Women in Tahrir Square Fighting to Prevent Sexual Assaults, Becoming Victims Themselves

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The latest protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square have been marked by reports of sexual violence against women there. Unfortunately, this is not new. There were several reports of violence against women in the square during the Egyptian revolution two years ago and many since then too. But over the past year groups of female volunteers have formed to patrol Tahrir Square during protests looking for women in need of help. Often though the volunteers themselves end up being assaulted or harassed. Salma el-Tarzi is a member of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, one of the groups helping women in the square.

Salma el-Tarzi: We have several hotlines, we have an operation room and we have several teams on the ground distributed in different areas of the square.

Werman: I imagine though that for every person who's calling your hotline there are many others who don't call, I gather. You even witnessed somebody being assaulted.

el-Tarzi: Last Friday we could actually see assaults happening from the location where we were and some of them were not even reported to us on the hotline, but we could see them with our eyes and we tried to intervene.

Werman: Why this spike in these incidents? Why is this happening?

el-Tarzi: We believe that a very big part of these assaults are organized. Sexual assault has always been a tactic used by the system to intimidate to women and to punish women who take part in protests or in manifestations. So

Werman: And what system and who's organizing these assaults?

el-Tarzi: The system is the same system, the system did not change yet. All what is different is that the head of the system changed.

Werman: Can you just clarify, so then you believe that the government of Egypt is perpetuating this violence?

el-Tarzi: To a certain extent, yes. This is not new. We have had similar cases and similar assaults during the past two years, and even starting from 2005 where there was a very famous case of a female protestor and the journalist who got stripped and assaulted sexually during demonstrations against a constitution amendment during the rule of Mubarak. So it's not a new tactic used by the system to intimidate women taking part of protests and manifestations.

Werman: Are you hopeful for the future? I mean you have this organization, on the other hand it sounds like your organization has a huge challenge facing it.

el-Tarzi: It does and I think the positive thing is that finally someone is taking a proactive step to stop what's happening and to talk about it openly. Despite what happened on the 25th, we keep on receiving phone calls for more volunteers and people who want to help. And this gives us a lot of hope that at least we are starting somewhere.

Werman: knowing the risks and the violence, what brings you and other women back to the square?

el-Tarzi: We are being attacked for being women and not going back to the square and not taking part in this would mean that we got defeated and it means that the only safe place would be at home. And we refuse to stay at home. This is part of the struggle and this is a very personal fight.

Werman: Salma el-Tarzi, a member of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment in Cairo, thank you very much for speaking with us.

el-Tarzi: Thank you.