Top university launches anti-harassment campaign

Cairo University recently became the first academic institution in Egypt to launch an initiative against sexual harassment, amid an alleged rise in the offence on campuses across the country.

The president of Cairo University, Gaber Nassar, said the move was aimed at establishing a model for curbing on-campus sexual harassment.

“We seek to promote a culture of appreciation and protection for women in Egypt and to help ensure a safe environment for women to pursue their education.”

Last year Cairo University – Egypt’s biggest public centre of learning – was shocked by the unprecedented mass sexual harassment of a female student by male colleagues.

Nassar said some women had stopped pursuing postgraduate studies because of sexual harassment. “Therefore, we have decided to pay due attention to this matter.”

‘A safe university for all’

As part of the initiative titled ‘A Safe University for All’, Cairo University has set up an anti-harassment unit – the first of its kind at a university in Egypt.

The unit comprises coordinators from the university’s various schools, and has been tasked with raising student awareness about sexual harassment and reporting sex offences that might be committed by students or lecturers.

“The unit’s operation is based not only on deterrence and accountability, but also on intense awareness campaigns about harassment in the academic community,” said Maha el-Saeed, an English language professor who heads the unit’s executive committee.

She added that students are being encouraged to report any verbal, physical or electronic form of harassment to the team’s members.

The complaints are then investigated for verification. If convicted, offenders could face expulsion from the university.

Nassar, a law professor, recently disclosed that the university is already investigating students and teaching staff suspected of involvement in alleged cases of sexual harassment.

“If the suspects are found guilty, their cases will be referred to prosecution,” he said in press remarks without giving further details.

Reluctant victims

Since the 107-year-old university first launched the initiative in March, a series of seminars and art works highlighting sexual offences have been presented on campus.

“We are interested in encouraging students to come forward to report on any act of sexual harassment,” said Dalia Abdullah, an assistant professor in Cairo University’s faculty of mass communication.

“We offer psychological counselling to victims through psychiatrists and work to ensure that the offender is punished after investigations,” added Abdullah, who is a member of the anti-harassment unit.

Some women students, according to Abdullah, are reluctant to report forms of sexual harassment they might have been subjected to, fearing that their reputation may be harmed.

“Investigations into complaints are conducted in secret so as to encourage female students to break their silence. We are doing our best to educate students about forms of harassment and penalties for offenders,” Abdullah said.

The Egyptian non-governmental group Shuft Tahrush – which means ‘I saw harassment’ – said last week that sexual harassment has become endemic in the nation’s universities. It said that some lecturers sexually harassed female students in return for success in examinations.

Pervasive complaints

Women in Egypt have increasingly complained about being sexually harassed. According to a United Nations report published in 2013, more than 99% of women in Egypt said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.

In reaction, the Egyptian authorities have stepped up anti- harassment efforts and toughened penalties. Under recent amendments to the law, sexual harassment is now punishable by jail terms of up to 10 years.

In recent months, Egyptian courts have imposed tough jail sentences in cases of sexual assault. The verdicts have been delivered following a number of quickly held hearings – previously, such cases dragged on for years before a ruling was issued.