“Such mechanisms promoted by the university are neither safe nor effective,” she said. “The professors behave as if their powers are absolute, and the administration supports this.”
The lack of evidence in most cases of harassment transforms the woman or girl who complains from a victim to a convicted person who has to apologize for her complaint, Khaled said. She added that a university professor or student who realizes that he is exempt from punishment will keep doing it, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment. (See a related article, “The Fight Against Sexual Harassment on Arab Campuses.”)
The Influence of Social Norms
Naglaa Diab, a professor at Zagazig University’s Faculty of Education, agrees that universities need stricter laws and more effective mechanisms for submitting harassment complaints. She also stresses that the way to confront this crisis should be through legislation.
It is mandatory to determine the lines between the university professor’s powers and the student’s rights, while protecting the reputation of the victims by not revealing their identities, Diab said.
In most cases at public universities, the harassment is verbal, Diab said, and she believes that the problem is worse at public institutions than at private ones. Reassuring the survivors she meets is difficult, she said.
The situation also differs from one governorate to another. In Upper Egypt, for example, conservative behavior predominates in social relations between the sexes on university campuses that have unofficially adopted gender segregation policies.
”Separation between males and females took different forms on campus,” said Abdul-Majeed Abu Al-Ela, a student at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences at Beni-Suef University, in Upper Egypt. “This includes dividing lecture halls between the sexes, an agreed upon method that the university administration uses to protect against any form of harassment.”
However, such measures do not completely prevent incidents of harassment.
“Despite this policy, there are incidents of verbal harassment,” Abu Al-Ela said. “There must be awareness-raising activities and announced policies that encourage students to file complaints.”
Ghazaleh, of the American University in Cairo, believes that the real solution should come from society as a whole, as harassment is a societal issue and not one that occurs exclusively on campuses.
“As long as parents continue to accept and advocate their sons’ behavior, and only blame their girls, university policies alone will not help,” she said.
But Ghazaleh reiterated that educational institutions should not tolerate any forms of harassment or assaults committed on their campuses. “Specific and clear punishments should be imposed to deter harassers from engaging in any behavior on campuses at least,” she said.