Society

Will Woman-Only Transport Solve Egypt's Sexual Harassment Problem?

Some say, in the long run, segregating bus and tram lines will actually make it worse.

An initiative called “Transportation that respects women” was launched in Cairo
Heba Helmy

NASR CITY - “Women only,” a driver’s assistant calls out loudly, while expertly hanging out the door of a microbus on the corner of Abbas al-Aqqad Street, in the upper-middle class neighborhood of Nasr City, on the outskirts of Cairo.

As he repeats the call, women start piling up to board the microbus, labeled with a bright orange banner reading: “Transportation for women only, by the Strong Egypt Party.”

In January, the moderate Islamist party led by former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh launched an initiative called “Transportation that respects women,” in an effort to alleviate the problems many women face daily on public transport.

Female commuters have a very tough time traveling safely, says Fatma Badr, the woman behind the initiative, who is one of the party’s founders.

“We have to squeeze our way through a crowd, particularly in rush hour,” Badr says. “Otherwise, we’d be waiting around for hours trying to find vacant seats.”

Hence the idea of women-only transport.

Women-only minibuses offer an alternative to a public transport system that is failing to provide a basic, respectable method of transport which meets women’s needs,” she says.

Pressed against

Sexual harassment has escalated in Egypt in recent years. According to a government study at Cairo and Monufiya universities, female passengers constitute a vulnerable segment of the population, with 68% of the women questioned saying they had been subjected to either verbal or physical harassment.

“It’s very irritating to be pressed against strangers for hours but I have no other choice. I can’t afford to spend my entire salary on exorbitant taxi fares,” says Yasmine Moawad, 36, who travels two hours every day from her home in Nasr City to her job in 6th of October City, a city on the outskirts of Cairo.

Azza Lotfy, a first-year college student, says that being sandwiched between two men can be particularly difficult, rather than sitting by a window, for example, where she would be seated next to just one man.

For her, women-only minibuses are a much better option.

“They are far more comfortable and safer than mixed minibuses,” she says.

Though taking a minibus is a little safer than a public bus, where harassers can hide behind anonymity, the risk of a woman experiencing any form of harassment remains still high.

“I have been subjected to groping more than once in minibuses. Sometimes, I don’t have the guts to scream out loud or beat the harasser because I don’t want to make a scene,” says a fourth-year student, Mona. “I just scold him and get off the minibus, but this doesn’t satisfy me because I haven’t taken disciplinary action against him.”

In an attempt to avoid getting molested in crowded conditions, Mona has stopped using mixed transportation and now prefers to take women-only minibuses or metro trains travelling to and from her working-class neighborhood of Bulaq al-Dakrur.

Lamia Abdel Hakim, another college student, agrees, calling for more public and private bus routes offering women-only services.

“We are in dire need of implementing this system in public buses, as we do in metro trains,” says Abdel Hakim, who adds that she sometimes experiences harassment on her way back home at peak hours.

Gender segregation

While the party’s idea is still in the experimental phase, the system has started on a small scale in front of Cairo University, where hundreds of students spill out into the streets after finishing their lectures.

On all Cairo metro trains, the middle two cars — the fourth and the fifth — are allocated to women, as a way of confronting sexual harassment. However, women are still allowed to share other train cars with men.

The Egyptian Railway Authority followed in the footsteps of the metro last February by providing women-only train cars. However, the policy failed due to a lack of control and monitoring.

Some rights and women’s groups, however, have criticized the idea of women-only transport, citing concerns about gender segregation.

In 2008, a court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two lawyers demanding the cancellation of women-only cars on the grounds that such segregation constituted a violation of gender equality.

The court ruled that reserving cars for women did not fall under its jurisdiction, adding that Islamic law puts an emphasis on respecting women, which requires the state to secure them.

Caged and moving

Nehad Aboul Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, strongly criticizes the segregated transport plan, describing it as “moving cages for women.”

“The women-only transport concept paves the way for the marginalization of women in society and is detrimental to the recent progress Egyptian women have been striving to achieve,” Komsan says.

The rights advocate and lawyer points out that a shortsighted implementation of women-only public transport ultimately creates a deepening, long-term social issue.

“The exclusion of men from public transport cars provides a superficial solution and does not address the fundamental problem we are confronting,” Komsan explains.

She lists a number of ways to eliminate, or at least lessen, the problem.

“Monitoring committees should be formed to dig down and look at where the budget allocated to the development of public transport is spent by the Public Transport Authority and Transportation Ministry,” she says.

“If the government provided more buses to citizens across governorates and imposed severe penalties on harassers, women would no longer be vulnerable to sub-human treatment,” she adds.

Social researcher Ali Azab agrees that the women-only concept is dragging the country backward.

“It’s a clumsy idea,” Azab asserts. “Egypt has a high female population so, logically, we cannot end up isolating all women from men to allegedly protect them,” he says.

He believes the best way to fight the mounting sexual harassment problem is by raising awareness about violence against women through public education and media, in creative and simple ways that could easily convey the message to everyone.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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