Operation Anti Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH) organizes teams of volunteers to intervene when women experience sexual assault or harassment during street protests in Egypt.
Sexual harassment has become an epidemic in Egypt in recent years. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights conducted a shocking study in 2008 that indicated that over two-thirds of Egyptian women are sexually harassed daily in the country. Several initiatives, such as Harassmap, have been taken since then by various groups to fight the phenomenon. The problem took a very serious turn when mobs of men started targeting and sexually assaulting female protesters and journalists in Tahrir square and surrounding areas. In some cases attacks caused permanent physical damage to women and required emergency surgery. In one incident, a girl was raped, then stabbed with a knife in her vagina. In another case, a girl was so brutally raped she had to undergo surgery to remove her uterus.
OpAntiSH was formed in November 2012 with the aim of working to end group sexual assaults against women during demonstrations in Tahrir Square and the surrounding area. The group was formed through the collaboration of many individuals, organizations, and initiatives.
OpAntiSH began with a call for a public meeting to coordinate efforts between different groups and individual activists to address the mob sexual assault on women in demonstrations. The group started a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. These social media accounts were used to disseminate the call for volunteers, publish the group’s statements and reports, and give instant updates from the ground where volunteers were operating. They became a major source of data for the press and TV.
OpAntiSH’s YouTube channel, which includes an introduction to the group, a call for volunteers, and videos produced by other initiatives related to the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt, has become particularly popular. One Youtube video documenting an actual incident of mob sexual harassment in Tahrir has been viewed almost two million times. The video was an eye-opener for many Egyptians who wouldn’t believe that such incidents could take place or couldn’t imagine the severity of the situation. Political leaders who had called for demonstrations previously refused to acknowledge that sexual harassment happened or to take responsibility for the security of protesters. The video forced acknowledgement of the situation and encouraged many young Egyptians to volunteer with OpAntiSH.
OpAntiSH volunteers hold regular meetings, especially before big demonstrations, where they coordinate their activities. They also carry out special trainings for intervention volunteers to prepare them to be able to physically rescue women under attack and to support them after such trauma. They use social media to publicize their hotline number, potentially unsafe areas during protests, and locations where OpAntiSH group members will be stationed during demonstrations. They also publicize their easily recognizable uniform so that people will trust them. In the event of an assault or sexual harassment incident, women can contact OpAntiSH to report violations and request assistance. Teams composed of both men and women are immediately sent to the location to rescue and support the woman in danger.
OpAntiSH is protective of the privacy of the women they have rescued from sexual assault; however, they also encourage women to speak up and write their testimonies. By sharing the stories of women who experienced sexual assault they can raise awareness of the problem and work towards a solution. OpAntiSH is careful to use reliable methodology, coordinate their efforts on the ground, and use successful communication strategies. They also reject a male-dominant rescue discourse by ensuring that their intervention teams include both males and females.
OpAntiSH has helped to raise awareness about mob sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. It has managed to recruit volunteers, coordinate efforts and put the topic on the political agenda. So far, the initiative has helped to save hundreds of Egyptian women either by direct intervention during mob sexual assaults or by acting as a reliable source for news and live updates about unsafe areas that female protesters should avoid during demonstrations.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
The success of this tactic is twofold in that it rescues women from dangerous situations while increasing public awareness of an important issue. Other organizations working to protect women from sexual assault can take note of this result and may consider publicizing their work in order to draw attention to the issue.
Other important elements of this tactic include the use of social media and the awareness of gender issues in the tactic’s implementation. OpAntiSH was very successful in their use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to publicize the problem, their efforts, and information for Egyptian women. Other organizations of all types should be aware of the power of social media. In addition, OpAntiSH was careful to include both men and women in its rescue teams. This contributed to the organization’s mission for equality and also made its interventions more effective. Men may be necessary to stop the assault, but a woman in danger is more likely to trust other women. Organizations that look to recreate this tactic should be conscious of this issue.