The Ministry of Higher Education in Egypt is studying a code of ethics to protect women against sexual harassment on university campuses.
The move follows legislation in July which defined harassment as a felony rather than a misdemeanor and substantially increased the penalties.
A survey on the economic cost of gender-based violence in Egypt in 2015 reported that “about 16,000 girls, aged 18 years or more, were exposed to sexual harassment at educational institutions” in a single year. It added that the figure was an underestimate, because “many girls are ashamed to report harassment.”
The preface to the study said that “an estimated 1 in 3 women worldwide report they have experienced physical and /or sexual abuse. In 2015, more than 1.44 million females were enrolled in higher education in Egypt.
There has been a “surge in complaints as a result of the expansion and success of awareness campaigns, along with confidentiality mechanisms to help young women obtain their rights.”Hind Al-Hilali Director of the Unit for Combating Violence and Harassment against Women at Ain Shams University
Four years ago, the Supreme Council of Universities ruled that all universities in Egypt must set up units to combat harassment and violence against women. (See a related article, “Egyptian Universities Face Pressure to Better Protect Women From Harassment“.)
The National Council for Women, in cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education and the United Nations Population Fund, launched 26 units in 23 public and three private universities.
The number has since risen to 32.
A Surge in Complaints
Hind Al-Hilali, director of the Unit for Combating Violence and Harassment against Women at Ain Shams University, said the campus units have contributed greatly to the development of policies to deter harassment in a scientific way.
There has been a “surge in complaints as a result of the expansion and success of awareness campaigns, along with confidentiality mechanisms to help young women obtain their rights,” she told Al-Fanar Media.
She declined to give statistics, saying “this falls under the confidentiality clause that we guarantee to complainants.”
But, she explained: “We have a higher committee to meet the complainants in person and look into their complaints.”
She added: “We also have standard procedures and tools designed by psychologists, sociologists, and psychiatrists, that enable us to hold psychological assessment sessions for both parties, and to ensure the credibility of complaints, in addition to providing psychological support to the victim.”
She noted the “quick interventions and immediate decisions taken by the university presidency while activating the role of the disciplinary committees, which have taken the initiative to take the decision against the defendant.”
Male Involvement Is Essential
Several universities have involved men in activities to raise awareness, and strive to implement an ethical code in the academic community. They include the American University in Cairo’s initiative “MySafeUni Day” in April, and Cairo University’s “Safe Campus for All Project” in cooperation with the British Council in Egypt.
Mohammed Arafa, a sociology lecturer at the South Valley University’s Faculty of Arts, said there are many ways to address the problem of violence against women. But, he added, the most is “involving male faculty members, students, staff, and technicians, as an essential part of the awareness-raising process.” Men, he told Al-Fanar Media, “were disproportionately absent from prevention efforts.”
Ahmed Alaa Fayed, an assistant professor of management and public policy at Nile University, agrees with the need to “work on reach-out efforts, through discussions and workshops, for all the university’s stakeholders, including students, staff members, parents, faculty members, technicians, and workers.”
“The role of the university is to increase everyone’s awareness of the dangers and negative repercussions of this problem, and the punishment for the harasser,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
“The role of the university is to increase everyone’s awareness of the dangers and negative repercussions of this problem, and the punishment for the harasser.”Ahmed Alaa Fayed An assistant professor of management and public policy at Nile University
Al-Hilali agreed that the complete prevention of harassment comes through the involvement of students in the reach-out process. “The influence of peers on each other is stronger than that of the faculty member,” she added.
Al-Hilali, said universities were working along two axes. The first was “to develop a research methodology that seeks to address the roots of the problem at the level of society as a whole and not universities alone,” she said. “The second is to activate and systemically implement an ethical code on campus.”
The Ministry of Higher Education is studying a draft code of ethics but is expected to modify it before approving it.
Al-Hilali noted that “most universities around the world” have such a code. “It is an implicit contract that places students and their parents in full responsibility for the student’s actions on campus,” she said. “We should insist on such a mechanism, because it may face a kind of rejection, but it is one of the most important deterrent tools.”
Fayed agrees. “The code of ethics must be recognized in university regulations,” he said. “It should aim to reach realistic easily implementable solutions and provide funding for them rather than merely diagnosing the problem.”
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
Afnan Essam, a psychology teacher at the South Valley University’s Faculty of Arts, agreed that “universities need to make the combat of violence against women an urgent issue, through decisive action, and this requires a lot of work.”
But, she told Al-Fanar Media, violence against women stemmed from patriarchal tendencies and attitudes in society at large.
“Therefore, we must confront this societal problem and solve it comprehensively, without limiting it to universities alone,” she added.