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Egypt: new report reveals huge extent of violence against women in the country

A protest against sexual harassment in Cairo last year © Getty Images
Women beaten, whipped and burned by husbands - and Tahrir Square sex attacks continue unabated
‘Women and girls in Egypt face the ever-present, lurking spectre of physical and sexual violence’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui
Women and girls in Egypt face violence on a disturbing scale both at home and in public, said Amnesty International today in a new report on the country.
The 88-page report - 'Circles of hell': Domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt - shows how women in Egypt face entrenched sexism, violence in the home and the ever-present risk of attack in public places like Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
More than 99% of women and girls in Egypt interviewed for a UN survey in 2013 reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment, and nearly half of all women surveyed by Egypt’s Ministry of Health said they had experienced domestic violence. Even when they seek help many have found themselves ignored or treated with contempt by police and by the justice system.
There have been convictions since last year’s introduction of a law making sexual harassment a crime punishable by a minimum of one year in prison, however these remain just a handful of cases and the vast majority of women are still waiting for justice. Amnesty’s report shows that the authorities are still refusing to acknowledge the scale of the problem and the organisation is calling for the Egyptian authorities to deliver a long-promised, long-delayed strategy on addressing violence against women.

Sex mob attacks

Sexual assaults in public, particularly in the context of demonstrations around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, have soared in recent years. Sexual assaults - including rapes - have been carried out in which women have been groped, stripped naked and dragged through the streets, or beaten with sticks, knives and belts by violent mobs. While courts have jailed a small number of men over attacks in Tahrir Square, many survivors are still waiting for justice. 

Women in state custody

The treatment of female prisoners while in state custody or upon arrest is frequently deplorable. Numerous women and girls have told Amnesty they were tortured or ill-treated by security forces on arrest, including being subjected to sexual violence. In prison, female detainees are subjected to torture and ill-treatment with impunity. One prisoner was forced to lie in front of other prisoners before being whipped on her feet. Even pregnant women have been treated in a degrading or inhuman manner, including being handcuffed during labour.

Domestic violence and discriminatory divorce laws

Women interviewed by Amnesty have described brutal physical and psychological abuse, saying their spouses have beaten, whipped and burned them, and in some cases have locked them up at home. They also spoke about how the legal system is failing them.
Many abuses stem from widespread prejudiced attitudes and are exacerbated by the discriminatory Egyptian personal status law which places insurmountable obstacles in front of women to prove that their spouses have harmed them. Meanwhile, support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence is almost non-existent. Women who report it are confronted with numerous barriers, including a lack of interest by the security forces or prosecution authorities as well as inadequate criminal laws, with domestic violence and marital rape not explicitly criminalised. A deeply discriminatory divorce system also frequently leaves women trapped in abusive relationships. While men may unilaterally divorce their wives without providing any justification, women must either forfeit their financial rights by accepting a “no-fault” (khol’) divorce, or be prepared to fight a long and costly court battle to prove that their husband has “harmed” them.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“The reality is that women and girls in Egypt face the ever-present, lurking spectre of physical and sexual violence in all facets of life. 
“At home many are subjected to vicious beatings, aggression and abuse from spouses and relatives. In public they face incessant sexual harassment and the risk of mob attacks, when not falling prey to state officials’ violence.
“Recent measures to protect women have been largely symbolic. The authorities must prove that these are more than cosmetic by making sustained efforts to implement changes and challenge deeply entrenched attitudes prevalent in Egyptian society.”

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