Friday, December 2, 2011

Article 19: Freedom of Expression

This has definitely been one of those “Cairo, you’re making me question my sanity” weeks. I normally wouldn’t consume a whole box of dates in two days or box of Digestives biscuits in one sitting but it seems that my stress levels have sky rocketed to something unfathomable.

I can usually handle the continual shouts and whistles from cars speeding by but I’ve felt so uneasy this week. Maybe it’s because of some papers regarding women’s rights in the MENA region or simply because of all the horror stories and articles I’ve had to read to prepare for them.

On Thursday I gave a presentation on sexual harassment in Egypt and was just appalled at the behavior and responses of many of my classmates—yes, even the women. While doing research on the topic I noticed  that sexual harassment is not specifically addressed or even defined in the Egyptian constitution *which will be reconstructed in the following year—who knows if women will even be able to participate when writing the constitution.* There are in fact only three articles *Yes, just THREE* that can be applied in cases of harassment. The articles pertain to insulting behavior, indecent behavior, and sexual assault. All of this information I found extremely frustrating and belittling, especially because Egypt ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)  in 1981.

It is so very obvious that these rules are not being implemented within society and I don’t think that many people in the classroom even knew about these articles beforehand. I understand that it can be hard to talk about this touchy subject in Egyptian culture, so humor may be involved to lighten the mood and make conversation a little more easy going. However, I found myself so frustrated that a few of the male students could not wrap their brains around what I, along with my professor and some foreign classmates, was trying to speak with them about. There were plenty of opportunities for all of the Egyptian students in the class to speak up and freely express their concern and experiences with this problem but some only joked about the matter or had only sexist things to say.

*Please take note however that there were a few among us, men included, that were really interested in the topic and asked fantastic questions concerning the implementation of certain policies and the current initiatives that are being created in Cairo to combat sexual harassment.*
If there is no respect in the classroom (a safe haven in the middle of Cairo where freedom of expression is allowed, for the most part) when discussing an issue such as sexual harassment then how is there going to be respect for women on the street? Is it okay for women to be groped and shoved in the Metro or when they are trying to assist protestors in Tahrir? Absolutely not.

On another hand, I am completely ready for December 8th to arrive! One of my best friends, Jayanni, is coming from Tennessee to spend two weeks with me here! I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing her in the midst of this chaos—she’s always been my breath of fresh air. We’re planning on going to Alexandria, Luxor, and ALL of the sites in Cairo that I have not been able to see yet (there are too many to count)! Inshallah!

Also, I’m really looking forward to going to Filderstadt, Germany in just three weeks! I’m hoping that it will be beautiful there during Christmas and hopefully snow will be everywhere. I’ve been waiting for so long to go back—these next weeks will be almost unbearable!

A break from Cairo and all of its hustle and bustle is just what I need.


  1. I'm sorry you are stressed with it girl. I understand the concerns and the attitude towards sexual harassment. It is exhausting. Hang in there- from one gypsy to another.

    Sara P

  2. Thanks, gypsy lady. :) Sometimes it's hard to remember that others are going through the same thing. I'd say we are pretty blessed (maybe a bit crazy...but blessed, nonetheless). Good luck with everything this week!