The new amendments to the Penal Code regarding sexual harassment are an “important yet insufficient step in fighting harassment”, said Fatma Khafagy, Director Ombudswoman for Gender Equality at the National Council for Women (NCW).
Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s cabinet passed on Wednesday a draft law amending articles in the Penal Code in a manner which creates harsher punishment for sexual harassment.
The legislation was initially drafted in April before being sent to the Ministry of Justice for revision, reported state-run Al-Ahram.
Khafagy applauded the draft legislation for tackling sexual harassment of both genders. She said the NCW was consulted regarding the draft, adding that the cabinet took some of the council’s comments into consideration, including the aforementioned point.
Fathi Farid, coordinator of the anti-sexual harassment I Saw Harassment (Shoft Tahrosh) initiative, nevertheless criticised this clause, saying that men in Egypt do not suffer from sexual harassment. He added that it might be used against female victims reporting harassment they have been subjected to, as the harasser could claim he was harassed by the victim to escape punishment.
Khafagi described the punishments listed in the draft as “reasonable”, especially the fines. The draft deals with harassment as a crime punishable by a minimum of six months in prison which could expand to five years, depending on its type. It also fines the harasser from EGP 3,000 to EGP 50,000.
“Maximising the punishments might cause the judge to sympathise with the harasser,” Khafagy said. “It could therefore lead to impunity.”
Farid meanwhile said the penalties are not “deterrent”, describing the most severe punishment cited in the draft as “farcical”.
“This draft [was created] to adapt to the phenomenon of sexual harassment rather than eradicate it,” he said.
Both Khafagy and Farid criticised the draft legislation for “burdening” the victim, who must take the harasser to the police and provide at least two witnesses of the harassment incident in order for the law to be enforced.
Khafagy stressed that security forces must be present in areas where sexual harassment has been reported to be prevalent and during peak times. Both added that harassers must be rehabilitated to prevent them from repeating the crime.
“The cabinet must also work on a more comprehensive law to tackle violence against women in general, including sexual harassment,” Khafagy said.
The NCW had already drafted a law addressing violence against women. The law had initially been submitted to ousted President Mohamed Morsi’s administration last year. It was submitted again to interim President Adly Mansour, but it is yet to be issued.
The amended legislation expands the definition of sexual harassment, stretching it to include the use of sexual hints through “signs”, whether verbally or physically. The crime is punishable by at least six months in prison and/or a fine ranging from EGP 3,000 to EGP 5,000.
The legislation also punishes harassers who chase the victim by at least one year in prison and/or an EGP 5,000 to 10,000 fine. The punishments are doubled in the case of recurrence.
The amendments define sexual harassment as hassling the victim for sexual gain, the punishment for it being at least a year in prison and/or a fine between EGP 10,000 and EGP 20,000.
The draft legislation maximises the punishment in the case that the harasser is in a position allowing him to exercise pressure on the victim, for example: being the victim’s guardian, professor, boss or paid-servant. In such cases, harassment is punishable by three to five years in prison and an EGP 20,000 to EGP 50,000 fine.
Egypt’s women’s rights organisations have long been calling for laws to address the proliferating phenomenon of sexual harassment.
A report issued by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in April 2013 revealed that an overwhelming majority of Egyptian women (99.3%) have experienced some sort of sexual harassment, and 96.5% of women had been sexually assaulted.