GBV – the shadow pandemic

Gender-based violence is a world-wide problem – and one that has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic as victims are locked down with their abusers and frustration and uncertainty feed aggression. This ‘shadow pandemic’ is the focus of the third call-out in our #MyStoryForAStory (#MijnStoryVoorEenStory) campaign as we focus on the alarmingly high levels of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in Egypt.

Here in the Netherlands, it is Prinsjesdag – the day when the Dutch government announces its budget and sets out priorities for the coming year. At least 34% of all Dutch women have been targets of sexual violence and we are taking Prinsjesdag as a moment to urge the Dutch government to invest more in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of women and girls around the world.

Sharing stories
Our 6-month #MijnStoryVoorEenStory campaign asks young people in the Netherlands to show solidarity with their peers in restrictive countries. Dutch influencers are sharing stories on their Instagram accounts from young people in our target countries and asking their followers to share these stories further to show their support for the human rights of their peers around the world. Today, influencers Naomie Pieter and Sahil Amar Aissa are sharing a short video from a young woman who says:

Hi, I am from Egypt. Did you know that I and 99% of women in my country have been sexually harassed? That’s why we are speaking up and sharing our stories. If you can relate to my story, share it! Let’s stand together and put a stop to harassment and violence against women everywhere.

As we hear in the video, sexual harassment and violence are all-pervasive in Egypt. Recent months have seen a number of high-profile cases gain traction such as the gang-rape in 2014 of a young woman in the “Fairmont Case” and the case of a student at the American University of Cairo who is accused of sexually harassing and assaulting up to 100 fellow students. The reaction of the Egyptian authorities to such cases has also sparked concerns about corruption and the culture of impunity which surrounds perpetrators of sexual violence.

Unprecedented openness
Away from the spotlight though, literally millions of Egyptian women are the targets of abuse which almost always goes unreported and unpunished. The recent media attention for these two cases in particular has sparked an unprecedented movement on Egyptian social media with large numbers of women sharing their stories and experiences. Recently, Love Matters Arabic received more than 5,000 responses to a social media survey asking young women and girls to share their experiences of sexual harassment and violence, and many of these responses highlighted the lack of any kind of support for survivors of GBV.

Based on insights from that survey, the Love Matters Arabic team created and are implementing an anti-GBV campaign together with local partner Tadwein Center for Gender Studies. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of providing psychological, societal and legal support to women who have been sexually assaulted. The hashtag for the campaign #الدعم_أهم translates roughly as ‘support is more important’. Love Matters Arabic’s social media editor explains the thinking behind the hashtag:

“We designed it to be able to link with different messages highlighting the importance of believing and supporting victims. So, support is more important than…the reputation of the family, than gossip, than blaming the victim, than your personal relationship with the perpetrator and so on.”

The 10-day campaign began with the launch of a specially created video in which Egyptian women discuss the issues around GBV and the importance of listening to and supporting women who have been targeted.

Evidence for advocacy
The campaign’s design was also informed by Tadwein’s work collecting and analysing 658 testimonials published on social media by survivors of sexual harassment and assault. A comprehensive report into that research will be published during the campaign as well as an animated video analysing the results of the Love Matters Arabic survey.

Along with highlighting the lack of support for victims, the survey also showed a widespread lack of knowledge and awareness both of the laws criminalising sexual harassment and of the existence of support services for victims within institutions such as universities. The results of the research carried out by both Tadwien and Love Matters Arabic will be used for evidence-based advocacy towards the Egyptian authorities, urging more concrete measures both to support women and girls who are the targets of sexual harassment and violence and to punish the perpetrators.

More about GBV from RNW Media
The Love Matters platforms regularly address GBV and campaign to raise awareness of the issues. Read here about the work of Love Matters Naija and Love Matters India on the issue and about the ways the Love Matters platforms have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on GBV and SRHR. RNW Media’s projects also take part in the annual international campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence you can read about the 2019 campaign activities here.

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