The Legislative Committee of Egypt’s House of Representatives has announced its final approval of a draft law for harsher penalties to sexual harassment by designating the offence a felony instead of its current designation as a misdemeanour.
The draft law was submitted by Ashraf Rashad, deputy chairman of the parliamentary majority party Mustaqbal Watan (Nation’s Future) and 10 other MPs from the same party. Mr Rashad had on his Facebook page criticised the articles penalising sexual harassment in the current Penal Code as “not sufficiently tough to stem the tide of this crime”, and demanded harsher penalties to defend the rights of women and Egyptian families.
The approved amendment declares sexual harassment a felony punishable by a prison term of 2 – 4 years, or a fine of EGP 100,000 – 200,000. It defines harassment as verbal, actual, or virtual molestation that may take place on public roads, or public, private or frequented sites. In case of repeat felonies, the penalty is raised to 3 – 5 years in prison, or fines of up to EGP300,000.
The amendment also stipulates the harshest of the specified penalties for offenders intending to obtain sexual benefits from the victim, or those who have authority over the victim through work, family, teaching, or any other relation or activity that allows pressuring the victim.
The current law already stipulates harsh penalties, up to life imprisonment or death sentence, for rape under threat of arms; gang rape; or rape of minors, should it lead to permanent injury or death of the victim.
A number of feminist organisations, including the Association for Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW), have enthusiastically commended the draft law, saying it answers their longtime calls for legislation to curb harassment.
“It is very important that all in Egypt, especially legislators, unify efforts to put an end to the suffering of Egypt’s women and girls on account of increasing incidents of rape and harassment,” ADEW declared.
ADEW stressed the importance of changing the current societal culture that frequently blames the victim; and called for wide social media campaigns to encourage victims to come out with their stories and report the offenders to the police.
“The law is an excellent step in the right direction,” ADEW said, “but much more still needs to be done.”
2 July 2021