Actions Speak Louder Than Words: America’s Disregard for Sexual Harassment in Egypt

Six years ago President Obama addressed the “Muslim world” from Cairo, where he pulled at the heartstrings of so many downtrodden people empowering them with a message of hope. With passion and conviction he reminded the world that actions speak louder than words, and that together we must act boldly to ensure that all citizens acquire necessary human rights, “…and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.”

Six years later Egyptians continue to live in a state of political and social instability. The promises of a brighter future made by the Obama administration in 2008, have been forgotten and ignored, the most recent example being the House Appropriations Committee removing human rights conditions on foreign assistance to Egypt.

Egyptian women have fallen victim to devastating human rights violations, sexual harassment being at the forefront. According to a 2013 survey by UN Women, 99% of Egyptian females experience sexual harassment, regardless of political, religious, or socio-economic status.  This survey does not include non-Egyptian women living or traveling in Egypt who also fall victim to Egypt’s sexual harassment epidemic. Amnesty International explains that males use sexual harassment as an intimidating, hostile, degrading, and humiliating tactic to strip women of their fundamental human rights.

Unfortunately, Egyptian females face a society that shifts the blame from the harasser to the victim. Women are blamed for their harassment and according to writer Mona Eltahawy; many females are unable to fight back. Instead, women cover up as much as possible both physically and mentally to evade the hissing, obscenities, and groping hands that await them in the streets.

Women, like men, risked their lives during the revolution to liberate Egypt from tyranny; however according to Eltahawy, “…state and street work in tandem to push women out of public space.” Men feel threatened by women’s increasing visibility in the public space, therefore men have launched a fear based assault on women in hopes to drive them out of the public sphere.

Many women fought in the revolution to improve their lives and now face a public space that is more dangerous and depressingly degrading. The verbal abuse, physical abuse, and lack of safety have left many women feeling vulnerable. Eltahway argues that, “[u]nless we [Egyptians] draw the connection between the misogyny of the state and of the street, and unless we emphasize the need for a social and sexual revolution, our political revolutions will fail.”

America’s choice to drop human rights conditions from the Egyptian aid package is blatant hypocrisy and disregard for diplomacy. Societies that institute human rights for all citizens, Obama argued in his Cairo speech, “…are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.” Americans must step up and honor their “words” and “act boldly” in solidarity with Egyptian women so that they too may be free to live as complete citizens with integrity and dignity in a stable, successful, and secure Egypt.