Feminist Scooter Gangs Shut Down Street Harassment

In the worst country in the Arab world for women, people are finding creative ways to stop gender-based violence.

In 2011, alongside the Arab Spring and massive citizen protests in Tahrir Square, Egypt’s pervasive problem with violence against women was exposed to the world. Reports of horrifying mob attacks against protesting women, videos exposing the oppressive atmosphere of harassment, and numerous articles by Egyptian women revealing the extent of the problem led the Thomas Reuters Foundation to name Egypt the worst country in the Arab world for women.

For episode seven of A Woman’s Place, Kassidy Brown and Allison Rapson flew to Cairo to find out what’s being done to end gender-based violence in Egypt. From the creators of the viral video Creepers on a Bridge who used a hidden camera to document street harassment, to the volunteers at HarassMap who map out incidents of sexual harassment and assault across the country, to the organizers of Girls Go Wheels who whip past potential harassers on their scooters, Brown and Rapson discovered Egyptian women are finding creative ways to empower each other and push for change.

“The energy is hard to describe, but it’s heavy,” said Brown. “It’s the energy from the men on the street, who are just everyday citizens. It’s that the type of stares you’re receiving are so threatening.”

“Think of a time when you’ve been out walking alone, and suddenly the energy around you changes,” Rapson said, “And you can’t necessarily explain why that is, but you don’t feel safe and you want to rush home. That’s what Cairo feels like.”

Many of the women Brown and Rapson spoke with told them that Egypt wasn’t always this way, and that sexual harassment and assault has gotten much worse in recent decades. “Young women talked about their mothers,” said Brown, “How they’d walk the streets freely wearing miniskirts, which was a popular style at the time, and they wouldn’t be harassed.”

If this type of behavior wasn’t a part of their culture in the 1980s, why is it now?

“[Women] deserve to be able to speak up and say, ‘This culture isn’t working for me, I don’t want to raise my children in this,’” said Rapson. “That’s why we need to speak up. We need to tell our stories. We need to be unabashed about standing up to the perpetrators of inequality.”