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The Sexual Harassment File: Can’t you girls take a little flirting?

Over the coming weeks, Al-Masry Al-Youm each Wednesday will feature pieces that dissect the reasons behind sexual harassment, the coping mechanisms for women (and men) in the streets of Cairo and the system that has been set up to tackle this festering issue. Comments and input are appreciated – send us your stories of sexual harassment and information on any organizations or initiatives that combat sexual harassment in Egypt. 
A lot of people believe that sexual harassment is not an issue in Egypt. There – I said it. 
Perhaps it is because the incidences of grabbing and groping are few in comparison (in comparison) to the hundreds of derogatory comments and looks women in Egypt must take in every day, and many men and women in Egypt believe that these comments can be considered "flirtation."
“Girls today are too sensitive,” says Amina, a mother of two and grandmother of three. “The comments on the street are meant to compliment them.” 
Amina believes that young men in the street are simply unable to communicate their interest in a girl and resort to comments like this because they are cowardly. 
As a journalist, I took the comment in stride. In proper Egyptian fashion, I absorbed the remarks as a young woman would absorb criticism from her own grandmother, but as a woman, I fumed. 
“Men are like children,” claims Howaida, a 30-year-old banker. “They upset women to get them to like them."
"It's not really harassment," says Mohamed, 40, a security guard in Garden City. "The women take these little comments too seriously."
For the record, I would like to share a typical day in the life of working woman between the ages of 20 and 40 in Egypt: 
The women mentioned below asked that their names be changed for this article. 
8:30 am – The alarm goes off – she hits snooze.
9:30 am – She is dashing out the door with a laptop, a purse and whatever else she needs for the day.
9:33 am – The first blow to her psyche: The doorman and a neighbor’s driver size her up as she heads down the stairs. 
“Whenever I bend over to put things in the car, the group of men who work in our building lean a little to check out my backside,” says Donya, 27, who lives in Zamalek. 
10:15 am – On her way to work or class, she can take any number of personal attacks. 
“In the microbus I ride to work every morning, I will either have a man behind me breathing heavily into my ear or a guy next to me ‘accidentally' touching my legs,” says Fatma, a cook in Dokki. “I now pay for two places on the microbus so that I can take the front bench for myself. Now I just get dirty looks.” 
Karma, 23, says “I drive to work, which is a blessing, but on my way I either get a truck driver peering into my car to catch a glimpse of my legs, a microbus driver looking down my shirt or a man selling flowers sticking his hand in my car to put the flowers on my rearview mirror, nearly grazing my chest.” 
Amira, a student, also drives to university every day. “The parking attendant stays unusually close to me as I try to get out of my car,” she says. “I always notice he mutters things to me under his breath.” 
10:18 am – Walking into her office, the typical Egyptian woman may be greeted by the male secretary at the door or a coworker in the elevator. “The security at my workplace says good morning to my pelvic area,” says Lamia, 36, who works in advertising. “I try to assert myself with a strong ‘Good morning!’”
5 pm – If she’s lucky, she works in a place that is full of like-minded fabulous people who don’t threaten her in any way. If she’s normal, there’s likely a manager she’s got to pass by at least once or twice a week who, while she discusses work, will have a "conversation" with her breasts or who will smile like he’s imagining what he would do to her if he could. If she’s one of the less fortunate, fate-wise, she will hide herself in a corner of the office to avoid the man who passes by with papers and presses himself against her when he asks her a question. 
“At my last job, a coworker managed to get my phone number and sent me lewd SMS messages throughout the day,” says Doaa, who works in journalism. “When I reported it to the management, they chided me on the clothes I wear to work and my friendly demeanor.”
Salma, 27, says, “My project manager cornered me a number of times in a physically threatening manner and asked me to tell him why he shouldn’t just fire me. When I spoke to a female coworker, she told me he had done it before and people just ignored him.”
7 pm – On the way home, she’ll meet the usual suspects that she passed on the way to work. 
“Occassionally while I’m in traffic, a man will stand near my window on the sidewalk and stare at me or touch himself,” says Heba, who drives from Mohandessin to Zamalek from work. 
8 pm – If she’s ordered food for dinner at home, the delivery man will give a look of happy surprise to have a woman at the door. 
“I’ve changed delivery grocers three times,” says Omneya, 41. “The young boys will often step across the threshold and into my house without being invited or the delivery man will try to touch my hand purposely when he hands me the bags or takes money.” 
Sara, 23, complains that her grocer handed her number off to the delivery man who since has been fired and prank calls her at home daily, breathing heavily or telling her he’s under her building and wants her to come down and meet him. 
9 pm – If she goes out for dinner or a drink, she will get a group on motorcycles circling her car and veering in to try to stop her or hit her car. 
“I am often followed,” says Nahla, 32, “I’ll be driving and a group of men will drive up next to me. The driver or passenger makes a vulgar comment like 'Come here sexy,' which is enforced by a good 15 minutes of tailing me until I manage to lose them or slow down enough for them to lose interest.” 
12 am – If she comes home at or after midnight, a woman in Egypt must keep some considerations in mind. 
“When I came home the other night, my doorman was asleep,” says Rania, 34. "A man followed me from my car to the door of my building whispering, ‘I will have sex with you.’ I ran the last few paces, got in the building and locked the door from inside.”
As with any addiction, perhaps the first step is to get ourselves out of denial. There is sexual harassment in Egypt. It is a problem. 
Contact the Life & Style section at for your input in The Sexual Harassment File.

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