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Unveiling Egypt's Digital Frontier: An Exploration of Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV)

Article by Haneen Alawawdeh | April 22, 2024 | Global Rights Defenders



The rapid rise of digital connectivity has revolutionized the way women in Egypt engage with the world, opening doors to new means of expression and societal participation. Yet, this digital landscape has also spawned a troubling phenomenon: the proliferation of gender-based violence online[1]. From the scourges of cyber harassment to the unauthorized distribution of personal imagery, the virtual realm often reflects and amplifies the prejudices women face offline.[2]

This issue is particularly pronounced in the heart of the Middle East and North Africa, with Egypt emerging as a landscape where the battle against online gender-based violence is urgent.[3] Studies underscore the gravity of this problem; for instance, a recent survey revealed that over 41.6% of women experienced cyber violence in Egypt within  2023, often through social media channels and at the hands of anonymous aggressors.[4]

This article explores OGBV in Egypt, addressing how it occurs, the shortcomings in legal protection, and obstacles to overcoming it. It also examines cultural norms that fuel gender discrimination, aiming to pinpoint policy gaps and propose strategic solutions for a safer digital environment for women.

 

A Closer Look at Egypt's Digital Expansion

An examination of Egypt's digital expanses offers striking insights: as of January 2023, there are 80.75 million internet and 46.25 million social media users – figures suggestive of a society steeped in connectivity.[5] Nevertheless, this technological proliferation does not signal an era of digital equality. The digital rights of women, a yardstick for gauging inclusive progress, linger in a state of neglect. Digital growth has, paradoxically, not curbed the prevalence of online gender-based violence, which casts long shadows over women's freedoms, well-being, and safety, thereby limiting their participation in the online world.[6]

 

Dissecting Online Gender-Based Violence in Egypt

In the Egyptian context, OGBV manifests through a myriad of abusive behaviors. Female bloggers, thrust into the public eye, bear the brunt of disproportionately high rates of sexually violent commentary when compared to their male counterparts.[7] This differential targeting is symptomatic of a larger societal malaise: a pervasive gender bias that translates effortlessly from physical interactions to online engagements.[8]

Beyond direct harassment, subtler forms of aggression mar the digital experience for women. Trolling, often downplayed as benign mischief, is weaponized to disseminate incendiary sexist messages. Equally insidious are the privacy breaches involving non-consensual sharing of intimate content and relentless cyberstalking. These private violations are substantiated by sobering statistics: notably, research indicates that roughly 26% of Egyptian women between 18 and 24 years old have reported being stalked via digital communication channels.[9]

The phenomenon of OGBV cannot be divorced from the backdrop of offline gender dynamics. Indeed, the digital embodiment of misogyny and cultural norms,[10] prevalent in the physical spaces of Egyptian society, find a parallel expression in online environments. The absence of robust, gender-sensitive regulations in Egypt's cyberspace governance structures enables a culture of impunity that allows, and sometimes amplifies, harassment in digital forums.[11] The complex interplay of offline prejudices with online behaviors—often shaped by platform algorithms—facilitates the entrenchment of misogynistic and aggressive ideologies within virtual communities.[12]

 

The Inadequacy of Legal Protections OGBV in Egypt

Egypt's legal landscape presents several statutes aimed at combating cybercrimes, yet these laws fall short in effectively tackling the nuances of online gender-based violence. The penalties established for misusing technology, including imprisonment (ranging from two to five years) and hefty fines (between 100,000 to 300,000 Egyptian pounds), are intended to punish and deter the defamation and invasion of personal lives. Despite these consequences, holding perpetrators accountable for blackmail and harassment presents complex challenges.[13]

A closer review of the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law (Law No. 175 of 2018) reveals gaps in its scope. While this legislation addresses issues such as hacking and privacy breaches, it does not comprehensively cover the wide spectrum of OGBV — behaviors that disproportionately impact women, and are often less overt and more nuanced than the offenses the law was designed to prevent.

Moreover, the Egyptian Constitution champions freedoms of speech and expression and advocates gender equality, yet it falls silent on the matter of digital rights and the specific issue of online violence targeting women. This silence is indicative of a broader societal oversight, not just a legislative omission.

The disparity between the legal measures against harassment in physical spaces as opposed to the digital domain is striking. According to Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, the absence of precise legal protections for women facing OGBV online leads to harmful self-censorship, reduced participation in digital platforms, and serious psychological harm to victims.[14] The legal gap in Egypt also manifests in practical enforcement: law enforcement officers and judicial systems struggle with limited understanding of OGBV, resulting in poor handling of such cases.[15]

 

Confronting OGBV Challenges in Egypt

The fight against online gender-based violence in Egypt is beset with multifaceted challenges. Deeply entrenched societal norms not only perpetuate but normalize aggressive behaviors towards women, seamlessly translating such acts from the offline world into the digital realm. There is a significant gap in the collective consciousness regarding both the prevalence and gravity of OGBV, leading to widespread underreporting and a concerning dearth of effective intervention mechanisms. The legal framework, which lacks specialized provisions for combating online violence against women, exacerbates the travails of victims, who find themselves grappling with an ill-equipped system for redress and justice.[16]

Furthermore, the very fabric of Egyptian culture harbors elements that sustain gender-based discrimination. Prevailing stereotypes and the portrayal of women in media and film entrench detrimental attitudes, thus contributing to a societal ambiance where gender-based violence is trivialized or ignored.[17] This cultural backdrop both mirrors and fuels the normalization of such violence, presenting a formidable barrier to change.

