MSNBC reports that on Friday Egyptian women and a few men gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest against sexual harassment and demand its criminalization. The demonstrators were subject to the very thing they were fighting against: harassment and violence by men attempting to scare them out of the square. Women involved in the protest demand the right to walk the streets unmolested; one referred to harassment as a “disease.”
“You know when you leave home it will happen, either touching or bad language. Every day [harassment] happens here on the streets. Some days it’s escalated,” said May Abdul Hafiz, a travel agency supervisor. She explained that women are considered at fault for encouraging unwanted male attention by dress or behavior. “You are not supposed to say anything because they think you brought it on yourself.”
The men who attacked the demonstrators were angry that the women would distract from the “legitimate” protests against the candidacy of former Egyptian Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq. One young man said that now is “not the time” to fight harassment. But, as Marwa Salah, a banker, says, the protest is part of a struggle for women’s rights, widely important and frequently neglected struggle:
“When you have freedom you will have your rights. It’s about freedom for all Egyptians,” said Salah. “We have been brainwashed for 60 years. All people were so busy fighting poverty, women’s rights were a low priority.”
Despite the violence they faced, protestors who survived the assaults found another chance to speak. According to MSNBC, some were invited to speak out against sexual harassment on a popular Egyptian talk show, thus reaching a nation-wide audience.