 percent of Egyptian women finds that harassment has a direct impact on their productivity. This includes their lack of concentration, failing to recall things they study and a widespread sense of insecurity.


A large percentage of women refuses to compromise their safety for the sake of getting a job or having a career. A woman who used to work at a mid-ranking job in the public sector said to A-id that, even if she was relatively satisfied with the salary and the job security, she had to resign. She couldn’t bear daily harassment on her way to work.


Besides psychological effects, sexual harassment also causes great financial losses and hinders the women’s contribution to the GDP. A study by Karama and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE) revealed that Egypt loses EGP 147.6 billion annually as a result of violence against women. In the study, violence includes sexual harassment along with other acts as domestic abuse.


These costs are most likely to continue, as long as the society doesn’t change its attitude. Despite the rising number of organizations working to combat harassment, the results and the rate of change is insufficient. This is due to the mentality of a large percentage of the older generations – parents, security officers or people in authority in general, who, for the sake of preserving traditions, tend to blame victims or to hide the problem. The new generation, more inclined to challenge customs and traditions, is the hope for a radical change. In this context, keeping eyes on the economic consequences of sexual harassment may also encourage new stakeholders to stand up for women’s rights.

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About Salma Abdalla

Salma Abdalla

Salma Abdalla is a researcher and reporter at The Cairo Review of Global Affairs journal and works as politics reporter at Daily News Egypt. She works as a research assistant with professor and journalist James Dorsey while also serving as deputy editor at Abdalla recently graduated from the American University in Cairo with a degree in Multimedia Journalism and Middle East Studies.

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