The scarcity of aid for OGBV survivors is glaringly evident. Accounts from individuals such as Mariam resonate deeply, revealing a pressing demand for expanded support and services. Mariam's daunting narrative sheds light on a common plight: "Becoming a victim of online gender-based violence was beyond my imagination. The absence of adequate support and comprehension from authorities compounded the struggle for justice." Her testimony amplifies the necessity for significant improvements in support systems and greater awareness among law enforcement of OGBV's complexities.

 

Recommendations for Improvement

To curb online gender-based violence in Egypt, strategic measures are necessary:

1. Public Awareness: Partner with NGOs, schools, and media to educate about OGBV.

2. Legal Framework: Work with lawmakers to create targeted OGBV laws and ensure effective enforcement.

3. Police Training: Train law enforcement in OGBV awareness and ensure accountability.

4. Survivor Support: Increase funding for OGBV support services and expand access to aid.

5. Tech Policy: Collaborate with tech companies to enforce OGBV prevention and response.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the scourge of online gender-based violence in Egypt presents not only a formidable challenge but also an opportunity for societal growth and legislative innovation. A concerted effort from all sectors of society is essential to protect women's digital rights and ensure safe online environments. By fortifying support systems and upholding legal standards, Egypt can lead the way in cultivating a secure and inclusive digital future for all.


References

[1]  Backe, E.L., Lilleston, P.S., & McCleary-Sills, J. (2018). Networked Individuals, Gendered Violence: A Literature Review of Cyberviolence. Violence and gender, 5, 135-146.


[2] Megarry, J. (2014). Online incivility or sexual harassment? Conceptualising women's experiences in the digital age. Womens Studies International Forum, 47, 46-55.


[3]  EuroMed Rights. (2019). Spaces of Violence and Resistance: Women's Rights in the Digital World. EuroMed Rights.


[4]  Hassan, F. M., Khalifa, F. N., Desouky, E. D. E., Salem, M. R., & Ali, M. A. M. (2020). Cyber violence pattern and related factors: online survey of females in Egypt. Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 10(1), 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41935-020-0180-0



[6]  Inter-American Committee of Experts on the Application and Effect of International Conventions on Human Rights. (2018). Guide to Basic Concepts of Online Gender-Based Violence Against Women and Girls. Organization of American States. Retrieved from https://www.oas.org/en/sms/cicte/docs/Guide-basic-concepts-Online-gender-based-violence-against-women-and-girls.pdf


[7]  Meshreky, I. M. (2009).Gender, feminism, and blogging in Egypt [Thesis, the American University in Cairo]. AUC Knowledge Fountain.


[8] Gerbaudo, P. (2018). Hashtags, Memes and Selfies: Self-Representation and Political Participation in the Digital Age. Aligning Technology Against Gender-Based Violence. Retrieved from https://www.alignplatform.org/sites/default/files/2023-03/hashtags_memes_and_selfies.pdf

 

[9] Dragiewicz, M. (2018). Technology-facilitated domestic and family violence: Women’s experiences. Bristol University Press. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10072/388622.


[10] Faith, B. (2022). Tackling online gender-based violence; understanding gender, development, and the power relations of digital spaces. Gender, Technology and Development, 26, 325 - 340.


[11] El-Mahdi, R. (2019). Online gender violence in the MENA region: Mapping scope, responses, and challenges. The American University in Cairo. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17441692.2021.1991972


[12] Farah, A. (2023). Male Community on the Internet. MaySaloon. Retrieved from https://maysaloon.fr/archives/12253


[13]  (2018, August 14). Law on Combating Information Technology Crimes, Law No. 175 of 2018. President of the Republic.


[14] Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. (2018, June 18). Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/thematic-reports/ahrc3847-report-special-rapporteur-violence-against-women-its-causes-and


[15] Abdelaal, H. (n.d.). Egypt: Online violence against women on the rise. Social Media Exchange. Retrieved March 11, 2024, from https://smex.org/egypt-online-violence-against-women-on-the-rise/

 

[16] Digital Arabia Network. (2023, April). Cyber Violence in Egypt [PDF]. Retrieved from https://digitalarabia.network/media/pages/articles/grab-a-coffee-read/089b94cb24-1696929782/cyberviolence_aegypt.pdf


[17] Shoaeib, M. (2021). Addressing gender stereotypes in Egypt and the impact of gender-based violence in film and media [Master's thesis, City University of New York]. CUNY Academic Works. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cc_etds_theses/991

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