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Egyptian women fighting back against sexual assaults
On the same day in Egypt, Michael Posner, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, criticized what he said was the failure of the country’s criminal justice system to identify and bring to justice perpetrators “involved in an alarming number of rapes and other acts of violence against women.”
In meetings with Egyptian officials, including the foreign and justice ministers, the nation’s top cleric and a presidential adviser, Mr. Posner said he expressed Washington’s concern that the rights of women are not being prioritized alongside other key issues such as transparency, rule of law and building a better climate for civil society.
Last weekend in the leafy Cairo neighborhood of Maadi, dozens of women were learning how to fight back. They attended a self-defense course on how to escape an attacker by striking at weak points on the neck and face. The carrying of knives, after proper training, was presented as a personal choice, although one that could carry heavy consequences for both defender and attacker.
“We’re facing daily sexual harassment in the streets, and we aim to defend ourselves,” said Menna Essam, a 26-year-old Internet marketer. Like most women taking the course, she said she had experienced physical harassment where self-defense techniques would have been useful.
“Of course I faced it growing up. … The first time I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. Someone followed me on the way home and grabbed me. At the time, I didn’t even know what harassment was,” she said.
The free course was organized by Tahrir Bodyguard, one of several groups that have emerged to protect female demonstrators at street protests. The courses aim above all to boost women’s confidence and deter what organizers call daily harassment.
Women have also been coming forward to talk about attacks, defying long-held taboos in the conservative country.
One who spoke to private Egyptian television channels at length last week, Yasmine Al-Baramawy, described how a gang of men assaulted her for more than an hour near Tahrir Square, dragging her through the streets, tearing off her shirt and cutting her pants.
On Monday, Egypt’s National Council of Women also entered the debate, adopting activists’ view that the attacks are organized.
In a statement, the council said it “condemned the abuses suffered by Egyptian women from harassment and rape in Tahrir Square recently, which is systematic and carried out by organized groups to force women not to participate and express their views.”
Images promoting Tuesday’s global protest — from Arab countries and elsewhere — have been among the most militant. The Uprising movement, for example, has turned a photo of a veiled woman brandishing a knife at a Cairo protest last week into a poster.
Another image featured on the page shows the late Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum, an iconic figure in the nation’s struggle against Israel following the 1967 Middle East war. She is seen holding a superimposed kitchen knife, with a printed lyric from one of her most famous songs that says: “Patience has limits!”
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