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For the women of Egypt, today is not like yesterday

International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world on March 8. Egypt celebrates Egyptian Women’s Day on March 16, and March 9 marks the infamous day when members of the Armed Forces performed virginity tests on female protestors detained in Tahrir Square in 2011 — a crime no one has been held accountable for to this day.

This year, however, the government is trying to contain the feminist movement that picked up pace during the revolution, and which they have frequently used to save face both domestically and internationally, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to sexual crimes committed by security forces.

Police have waged several campaigns against the LGBT community in a stark violation of personal rights. This sits within a broader crackdown on civil society organizations — the closure of human rights centers and the imposition of travel bans on prominent activists, as well as the complete militarization of the public sphere, evidenced by recent raids on various cultural institutions — all with the aim of consolidating a climate of fear. Despite the recurring political failures of the revolution, however, there have been some notable social gains. The revolutionary feminist movement in Egypt has been able to bring about positive change in people’s knowledge and perceptions of sexual violence and sexual rights.

One of the major achievements of the feminist movement is related to the issue of sexual violence against women in the public sphere. It is no longer out of the ordinary today for girls and women to report verbal and physical harassment to the police. They have also exposed and confronted police officers who refuse to file such reports. This was not the case 10 years ago. Many women activists would recall how they were told not to use the words “sexual harassment” on television before the revolution, confining the practice to “harassment” only.

Many of us also remember how the media and the state used to deny the existence of the phenomenon of individual and mass sexual violence, which soared from the early 2000s. For a very long time, the demands by feminist organizations to reform the laws on sexual violence were ignored. This is in addition to demands that the state acknowledge the hurdles women face in the street and workplace.

Women who demand their rights have often had to face smear campaigns.

Testimonials from survivors of “Black Wednesday” — when female journalists and protestors were sexually harassed during a demonstration against Hosni Mubarak’s constitutional reforms in 2005 — are a case in point. According to one account, a female lawyer was able to capture her harasser on that day, but security forces freed him and refused to file an official report of the incident. The Public Prosecution’s office also refused to include the torn clothes of Journalist Nawal Aly as evidence in her case, claiming it was too late to do so. Aly was one of the many women assaulted and stripped of her clothes on Black Wednesday. The Public Prosecutor dropped the charges, saying the perpetrators couldn’t be found. Pro-government media then waged a campaign against Aly, claiming she had ripped off her own clothes and fabricated claims that pro-Mubarak thugs assaulted her.

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