November 8, 2012 in Middle East
by Chelsea Sweeney
The women of America achieved a huge victory with the reelection of President Obama, combating the “War on Women” that had been waged throughout the recent Republican election campaign. There is still a long way to go in the future of fighting for women’s equality, and a similar battle is being fought in many Middle Eastern countries. The number one issue facing most women is sexual harassment, and recently both Jordan and Egypt have stirred up controversy in an attempt to stop this treatment of women on the streets.
In Egypt, the police and other authority figures have a reputation for turning a blind eye towards complaints of sexual harassment. Many youth have grown tired of this inaction, and formed citizen vigilante groups to shame those they catch in the act. These activists began patrolling downtown Cairo over the recent Eid Al-Adha holiday, armed with spray paint. Anyone caught verbally or physically harassing a woman was held down and spray-painted with the message “I’m a harasser.” Holding these men accountable for their actions will create some change, but it will be difficult for the message of this campaign to take hold completely, as these small groups can not take on the more than 1,000 sexual harassment complaints filled over the four day holiday.
In Jordan, a university class has tried to use the media to campaign against sexual harassment in their country, with unexpected consequences. Last fall, students in a Feminist Theory class at the University of Jordan created a video to raise awareness of the harassment female students were facing on campus. The video featured the students holding signs with the various vulgar phrases they have heard shouted at them, as well as footage of men on their campus. When they uploaded this video to YouTube, they did not get the support that they may have expected. Instead, the administration was concerned with the effect the video would have on the university’s reputation. They decided to remove the professor of the class, Rula Quawas, from her position as the Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages.
I have been lucky in facing this issue during my time in Egypt. Besides the standard catcalls on the street, the worst I have faced is silly high school freshmen boys waving their hands in my face (because high school freshman boys are immature in every country of the world). Even when packed into the mixed-gender car of the Cairo metro, it was an uneventful ride and everyone politely stepped aside when it was time for us to exit. But many others unfortunately continue to face the worst of sexual harassment in both Jordan and Egypt. Citizens of these countries obviously want to see change, but harassment will continue to be a problem until more people find the courage to support campaigns such as these in the fight for women’s rights.This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.