Home Education Panel discusses sexual harassment, women in the Middle East

Panel discusses sexual harassment, women in the Middle East

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Women in Egypt became the topic of discussion of a panel about Egypt after a panelist gave a presentation about head coverings for women.

Director of African Studies Dr. Steve Howard presented the use of veils in terms of fashion, religious significance and class status.  His presentation was a follow up to an Egyptian movie about sexual harassment screened the night before because of a scene during the movie when one of the characters tells another woman she is guilty because she was not covered in a veil.

Panelist and Assistant Professor of Political Science Nukhet Sandal, from Turkey, said that this was not uncommon.

“I’m not proud of it, but as women we do judge each other… I mean, not everyone, but there is this tendency that the covered woman might think ‘well, she’s a bit compromised in her dressing,’” Sandal said. “I might think personally, that this is not the Western way of thinking… So there are those judgments in the public sphere.”

The movie was chosen because of its significance in Egypt.

“Sexual harassment is a big deal in Egypt, and that movie was an award-winning movie that address the issue in a very professional way,” Smahi said. “It touched on something that is not normally talked about, especially in Egypt.”

As the only woman on the panel, Sandal was the first to respond when a first-year student studying political science asked about sexual harassment in Egypt and how head covering can affect it.

“It is not about how the woman is dressed… I have seen guys who are looking at a 75-year-old grandma who is fully covered,” Sandal said. “No matter how you are dressed, it will happen.”

She continued by explaining that the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Middle East is a societal issue.

“There was a famous rape case in Turkey, a 13-year-old, and lots of soldiers gang raped [her], and then… the judge himself said that the woman may have invited it,” Sandal said. “I am not judging what is happening on the ground because in every society there will be creeps and there is nothing you can do about it. I understand that. But at the same time, if the judge says that, then we have a societal problem.”

Sandal also gave a presentation about social issues in Turkey and what she referred to as “the public theology,” referring to public ways of thinking based in religion. Her critical approach did not sit well for all the audience members, especially those native to the region.

“It created some controversies,” Smahi said. “That’s just her style. She’s blunt, and she just says everything whether it is positive or negative.”

Dr. Juan Manuel Uruburu Colsa, a professor of Middle Eastern studies in Spain, gave a keynote speech after the panel comparing the recent political transition in Egypt to a political transition in Spain in 1975. Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. Brandon Kendhammer also participated on the panel.

The film screening and panel was sponsored by several organizations on campus including the Arabic Language Student Association and the International Student Union.

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