A recent poll conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) on how females fare in the rising number of cities with over 10 million people declared Cairo as the “most dangerous” megacity for women.
The Thomson Foundation survey asked experts in women’s issues in 19 megacities how well women are protected from sexual violence and harmful cultural practices, and if they have access to good healthcare, finance and education.
The poll ranked London as the megacity most friendly to women, followed by Tokyo and Paris. Cairo, however, was described by women’s rights campaigners as a place where traditions dating back centuries made it a tough city, with discrimination rife. The intensity of sexual harassment was one of the main factors Cairo was seen as ‘dangerous’ for women.
The National Council for Women (NCW) rose in defence of Cairo. Its media spokesperson, Azza Abdel-Hay, said the council believed that, “such classification is neither acceptable nor justified; it should be studied according to rational criteria. The poll is a result of impressionist views of a number of persons concerned about women’s issues … academics; activists; employees in the field of health; and other social officials.
“Policies are not based on the opinions and impressions of a small group of experts,” the NCW noted, “Rather, countries adopt their social policy on documented information and knowledge bases, especially that we have in our hands many internationally agreed indicators already documented by various UN organisations concerned with women’s issues.”
The NCW did not deny, however, that Egyptian women faced difficulties and challenges on many levels; it said it was fully aware of the fact and was taking serious actions to help women, and society as a whole, to confront these challenges.
Dr Rashad Abdel-Latif, professor of sociology, says: “this classification is unfair and unreasonable. If those responsible for this poll visited New York, for instance, they would find that women there cannot walk the streets after 10pm.”
In Egypt, he believes, many women can safely walk in the street after midnight. But this does not imply women in Egypt are 100 per cent safe.
“We do have a problem with violence against women,” Dr Latif noted, “But to rank Cairo as the most dangerous megacity in this regard is a definite exaggeration.”
Dr Latif stresses the need for harsher penalties to combat harassment of women, and insisted that poverty was among the main reasons behind the problems women face. Combatting poverty would go a long way towards ameliorating the conditions of women, he says.
Not everyone agrees
Watani talked to women on the street to sound their opinion.
Nahla Mahmoud, 26, said: “If we accept the results of the poll, we should take action to protect women, otherwise we would be burying our heads in the sand. We already know that women in Egypt undergo a plethora of problems. I cannot return alone from work at midnight without fearing possible harassment, even kidnap or robbery.
“The result of the TRF poll is a slap in the face of our society. We must wake up to the problem and do something serious about it.”
Amira Abdel-Hay, 24, does not accept the poll result. “I do not believe it is true; in all countries in the world women face violations and dangers. Cairo is no exception. Which is not to say we are absolutely safe; but the most dangerous? I think this is an exaggeration.”
Nada Abdullah, however, believes that Cairo is the most dangerous megacity for women. Ms Abdullah is founder of the campaign “Take your right with your own hand”. She says the classification is useful in that it could help the Egyptian community see how much women have suffered over the years. Classifying Cairo as the most dangerous megacity for women was not haphazard; there are statistics that monitor violence against women in Egypt’s capital.”
At the same time, Ms Abdullah says, there are poorer regions in Egypt where women suffer various forms of violence: harassment, sexual assault, and human-rights violations. But unfortunately, many women fear making it public; they keep silent about the matter.
“Those who reject the TRF classification and describe it as unfair,” Ms Abdullah noted, “do not see the full picture. We ought to admit that we have a catastrophic crisis that must be dealt with.”
Ms Abdullah said radical solutions are long-term, such as bringing up children in the family based on equality between boys and girls; combating extremist Islamic thought; and highlighting on the significant role Egyptian women have played throughout history. “On the short term, however,” she says, “we should impose harsher penalties for harassment, rape and sexual assault. The penalty in such cases must be castration or death.”
25 October 2017