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In Egypt, women organize to “Catch a Harasser”

Egyptians returning from an Eid al-Fitr prayer in Giza. (Flickr/HuMaN_eXaMpLe)

Egyptians returning from an Eid al-Fitr prayer in Giza. (Flickr/HuMaN_eXaMpLe)

In Egypt, sexual harassment often soars during the festivities of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. But this year, the Egyptian grassroots group Catch a Harasser, or emsek moth’aresh in Arabic, challenged this reality. During the holiday last week, the group intervened in stopping over 30 cases of harassment in the streets — and turned the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt into one of the most important national conversations through the movement’s viral digital campaign.

Begun in October 2012, the group’s aim is to ensure Egyptian women don’t need to fear enjoying the holiday in crowded areas, and the strategy is simple: volunteers attempt to catch harassers as they assault women.  It’s only one of a growing number of grassroots organizations that seek to combat the culture of sexual harassment in Egypt. Participants say that the movement is an effort to hold harassers accountable in a way that the current government has failed to. This year, an affiliated group distributed thousands of flyers to women informing them of their legal rights and options and strongly encouraging them to report instances of harassment.

Off the streets, the campaign was a popular topic on Twitter in Egypt, with hashtags such as #Catch_a_harasser and #Eid_without_harassment trending in Arabic. Other digital initiatives, such as HarassMap and I Saw Harassment, use technology to try to root out sexual harassment in the streets. The digital activism also influenced the mainstream media, where reporters began to challenge the government’s inaction and criticize patriarchy in broader society.

The groups reported dozens cases of harassment to the authorities in Cairo on Eid. But an activist with the group I Saw Harassment stated that the new law criminalizing sexual harassment was not being enforced as much as it should have been. “The law is a good step, but it needs to be implemented,” he stated. In the meantime, the work continues to fall on grassroots movements, and even though Eid has passed this year, Catch a Harasser continues to report cases of harassment on its Facebook page.