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Sexual harassment from the harasser’s perspective

I was heading to my friend’s wedding, so I took a taxi asking the driver to take me to Mansoureya, a neighbourhood that I had never been to before. While we were on our way, he took a sharp right going through an unpaved dark alley, just before opening his zipper and starting to touch himself saying: “I’m very affectionate, and I will please you.” This is one of the stories told at Banat El-Nas, a recent documentary that tackles the issue of sexual harassment in a new way.

This story is one of many similar ones that happen to Egyptian women on a daily basis. Banat El-Nas (The People’s Girls) is an independent documentary that displays the lives of Egyptian women in a new way.

Banat El-Nas (The People’s Girls) is an independent documentary that displays the lives of Egyptian women in a new way. (Photo Handout to DNE) Banat El-Nas (The People’s Girls) is an independent documentary that displays the lives of Egyptian women in a new way.

(Photo Handout to DNE)

Each person behaves in a manner that is advantageous either to his or her genes or his or her self.

There is a natural conflict between the interests of each person's genes and each person's self.

From the perspective of genes, all is advantageous that aides in their reproduction or procreation. The interests of the self are different.

Genes have primed humans to sacrifice themselves for their offspring. From before humans achieved self-cognition, they were equipped with the emotions of both, sexual desire and parental love.

Self-cognition, however, can well conclude that self-sacrifice would be in the benefit of the offspring, but not in the benefit of the person sacrificing himself or herself. .

Would a person save his or her only child if it meant his or her own death? Assume that the sacrifice would definitely save the child. Assume furthermore that a person's own destruction would be certain.

The interests of the genes and the interests of an individual with a good degree of self-cognition are fundamentally contradictory.

Suicide to preempt senseless suffering, or dulling one's senseless existence in drugs, or a gentle death, and before that, a life of optimal sex, are interests of an individual with a high degree of self-cognition. The interest of genes is procreation, at any cost. The interest of the individual who carries these genes, is at least to minimize suffering.

A person's genes and a person's self can dictate vastly different behavioral patterns, and the conflict between the two is more pronounced in women than it is in men.

A man's self desires optimal sexual satisfaction, which needs a considerable variety of sexual partners. Incidentally, optimizing his sexual satisfaction by changing sexual partners also is in the interest of his genes. Men theoretically can sire a child every day.

When Colette Ghunim, 24, came to Egypt to study Arabic, it didn’t take her long to realise that sexual harassment is a severe crisis that affects every woman in Egypt. With the help of Tinne Van Loon, who is a documentary photographer, they decided to together investigate the reasons for the way women are pestered and aggravated daily.

“In Egypt, every time a woman walks outside, no matter what ?she’s wearing, a large majority of men stare, unabashedly,” said Van Loon. “They scan her entire body as if she is a mere object, not a ?valued human being. The high frequency of stares makes it ?the most common form of sexual harassment.”

From her point of view, this type of sexual harassment—men’s stares—has become so commonplace here that people in Egypt have stopped considering it a type of sexual harassment, even though “it violates women’s ability to feel safe while walking in the ?streets”.

However, stares are only one type of harassment women face in Egypt.

For a woman, pursuing optimal sexual satisfaction with a considerable variety of sexual partners potentially runs against the interest of her genes. The best setting for a woman's genes through tens of thousands of years has been to be careful in choosing a sexual partner and having sexual contact only with a man who would then be a committed father.

From women, more than from men, genes also demand a higher willingness to sacrifice herself for the benefit of her children, not just in situations when there is acute danger, but in everyday situations. After all, children, especially small children, need constant attention and care.

Women, more than men, have a genetically primed ability to control sexual desires in favor of a partner committed to their offspring

For this reason, it is no surprise that any empirical study of "what women want" in societies around the world arrives at the conclusion that women are more inclined towards monogamy than are men.

It does not mean that in previous societies, just as in current societies, there would not have been a large number of women who would have had a strong inclination towards enjoying sexual contact with a large number of men for the purpose of optimal sexual satisfaction. It's just that their behavior wasn't preserved well from generation to generation, as children from such mothers didn't survive as easily as did those who would forgo sexual satisfaction for the benefit of their children.

Humans have a great capability to adapt to changing situations, both genetically and behaviorally. Genetic adaptations for which there is a compelling reason can happen over just a few generations. Behavioral adaptations can happen in a society over just a few years. “In addition to stares, verbal and physical harassment are rampant ?throughout Cairo. Whether on the street, in a microbus, or in the ?metro, the issue of sexual harassment exists for all women, Egyptian or ?foreign,” Van Loon said.

The film received the Ambassador Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, with judges finding the film inspiring and capable of facilitating communication and cultural ?understanding. The film was also accepted into the Arab Film Festival in San ?Fransisco?

The film digs deep to unlock the reasons for harassment. Through the documentary, Collete and Tinne aimed to understand the reasons that would lead a man to verbally harass a girl walking down the street. This includes investigating his social background and beliefs.

