In December 2011 49-year-old Azza Suleiman attended a large protest near Tahrir Square. As she started to leave, she saw a group of soldiers violently beat and strip another female protestor.
Concerned, Azza and some others tried to help carry the woman away. But the soldiers reacted violently: they beat Azza so severely that she lost consciousness. Even then they did not stop.
Their attack was so vicious it left Azza with a fractured skull and impaired memory. Azza lodged a formal complaint but to date no one has been held accountable for this violence.
In an apparent attempt to control dissent, security forces are increasingly targeting female protestors like Azza and the woman she was trying to help. Worse still, mobs of men are attacking women in the street, robbing and raping them with little fear of reprisals.
‘There were hands groping us and stealing our belongings from our bags and pockets. It was chaos, we couldn’t tell who was with us and who was against us’ - Lobna Darwish, Egpytian citizen journalist
In June, as assaults against women by unidentified mobs and security forces alike gathered pace, Lobna Darwish and her colleagues organised a march on Tahrir Square demanding an end to violence against women.
Men, women and children stood up to demand protection from this violence. What they got was more intimidation and sexual assault. Mobs arrived and began to grope and strip the women.
Men who were there supporting the protest formed a circle around the women to help them. They too felt hands grope them, and reach into their pockets to steal their possessions during the clashes.
'Whether the attacks are committed by unidentified mobs or by the security forces themselves, it is equally damaging for women and their human rights' - Hassiba Hadj, our Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa
Sexual harassment is a clear attempt to intimidate women protestors and prevent them from participating fully in public life. Incidents like this have concerning echoes of women’s rights under Mubarak.
Authorities have so far done nothing to investigate attacks. This failure to bring perpetrators to justice has encouraged the trend of sexual harassment and assault to continue.
This epidemic will only stop if the authorities, and society at large, confront the men who act as if women are commodities.
Azza’s brave fight for justice could hardly have more significance for the future of women’s rights in Egypt. And we are standing with her every step of the way.