Social Research Center on Harassment: It's All About Changing Mindsets

Both males and females believe that unemployment and lack of religious awareness, morals and manners are the primary reasons for harassment, followed by women’s way of dressing and walking.

“Women themselves believe that they could be one of the drivers of harassment, particularly on the streets,” said Mireille Aziz, SRC researcher.

These findings were part of a baseline study conducted by the Social Research Center, surveying males and females (married and unmarried) in more than 3,000 households in three urban neighborhoods in Egypt: Al-Hagganna, Mansheyat Nasser and Embaba. Based on the results, the SRC, in coordination with the UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiative, engaged neighborhood residents in training activities to raise their awareness of important social issues. A follow-up survey will be conducted in January 2015 to evaluate the progress of the initiative.

“These interventions, which mostly consisted of group discussions and interviews, targeted children, youth, women, the elderly, and religious and community leaders to educate them on vital issues in their everyday lives, including harassment, raising children, child abuse and sexual abuse,” said Aziz. “It’s all about changing mindsets. If we change the mindset, we can change actions.”

According to the baseline survey, at least 80 percent of the women reported verbal harassment –– including winks, whistles and inappropriate talk –– inside and outside their neighborhoods. The majority did not report the incident because it was “not worth it.”

In addition to unemployment and lack of religious/moral awareness, other perceived reasons for harassment, particularly among men, include the effect of satellite TV viewership, absence of police and difficulties that youth face in getting married. Both men and women agreed that a heightened police presence, an increase in religious awareness, greater emphasis on morals and manners, and women wearing “decent clothes” and being cautious of the way they walk and talk are the best ways to counter harassment. Popular neighborhood committees were also seen as effective.

“What’s interesting is how women’s roles were perceived in these neighborhood committees,” said Aziz. “They were either seen to have no role at all or a subordinate one.”

Most of the respondents, both men and women, felt these popular committees would increase safety in the neighborhood. However, the majority of women felt they shouldn’t report harassment to committee members because “women shouldn’t tell strangers.” Almost 90 percent of the men said that women should not be involved in these neighborhood committees, mainly because they “wouldn’t be able to do anything.” “Even women believed that females would not be effective in these neighborhood committees,” said Aziz. “Some of them saw women’s participation as “shameful,” whereas others felt that the neighborhood members would not accept the idea of a women offering protection.”

Taking an active stance to change these social stigmas, the SRC worked with local NGOs in order to educate community residents and leaders. “Each NGO dealt with a specific topic, from emotional needs and their link to violence to sexual abuse of children,” said Aziz, adding that the training included a six-month rehabilitation program for addicts and their families.

“We have already seen improvements in the lives of women in intervention communities,” said Aziz. “By employing nonviolent methods of change, we hope to set the example for positive transformation in Egypt.”

To read the full results of the baseline study, clickhere.
Photo caption: Anti-sexual harassment protest in Cairo, courtesy of Hossam El-Hamalawy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)