When hundreds of women recently protested against dictatorships in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, it seemed that an era of oppressive governments with sexist traditions might be coming to an end.
The excitement was short-lived.
On March 9, International Women’s Day, a group of women were groped and harassed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after marching for social justice. Last week, Amnesty International reported that another group of 18 women who were arrested during protests in Tahrir Square were taken by the military, tortured by electric shocks, subjected to strip searches and given “virginity tests.”
According to an Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights study in 2008, 83 percent of women have been sexually harassed in Egypt, as well as an astounding 98 percent of foreign women living in Cairo. (The study defines sexual harassment as unwanted sexual conduct that results in physical or psychological abuse.) Yet, due to a lack of cultural and legal support, only a small percentage of cases are taken to the police.
Director Mohamed Diab captures this grim reality in his new feature, “Cairo 6,7,8,” showcased in this year’s New Directors/New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The film is based on real-life experiences of sexual harassment faced by three Egyptian women.