Taking Down Sexual Harassment

Taking Down Sexual Harassment August 13, 2008

Sexual harassment is a problem that affects women in all societies. Muslim societies are no exception. Where there is patriarchy, there will be sexual harassment. In both Muslim and non-Muslim societies, the “solution” to sexual harassment has always fallen on women. “Don’t dress in revealing clothes, don’t flirt, don’t stay out alone, etc.” Even at my alma mater, the rape and sexual harassment prevention posters are in the women’s bathrooms only, and the focus is on women’s behavior instead of men’s.

The Los Angeles Times recently did a profile of a group (pictured to the left) in Egypt that is taking a different approach to sexual harassment.
The volunteer group is sponsored by the Egyptian youth magazine Kelmetna. One of the great aspects of this group is the focus on men’s role in stopping sexual harassment. The slogan of the group’s campaign is “Respect yourself: Egypt still has real men.” I love this slogan for two reasons. The first is that it challenges one of the core values of traditional notions of masculinity: sexual power over women. Harassing women is not a sign of masculinity; it’s a sign of cowardice. It’s great that Muslims are beginning to recognize this.

Another reason I love this slogan is because it brings the responsibility for sexual harassment back on men. For too long, sexual harassment has been considered the responsibility of women. “Real men” take the responsibility in treating women with respect and sexual autonomy and they also take responsibility in stopping other men from disrespecting women’s sexuality. This is why the campaign not only focuses on getting men to stop sexually harassing women, but to also stop other men from doing it, too. This is especially important when a lot of sexual harassment in Egypt takes place in public.

The focus on making men responsible also challenges the view that women’s dress will prevent sexual harassment. The Los Angeles Times article cited a survey of Egyptian women which showed that 83% of Egyptian women reported being verbally and sexually harassed. Of these women, 70% were veiled. Nour Hussein, a volunteer with the group who wears hijab, was pushed to join the group after being sexually harassed. About her experience, Nour said “That was a month ago. I felt very insecure and this pushed me hard to join the campaign. I used to hear about harassment but thought that it only happened to non-veiled girls; I never thought it could happen to me.” Stories like Nour’s only further validate that message of the campaign: harassment is not the fault of women; it is the fault of the man. Recognizing that is the first step in taking down sexual harassment.

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