Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Hania Moheeb Headshot

Egypt Must Be Held Accountable for Sexual Assault

Posted: Updated:

Only ten months have passed since I was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square -- it was the worst experience of my life.

In an effort to make my government accountable, I and seven other survivors of sexual violence filed a case against the then-ruling party. Our case is at a stalemate, and we see no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of breaking the impunity of Egyptian authorities. Yet our willingness to speak out on national television and in other public spaces has encouraged many other women in Egypt to do the same, and I strongly believe this will help end the stigma related to sexual violence.

This is not an easy path. In speaking out, we are challenging a long history of lack of respect for women's rights in Egypt.

Recently, in September, Egypt -- along with 112 other countries -- signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence. This declaration commits countries to ensuring that sexual violence prevention and response efforts are prioritized and well financed, providing timely and comprehensive care for survivors, giving full human rights to women and guaranteeing their active participation in the political, social and economic spheres, and ensuring the national military and police doctrine are in line with international law.

On paper, this all looks good.

However, I'm not confident that our present government in Egypt will follow through on these commitments. Successive governments in Egypt's history have signed most of the important international agreements pertaining to women's rights, but in practice, have done little to advance these rights.

Women have almost full human rights under Egyptian law, but application of the law has always been challenging because there is so much social resistance within Egypt to giving women rights. This is especially true when it comes to pursuing justice for sex-related crimes. Due to decades of injustice, oppression and religious fanaticism, Egyptian society turns a blind eye to sexual assaults against women.

Sexual assault is not only tolerated, but also sometimes used as a tool to silence women. Women like myself were targeted at protests in Tahrir Square, with gangs of men attacking women for daring to publicly express their political point of view.

Instead of helping women, military and police are part of the problem. In the recent past, military authorities have violated women by conducting "virginity tests" and allowed or even participated in the beating and sexual assault of women in the streets. Police in Egypt have been accomplices to sexual crimes either by hiring thugs to carry out politically-motivated sexual assault, or by pressuring victims of sexual assault to not report the crime. To compound the problem of military and police brutality or negligence, most prosecutors do not take sexual crimes against women seriously.

When women took the streets in 2011 to overturn the government of President Hosni Mubarek, we had high hopes that things would change.

However, in Egypt's current 50-member constitutional assembly only five are women. This marks little change from the 6 percent representation in the constitutional assembly formed by the Muslim Brothers during their brief rule under President Mohamed Morsi. When the government's cabinet was announced this past summer, we were disappointed by the appointment of only three women in a cabinet of 32 ministers.

A few months ago, the Ministry of Interior created an anti-sexual-harassment task force. Though we had assumed that their main focus would be law enforcement, the only service that the task force seemed prepared to discuss was psychological support for victims.

Last April -- not long after I was assaulted -- there was a fire in the South Cairo Court Building where the prosecutors handling our case against the Muslim Brotherhood are located. We later learned that the files for our case were not destroyed. However, despite this good luck and the fact that we have good lawyers representing us as well as the support of local human rights organizations, progress on our case has stalled.

There are other cases that have moved forward. In the last few months, five women who were sexually harassed or assaulted have successfully put their perpetrators behind bars. In doing so, they had to challenge deeply-rooted norms and traditions within Egyptian society. Two of the survivors told me that they had to deal with police negligence, the indifference of prosecutors and threats from the families of the perpetrators -- as well as pressure from neighbors and friends -- to let go of their cases. With tears in her eyes, another 20-year-old survivor told me that she gave up the pursuit of justice because of the strong pressure being exerted by a neighbor and her male colleagues at the university.

I am very encouraged by the courageous women who refuse to be silenced. The other hopeful sign is the work being done by civil society organizations working to end sexual violence and bring justice to survivors. They are struggling to do their work against all odds and sometimes face harassment, threats and physical assaults. Yet the numbers of individuals and organizations challenging the status quo is growing -- and they are bringing more creativity to their work and capturing more media attention.

In the long-term, women and civil society will bring the change we seek in Egypt.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Nobel Women's Initiative, spotlighting women working globally for peace, justice and equality as part of the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence campaign. For more information about the Nobel Women's Initiative and 16 Days, click here. URL:www.nobelwomensinitiative.org