The film received the Ambassador Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, with judges finding the film inspiring and capable of facilitating communication and cultural ?understanding (Photo Handout to DNE) The film received the Ambassador Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, with judges finding the film inspiring and capable of facilitating communication and cultural ?understanding (Photo Handout to DNE)

“We decided to investigate two important questions: who is to blame, ?and how women should fight back against harassment. To do so, we ?interviewed both victims of harassment as well as harassers ?themselves to better understand why this epidemic is occurring,” said Collette.

Throughout the film, the audience listens to men defend their actions and behaviour saying “they can’t hold themselves while seeing girls wearing extremely tight and revealing cloths”. At the same time, the camera follows one of them to his home capturing him sitting with his family while they speak about their point of view on the issue.

“Our biggest challenge was filming families inside their homes. In Egypt, homes are very private spaces. Because we had a large, all-male film crew except for us two, it was difficult for ?families to let us interview female family members inside the ?house, she added

For a whole year, the two girls worked on documenting every side of harassment, including girls who stood up against it.

In a personal experience, Collete was walking down the street in Eid, Egypt’s highest season of sexual harassment, using a hidden camera to see what happens when she speaks directly to harassers asking them to stop following her. That women are genetically primed to control their desire for optimal sexual satisfaction doesn't mean that their sexual desires would have been reduced. This would not even be in the interest of her genes. The interest of her genes would be that as soon as there is no child to sacrifice her sexual desire for, the sexual desire will be there in full force, and not necessarily be directed towards just one man.

For individuals with a good degree of self-cognition, if they don't just commit suicide, an ideology of pursuing a comfortable death, preluded by optimal sex, makes as much sense for women as it does for men.

“Filming Banat El-Nas, we realised the immense impact the ?issue has on all levels of society, and how the strongly-engrained ?pattern of victim-blaming often prevents women from speaking ?out,” Collete explained.

In the end, both girls agreed that violence against women is a global issue. “Women worldwide struggle with inequality at different levels, so ?unfortunately we think this will be a lifelong struggle, but we are ?hopeful that the situation will improve. We are hopeful that with ?more women standing up for their rights, it will create a lasting ?social change in their favour.” Collete concluded.

Syria, June 12, 2016


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Child slavery primes Syrian kids to become sex workers when they grow up

Lebanon, short-sighted refugee policies are driving children into slavery and a future of exploitation as prostitutes. In Beirut, Martin Jay sheds light on their plight on World Day Against Child Labor. “I must be in school. It’s my right to be educated, to have an ID, a house, medical care,” Mohamed says with stern conviction.

Yet this young eight year old, who comes from Halab in Syria, has the odds stacked up against him in fulfilling his dream of becoming a human rights lawyer and reproaching the Lebanese landowner for how he treats child workers.

According to a growing number of NGOs, they are now “child slaves,” as gone is the endearing euphemism of “forced labor.” At least 80 percent of Syrian kids in the Bekaa Valley work in the fields for around four dollars a day and – because the rent on their tents is to be paid to the same landlord – work under the auspices of a relationship akin to modern day slavery.

Five years of the UN and the Lebanese government chaperoning a policy of making refugees here pay for everything – water, electricity, rent and now residency itself – has left a community tarnished and scarred by shame.

And one look into this boy’s eyes tells you that he knows it. When asked “Do you realize you are a child slave?” he barely flinches. But he understands.

“I don’t like my work” he finally replies. “I would like to be a lawyer in the future to defend the people and to tell those who are taking children to work that they must take them to aid centers or schools.”

It’s only the end of May when DW visits the farm in Akkar – a town on the Syrian-Lebanese border constantly in the news for gunfights, kidnappings and IS brutalities – the heat is already unbearable.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the metal tipped canes which both the landowner and his assistant wield are for stirring the soil.

“No … the boss hits us … they behave badly to us,” explains Mohamed calmly.

Yet being child slaves is almost a blessing compared to the fate that awaits them when they become adults in Lebanon – particularly the girls.

The fields which exploit them prepare them for further, unimaginable abuse, which even Mohamed cannot know, despite being wiser than his years.

‘Survival sex’

According to a recent report by the Freedom Fund, child labor, forced marriages and both adult and child prostitution are now ubiquitous symptoms of Lebanon’s ill-conceived refugee policy – and are slowly grinding 1.8 million people down, as, laden with debt, they search for a solution to survive.

Additional restrictions on Syrian refugees and new expenses relating to their residency have all contributed to an epidemic of biblical misery: “Survival sex” is now common jargon within UN corridors as it grapples with the phenomenon of forced prostitution and trafficking as new challenges.

According to the report, child slavery is merely a symptom of a greater epidemic, and the report’s authors lash out at “international donors” for getting the math wrong.

“It isn’t a matter of should we let refugees work or not,” explains Leena Ksaifi, co-author of the report. “It’s a matter of how we want to view and frame the Syrian refugee crisis – whether it is a humanitarian crisis or just a security threat. If we look at it as a humanitarian crisis, then we need the government to institute policies that are sustainable and have long-term objectives.”

