Rebecca Chiao co-founded the organization HarassMap in December 2010 as a response to the persistent problem of sexual harassment against women on the streets of Egypt. The online map tracks incidents of sexual harassment and violence. HarassMap’s grassroots campaign works to combat permissive attitudes about sexual harassment and violence against women, to stop making excuses for perpetrators, and to convince witnesses to intervene. They do this in part by recruiting volunteers who convince people in their own neighborhoods to agree to stand up to perpetrators and to protect individuals who face harassment. In recent days, as new, protests have erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other areas of Egypt our work to protect a woman’s right to protest has become more important than ever.
As Egyptians once again rally in the streets to protest against their government, one year after the election of President Mohamed Morsi and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in sexual violence against female protesters, showing that some things really haven’t changed since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Since the protests began on June 30, 2013, at least 91 women have been sexually assaulted by mobs in Tahrir Square alone, according to Human Rights Watch.
It is clear from interviews with perpetrators that some are paid assailants, although it is uncertain who is behind this strategy to attempt to silence them. Regardless of who is responsible, the government, security forces, and opposition parties and their supporters have not taken action to stop perpetrators from committing these egregious attacks against women who are exercising their right to protest. The scale of these attacks is the worst that I have ever witnessed.
If bystanders on the street or in the demonstrations reacted to intervene in incidents of sexual violence like they react when someone yells “thief”, then we would not need a political decision to stop this problem. Those relatively few paid thugs in demonstrations who attack women in public, in full view of thousands of people, would be stopped instantly instead of joined by dozens of others.
Rebecca Chiao: “We need your help to raise awareness, combat attitudes that sexual violence in Egypt is acceptable, and to support women as the country faces yet another wave of turmoil and political uncertainty.”
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