Experts Discuss the Legal Framework to Combat Sexual Harassment in the Last Session of AUC SpeakUp Dialog Series

As part of the AUC SpeakUp Dialog series, The American University in Cairo (AUC) held yesterday the last session titled “How Do We Enhance the Policy and Legal Framework to Combat Violence Against Women?” Speakers were Azza Soliman, lawyer, human rights defender and founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance; Esther Waweru, human rights lawyer with over ten years of experience advocating for the advancement and protection of human rights and a senior legal advisor at Equality Now and Soraya Bahgat ’06, consultant and advocate for women and girls in Egypt. The event was moderated by Nevine Ebeid, consultant, researcher and trainer in gender mainstreaming policies.

Speakers discussed the means to guarantee the safety of women and girls, including applying the law and providing a safe environment for the complainants filing cases against harassers. They highlighted the need to add new legislation to combat violence against women. Speakers also stressed the crucial role of social media in advocating for women’s rights. 

Despite the latest verdicts against several harassers, Soliman explained that the number of rulings doesn’t reflect the statistics on harassment nor the violent acts of harassment in society. She said: “Despite the relevance of the law and the verdicts against harassers, we are facing other dilemmas. For example, a female under 21 can’t file a report against a harasser without a guardian, and many families don’t allow their girls to file a police report against their harassers.” Soliman also pointed out the need to enhance the ability of the police, forensic units and the judiciary system to deal with such sensitive cases to provide a sense of safety to women and girls while filing a report.

Soliman and Bahgat agreed on the need for a law to ensure the safety of witnesses and complainants. Soliman said that while the latest changes in the law require the judicial authorities to keep the names of the complainants or the victims confidential, it doesn’t impose a penalty on any worker at these facilities who leaks the victims’ names. “That is why we need a comprehensive law that protects witnesses and complainants.”

Bahgat also said that what some girls went through after filing a report, including smearing their reputation, prohibits many from reporting their cases in fear of reputation damage and reprisals. So, although laws exist, as Bahgat added, “it is more about the legal system and the general culture.” She also highlighted the crucial role of civil society in raising women’s awareness and offering support to those who fear reporting.

On the other hand, Waweru focused on the impact of international treaties on the national laws in African countries and the importance of shedding light on harassment, female genital mutilation, and violence against women. She stressed the importance of the Maputo Protocol, which is the protocol for the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights focusing on women and girls’ rights in Africa.

Waweru believes Egypt is making good strides in acknowledging violence against women and sexual harassment as concerns within society and that steps are being taken to address that. She called on countries that haven’t signed or ratified the Maputo Protocol to do so, saying: “it would then give the basic minimum protection upon which national laws can be founded and also reformed.”

She focused on the role of social media in shedding light on important cases like violence against women and harassment and campaigning for social justice.

“We are aware that some countries continue to have sex discriminatory laws, and we are continuously advocating for changes in these laws. At the very minimum, we ensure the protection for women within the laws,” she said.

Soliman stressed the need to work on the legal framework. She called for implementing the constitution and international treaties, in parallel with the laws that complement this issue and protect girls, such as the law against sexual violence in Egypt and a law protecting witnesses and complainants. She said: “As for the application of laws, it depends on the three discourses that influence the issue and women’s issues in general: the educational, the media, and the religious discourse, whether Christian or Muslim, and also on state institutions.”

AUC launched the "AUC SpeakUp Dialog Series" last November to raise awareness about sexual harassment as an important social issue and support national and global efforts related to college campuses. Over seven months, the series addressed several issues related to sexual harassment, including “How are we socialized around gender norms?”, “Portrayals of gender in media and film”, “How do we make public spaces safe for women?”, “Are we safe in cyberspace?”, “Combating harassment on university campuses”, and “Safe, inclusive and diverse workspaces.”

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Founded in 1919, The American University in Cairo (AUC) is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programs. 

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