Ksaifi wants much more cooperation between UN agencies and NGOs and has called for initiatives to gather data and monitor the abuse. But UN agencies, which DW spoke to off the record, played down the report, perhaps anxious not to rock the boat with the Lebanese government.

“The Lebanese government needs to be aware of the consequence of policies that can increase vulnerability to slavery,” adds Ksaifi, “And this can be brought to its attention by campaigns led by civil society.”

Forced into prostitution

Yet perhaps the “consequences” are unthinkable. Families like Mohamed’s are lucky if there are many children, as this delays the inevitable for the girls: either forced, early marriage – which can often be with a fake husband who has bought the bride to then work as a prostitute – or – for those who are lucky enough to find a “normal” job – being forced into “survival sex” with the employer.

Many young women and girls will be forced into the profession of prostitution itself, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The majority of women in prostitution in the country are Syrian, and this proportion has risen since the Syrian conflict sent hundreds of thousands over the border,” says Skye Wheeler of Human Rights Watch.

“We did hear accounts of Syrian women in survival sex and also we have documented cases where women are being exploited sexually by landlords or other Lebanese men who hold power over them because of their problems with residency.”

For Mohamed, it’s a scenario he will be spared, but his four sisters likely not. In the meantime, all he can do is stay clear of the land agent’s cane and bring home money for food, rent, electricity and water.

“We came from Syria escaping from the war, the rockets and aircraft which threatened our lives …,” he says almost with regret. “I should study well to be able to count the salary they give me after work.”

Egypt, January 27, 2013


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19 Sexual Harassment cases in Tahrir, Sky News reporter assaulted in Alexandria

veral cases of sexual assault have been reported from Tahrir Square on Friday, 19 being cases of women being groped, verbally assaulted or raped.

An Egyptian woman less than 20 years old was sexually assaulted on Friday night amidst demonstrations in and around Tahrir. The assault caused cuts on the girl’s genitals.

A spokesperson for Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH), an activist group that aims to prevent sexual harassment, said the girl has since been released from the hospital.

OpAntiSH intervened in 15 of the 19 cases of sexual harassment reported.

Life is not driven by a desire of organisms to survive. That idea is doubly wrong.

First, it's not organisms that drive life, but self-replicating molecules called DNA and RNA. Our organisms are just an immediate temporary external environment of self-replicating molecules.

And second, the inherent interest of DNA and RNA is self-replication, not survival. Survival of an organic molecule and survival of an individual organism aren't attainable qualities anyway. There will always be something that finishes off an individual organism. But by self-replication, self-replicating molecules have spanned millions of years, developing and preserving an amazingly complicated structure.

Life started as a chemical automatism involving the elements of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.

The diversity of lifes results from the fact that nature cannot make exact copies. Cosmic radiation interfers, and environmental circumstances interfer. Errors occur, and accidents happen.

Nature cannot make exact copies. But nature can make many copies. And then, it's not survival of the fittest, but reproduction of the fittest.

For a number of insect species, males compete to fly highest. The prize is copulation. The prize is not survival. All competing males, including winners, are dead anyway within 24 hours.

For humans, too, the purpose is not survival of the fittest, which is unattainable. The purpose is reproductive behavior. That is what we are programmed for. Whether this will lead to the self-replication of DNA, isn't certain. As mentioned above, the whole string of interconnections is prone to error.

The encounters occurred between 5 pm 1 am Friday evening.

The anti-harassment group is supported by several established organizations including Harassmap and the Egyptian Initative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Volunteers provide medical, legal, and emotional support for victims of sexual harassment in addition to “safe houses” to help women recover from assault.

“Some of the [victims] were groped while some women were fingered by large groups of mobs from the front and behind. They were bitten in all parts of their bodies, and all their belongings were stolen,” the OpAntiSH spokesperson said.

Some female members of the group were assaulted while attempting to help other women. One assaulted activist of the group has written her testimony on the group’s Facebook page.

Engy Ghozlan of Harassmap thinks there were thugs paid to harass women in Tahrir Square. “By listening to several testimonies, my personal opinion is that this is a planned attempt to scare girls from participating in protests,” she added.

In Alexandria, Aya Rady, an anchor for Sky News Arabia, was also sexually harassed. Both, the will to survive, even though it may strongly be felt by the individual, and the survival of the fittest, are logical fallacies. Or intellectual traps. These traps exist to trick us into reproductive behavior and to handle the logistics of self-replication.

Self-cognition on a human level was likely an error of evolution. It developed from self-cognition in lower life forms. Apes, monkeys, elephants, dogs, and even some birds have self-awareness. Self-awareness is a by-product of brain development, and it gives the above listed animals a competitive edge.

But human self-cognition goes a step further. Human self-cognition allows us to look through the trickery of nature, and boycott it.

Rady was reporting on protests near Alexandria Local Council when she was attacked by a group of men. According to a video on Masrawy online portal, a group of people sitting in a cafe nearby intervened. She was taken to the hospital suffering from bruises and a nervous breakdown.


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