Graduate student examines how Egyptians are combating public sexual harassment
Nihal Said presents her findings at the National Women's Studies Association Conference. (Photo provided.)
By Kathryn McFadden - Jan. 10, 2014
In her native Egypt, Ohio University graduate student Nihal Said says she faced sexual harassment in public every day.
"It restricts mobility for women and it affects all women in Egypt," Said says. "You don't see a lot of women on the street. They would rather drive or use transportation, even if walking is easier."
According to the most recent research by the United Nations, 99.3 percent of Egyptian women experience harassment. Various explanations for this high rate have been proposed, including economic stress, political policies and religious factors. But the motivations are hard to quantify, Said says.
"How I view it is that harassment became a causal event on the Egyptian street, where the harasser gets away with harassing women, the female victim doesn't report or respond to the harasser, and the bystanders ignore it," she says.
Said is conducting research on the issue as a master's student in Ohio University's Communication and Development Studies Program, under the direction of Karen Greiner, a visiting professor and alumna. The student came to Ohio University after receiving the Open Society Foundation Fellowship for students from the Middle East.
"The mass assaults in Tahrir Square during the revolution have also inspired my work," Said says.
The 2011 Egyptian Revolution saw a myriad of protests, including riots and acts of civil disobedience, which included harassment of both men and women. Since that time there has been a political shift among Egyptians, and many independent movements are consistently working to improve public life for Egyptian people.
With support from an Ohio University Student Enhancement Award, Said has been investigating the use of communication tools by these movements to tackle street and sexual harassment. Her research began just under a year ago, and she spent last summer tracking three initiatives in Egypt that have worked to decrease sexual harassment in public spaces: Harass Map's "Tahrir Square as a Safe Place for Women," Imprint Movement's "Eid Free of Harassment," and the Bussy Project's "Street Harassment Experiments."
Said interviewed the founders and active volunteers within the three initiatives and now is spending her time analyzing the different communication approaches they implemented. Their tactics included, but were not limited to, invisible theater, community dialogue, social media and mobile technology.
These groups are different from previously existing women's non-government organizations in Egypt, Said says, and their methods and tools have proven to be more effective.
"This is, overall, why people started protesting in Egypt in the first place. People felt that being part of a political party won't change the system," Said says. "You have to go on the ground and change it yourself."
Said is working to find common themes in the communication tools and the public's response to them. She hopes to develop a communication model that might be useful for other social problems.
Ohio University students may apply for the 2014 Student Enhancement Awards through 4 p.m., Jan. 23, 2014. For more information, visit www.ohio.edu/research/funding.cfm.