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The Unspoken Revolution in Tahrir Square

Waves of people have spilled into the city centers of Egypt, arms stretched high with red, white and green flags, clutching posters with one demand: “ar7l” or “leave.” Reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring, these recent protests against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are the epitome of political dissent and powerful activism. However, this freedom of expression does not extend to all Egyptians. Women wishing to exercise their rights by joining political protests are frequently subjected to violent sexual assault and harassment.

Consider that, in just one day on June 30, 2013, 46 sexual assaults were reported from Tahrir Square. The majority are mob attacks, where many men descend upon women, tearing their clothes to shreds. Some use patrol batons to beat these women, while law enforcement turns a blind eye. In the words of Soraya Bahgat (founder of the women’s rights organization Tahrir Bodyguard), these attacks are “sexual terrorism.”

All around the globe, sexual violence is used as a weapon to suppress women and to keep them from voicing their opinions in the public sphere. At the Global Justice Center, we know that there cannot be political progress without including women. After all, as we saw in 2011, women were an integral part of in overthrowing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

A number of inspirational Egyptian organizations have formed to secure women’s right to demonstrate like their male peers, like Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard. These groups, made up of male and female volunteers, work to ensure the safety of women at protests. Tahrir Bodyguards, decked in neon vests and hard hats, survey from checkpoints and watchtowers within Tahrir Square at major protests. They intervene in the attacks upon women, often suffering injuries themselves as they fight to protect the victims. Tahrir Bodyguard also provides free self-defense lessons for women. Similarly, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment will intervene in violent situations. It also works to raise awareness at protests, spreading information on how to handle rape-trauma survivors and provides an emergency hotline number. They also have safe houses located around Tahrir Square.

While these organizations play very important roles in addressing immediate problems, more must be done to address the broader issues of misogyny and rape culture that enable the rampant use of sexual violence against women worldwide. A major key to this is to radically increase the number of women in power. Women make up 51% of the world’s population, but compose less than 20% of government leaders.This discrepancy is clearly reflected in the composition of Egypt’s 36-member cabinet; only two are women.

The Global Justice Center works to increase women’s roles in governments internationally. With 99% of Egyptian women having experienced some form of sexual harassment, their experiences would likely guide their political policies. Allowing Egyptian women to protest without the fear of being sexually assaulted is only the first step in ameliorating the endemic of sexual violence. This is not a cultural issue, and it is certainly not limited to Egypt. This is a global issue. Women across the world must be in positions of power in order to enact change and truly achieve greater societal progress.

We must remember that there is more than one revolution occurring in Egypt right now. An unspoken revolution is bravely being fought by the Egyptian women risking their lives to express their political beliefs, and by those who are working tirelessly to protect them.