At Women Under Siege, Reem Abdel-Razek writes about a recent incident in Cairo.
A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend in Cairo about a horrible attack on her sister, Esraa Mohamed. Esraa was walking in her own neighborhood at 3 p.m. when she realized she was being followed by a well-dressed, respectable looking stranger. He said, “I am not harassing you but don’t forget to wipe off your pants.”
She suddenly began to feel a burning pain in her backside and rushed into a cafe to see what was wrong. It was then that she realized she couldn’t remove her pants and took a cab home. By that time the pain was so excruciating that she almost fainted; her buttocks and the back of her thighs had been burned by acid that had eaten into her flesh. The doctor who examined her said she had second and third-degree burns, with cell necrosis in some areas. The diagnosis was “chemical burn by an unidentified corrosive.”
Esraa described the attack to a journalist friend who wrote a story about it. After she spoke out, she received messages from other girls who said the same thing had happened to them, but they had not told anyone or come forward because they were ashamed and embarrassed. She also received several messages on Facebook saying she’d deserved what happened to her for not wearing the veil.
How pathetic is it that part of my reaction to that story is relief that it wasn’t her face? Oh thank you so much, well-dressed stranger, for throwing your acid at women’s bums instead of their eyes and mouths and noses. At least Esraa Mohamed isn’t blind now, at least she can still eat and drink and talk.
Since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, there has been much commentary about sexual harassment and violence against women in Egypt. Many believe the attacks on women in Tahrir Square were initiated by mobs hired by Egypt’s security forces as a means of intimidation, similar to the “virginity tests” forced upon some of the girls who were arrested during a protest in March 2011. They see violence against women as a means of scaring them away from political activity. While this is true, it is only part of the explanation: Violence against women in Egypt long precedes the revolutions of the last three years.
It has been growing for decades. A study done in 2008 showed that 83 percent of women get harassed in Egypt. But numbers alone cannot show how scary the harassment is, how it makes women feel, and how their families usually blame them instead of the men who harassed them.
The role of Islamist propaganda in promoting the acceptance of violence against women often gets overlooked by those who are afraid of appearing “Islamophobic” or racist. But addressing the roots of violence against women is one of the most important steps in eradicating it.
Reem Abdel-Razek and the Centre for Secular Space set up a Facebook group, You are not alone, where you can send messages to Esraa Mohamed.