Women’s position in Egyptian society has become so dire that they are disappearing from the public sphere just so they don’t have to deal with men. The sexual harassment and assault that occurs everyday has dramatically increased within the past year, most likely due to interior instability.
After the Arab Spring, Egypt has really been in political and social limbo, and the women are suffering most of all - an environment with an undercurrent of indecision and ambivalence has made it socially acceptable to accost them. There are no laws or political repercussions against it, and the recent autocracy has created space for patriarchy and sexism to thrive unchecked.
Waleed Hammad is taking a stand. The actor has used his position as an influential Egyptian male to bring attention to the dangers of sexual harassment and violence against women. Hammad sported female clothing and light makeup to present himself as an Egyptian woman, sometimes covering his head, which is very common for the Egyptian woman to do. He attached a series of hidden cameras and televised this report in hopes to enlighten society.
Hammad reported that, as a man it is very easy for him to go about and do as he pleases, but after this project he realized the stark difference between the experiences of men and women in Egyptian society.
Waleed's everyday male gender presentation.
"For a woman, it boils down to her having to focus on how she breathes while she is walking. It is not just the walk. It is not just the clothes. It is not what she says or how she looks… You have to be in a constant state of alertness."
Last month a U.N. Women agency, Egypt's Demographic Center and its National Planning Institute surveyed hundreds of women in seven of the country's provinces to get a statistical idea of how bad the harassment issue really is. The results? More than 99 percent of the women surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment, ranging from "minor harassment" to rape. More than 99 percent.
Conservatives blame the women for dressing a certain way or for provoking the man, and many women believe this, which is why they are removing themselves from the public sphere. But of course, the harassers are always at fault for harassment. In once case, a man actually admitted to bribing a coffee shop owner to wet his sidewalk so the women would have no choice but to lift their long skirts as they passed.
This type of everyday sexual harassment and abuse is outrageous. Activists like Waleed Hammad are doing the right thing by taking bold chances to make bold statements about the inequalities in Egyptian society. Let's hope more Egyptian men (and communities everywhere) stand up, speak out, and stop street harassment.