The Burqa Doesn’t Stop Sexual Harassment

The Burqa Doesn’t Stop Sexual Harassment June 3, 2010

Austin Cline highlights an article about the ineffectiveness of unrevealing clothing in preventing harassment and assault of women in Egypt.  (You may remember that Egypt is also the nation with the recently released ad campaign aimed at getting women to cover up precisely as a remedy to such problems, which bewarethelizards42 perfectly skewered.)

Cline quotes from the following excerpts Gulf News’s article (which still turns up verbatim from Gulf News when googled but the link for which appears to be broken):

In 2008, the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) released shocking statistics that stated that 83 per cent of Egyptian women and 98 per cent of foreign women in Egypt reported exposure to sexual harassment. Out of 1,010 Egyptian women surveyed by the Cairo-based NGO, nearly half reported being subjected to harassment on a daily basis, ranging from lewd comments to molestation.

“We receive complaints from women about various forms of sexual harassment. These range from salacious gestures and groping to impertinent compliments or outright chases on public streets. Subsequently, we have conducted several studies that have proven one thing above all else: Sexual harassment occurs regardless of age, dress or time of day. Women are victims simply because they are women,” said ECWR chairwoman Nehad Abu Al Komsan.

More than 60 per cent of the respondents — including females — suggested that scantily clad women were most at risk. But the study concluded that the majority of the victims of harassment were modestly dressed women wearing the hijab. Contrary to expectations, the male perpetrators made little distinction between women wearing a veil and those who were not. “We found that a veil does not protect women as we thought,” says Abu Al Komsan. “More than 75 per cent of women in Egypt are veiled but are still harassed. And 9 per cent wear the niqab — the complete face cover — so they are fully covered.”

While both men and women surveyed said that short skirts and tight clothes triggered harassment, Nora Khalid, 31, told Weekend Review: “All my female colleagues advised me to wear the hijab to spare myself any advances from passers-by, just to find that women in the hijab were the most frequent targets of unwanted comments and touching on the street.”

“As women, we follow our grandmother’s advice — not to come home late, walk in a crowded area because people can protect you and never walk down a dark or desolate street — and we know all this very well,” Khalid said. However, Abu Al Komsan said: “But what [our research showed] was something completely different from the stereotypes — sexual harassment occurring in crowded areas, even if the women were covered from head to toe.”


Dr Hanaa Al Gohari, sociologist at Cairo University, told Weekend Review that the problem of sexual harassment in Egypt has to do with the mentality of the society. Today’s Egypt is infected with two main diseases: religious extremism and patriarchy. “It is our Arab society’s patriarchal mentality that holds women accountable for the mistakes of men. Egyptian women rarely report being harassed to avoid public embarrassment or alleged humiliation to their family. Women just remember: It’s always your fault and your ‘Jezebel’ behaviour and clothes.”

Sixty-two per cent of Egyptian men admitted to harassing women. …”Do not blame me. You should blame her. When a woman wears make-up and tight clothes, she seeks attention. Women in Cairo are out in the streets rubbing shoulders with men everywhere,” [Yasser Ali, a 21-year-old student] said, being defensive about the occasional catcalls he makes at women in the city, “who are different from the ones in my village”.

Cline offers more from the original article and provides some commentary here.

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