Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sexual harassment: Between ignorance and neglect

Many years ago, while I was still a college student, I worked at a bookstore in Cairo. I loved everything about my job, the story of which will come in another post. On one idle Friday morning, I was startled at my desk by the shouts of what seemed to be someone at the cashier's desk, or at least in its vicinity. I rushed to the scene quickly, and was debriefed about a horrific situation; according to the man debriefing me. This gentleman was caught walking out of the bookstore with two pocket sized books of quotes, totaling approximately 100 LE. Their reaction apparently entailed that of many Egyptians; seize the thief, secure the goods, and start beating them up. I was shocked, and immediately told them off. I apologized to the man and explained that this is not our policy at the bookstore, and this should have been handled by the police not us. In return for our shortcomings, I asked him to leave and never set foot in the bookstore again.

Recently, while I was delving into the depths of the slums of Cairo, I came across a young man. That man looked unkept and in need of many of our life's necessities. He looked very hungry and in need of valuable nourishment. I eyed him walking towards a grocer's stand, and saw him pocket an orange. He walked further up the alley and stopped in front of falafel stand, and suddenly, this young man grabbed a plate of falafels and started running. Immediately, the man running the falafel stand cried out, 'harami' - thief. Soon, several others followed suit and a group of men and a woman, started chasing the young man. A bystander at the foot of the alley caught this young man, and a triathlon of kicking, punching and screaming followed.

On the bus, on the sidewalk, in a cab, at work and everywhere else you can imagine, it seems to be the duty of men to verbally abuse and grope women around them. For long, I have voiced my rejection to the lewd behavior, and blamed the police for not taking proper actions against the harassers. It was only during a brief phase of enlightenment that I realized that our problem is that of the culture. People's opinions have differed on this topic spanning a spectrum that belittles the occurrence, blames the women, or condemns it under the premise that this could be your mother, sister, wife or daughter. I have come to realize that this is nothing but absolute garbage. The occurrence is everywhere, and the women are not to be blamed, and the fact that this could happen to someone you know, disrespects everyone else you don't know. Stealing because you can't afford to buy two books, or food is condemned in its most atrocious form in this country, with little attention given to why someone stole in the first place - which again is a catastrophe, yet little is said about the stealing of a woman's pride and dignity - oh that seems to be alright by many - yes, lets all look the other way; passivity at its best.

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