Egypt's al-Azhar calls for 'absolute' criminalisation of sexual harassment

Egypt's al-Azhar calls for 'absolute' criminalisation of sexual harassment
Cairo's al-Azhar scholars have said that sexual harassment should be condemned without 'condition or context' in a new statement on the issue.
2 min read
29 August, 2018
Some 60% of women in Egypt have experienced sexual harassment, according to a report [Anadolu]

Egypt's top Islamic authority has issued a statement strongly condemned sexual harassment, blasting it as "a forbidden act and deviant behaviour".

The al-Azhar statement comes amid continued debate and discussion on the issue in Egypt, where blame for harassment and sexual assault is often placed on victims.

"Criminalising sexual harassment must be absolute and free from any condition or context," the statement released on Monday said.

"Justifying sexual harassment with the behaviour or clothing of the woman is a misunderstanding, for sexual harassment is an assault on the woman and her freedom and dignity," it added.

Some 60 percent of women in Egypt said they had been victims of some form of sexual harassment during their lifetimes, according to a 2017 report from the UN Women and Promundo.

Three-quarters of men and 84 percent of women polled said that women who "dress provocatively deserve to be harassed".

The divisions have been highlighted by a recent debate over a video posted on the internet by an Egyptian woman showing a man making unwanted advances on her in a Cairo street.

The footage of the man parking his car and approaching a woman to go for a coffee went viral and drew a broad range of reactions online.

Some commentators said it definitely constituted harassment given the hostile atmosphere of the Cairo streets.

Others, meanwhile, described the approach as normal given the man made no obscene gestures. Some even suggested that the woman was at fault as she was welcoming advances by standing in the street.

Public debate over harassment intensified in the aftermath of the January 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak.

The protests demanding Mubarak's resignation centred around Cairo's Tahrir Square, where constant media coverage also highlighted sexual attacks and helped show public denial of the phenomenon.

Following the 2011 uprising, anti-harassment graffiti spread around downtown Cairo, volunteers organised to rescue women from mob attacks, and more women shared their own stories publicly.

In February 2013, women took to the streets brandishing knives in a symbolic protest against sexual violence.

Authorities directly criminalised sexual harassment in June 2014, however many women complain that officials still turn a blind eye to the problem.