On Wednesday 7th May, Egypt’s government approved a new anti-sexual harassment law, which punishes offenders with a series of fines, a prison sentence, or both.
A draft version of the amendment was put forward by Egypt’s cabinet back in April and was revised numerous times by the Justice Ministry as well as by other government officials before being sent back to the cabinet for its final approval under interim president Adly Mansour.
In the past, while certain articles in the country’s Penal Code were sometimes used to address cases of sexual harassment, there had been no specific law in Egypt which adequately dealt with such crimes. However, this new amendment marks a step towards dealing with sexual harassment, stating that a harasser is deemed to be someone who “accosts others in a public or private place through following or stalking them, using gestures or words or through modern means of communication or in any other means through actions that carry sexual or pornographic hints.”
Moreover, perpetrators will now face harsher penalties; depending on the crime, they could either receive a jail sentence of up to six months and/or fined between 3000 and 5000 Egyptian Pounds.
Repeat offenders who stalk their victims could be sentenced to at least a year in prison, and additionally fined between 5000 and 10,000 EGP. Sexual harassers who are relatives of the victim or who take a position of authority over them could be jailed for up to five years and fined between 20,000 or 50,000 EGP. Other issues such as mob sexual harassment and harassment using a weapon are also addressed in the new law.
According to a report in 2013 by the UN along with Egypt’s Demographic Centre and the National Planning Institute, sexual harassment in Egypt has reached unprecedented levels in recent years. Out of the hundreds of women surveyed, around 99% of them said that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.
In the wake of the 2011 uprisings, the government has faced mounting pressure to tackle this widespread problem and has been vehemently criticised for failing to stop assailants acting with impunity.
While some see the new law as progress, others believe that the amendment does not go far enough. Despite campaigns such as HarassMap being launched to spread awareness about sexual harassment and report cases of it in Egypt, many human rights organisations and NGOs believe the country still has long way to go in terms of legislating and protecting women’s rights.
For example, Egyptian law is yet to recognise marital rape; meanwhile, certain forms of coercive sex are considered ‘indecent assault’ instead of rape, resulting in far more lenient punishments.