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How to stop sexual harassment on Cairo streets? A can of spray paint Add to ...

First there were heels.

Now, spray paint is emerging as the new weapon in a male-driven campaign to stop street harassment and violence against women.

In Cairo, where women are routinely molested in public, young men are stepping up with an initiative called “Estargel!” or “Be a Man.” Wearing yellow vests marked with the words “Harassment Prevention,” these vigilantes roam the street with spray paint cans in hand, searching for perpetrators. “The spray paint is used to tag grabby young men and send them on their way, marked as harassers,” reports NPR’s Leila Fadel.

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These new prevention groups aren’t holding out for government intervention on the issue, which is widespread in Cairo: Forty-six per cent of Egyptian women said they experienced sexual harassment “on a daily basis,” according to a 2008 survey from the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights.

As one vigilante explained it to NPR, “we gave ourselves the right to molest him – the molester.” He added: “If I was walking in the street and I molested a girl and I got beat up and trashed and had my dignity put into a bin ... I think the next time I’ll think a thousand times before I try to act funny with a girl.”

Some aren’t convinced about the patrols, which often trigger brawls.

NPR readers, meanwhile, have been largely supportive: “It’s encouraging that there are such men in Egypt,” wrote one commenter. “Men who harass women sexually in either public or private are cowards. They deserve any humiliations they get,” wrote another.

Others are also suggesting self-defence classes for Egyptian women, and others still are extrapolating the chaotic scenes to the West: “If that was done here, most of the construction workers would be tagged. I’ve often wondered if these guys ever thought about their mothers, or sisters,” wrote one man.

Would human-graffiti work on cat callers and public transit gropers in North America? We’ve already got YouTube vigilantes as well as men-led initiatives such as the Walk a Mile in her Shoes campaign, which sees men donning high heels to raise awareness about violence against women. Also proliferating are on-campus bystander programs aimed at preventing sexual assault by turning male students into better allies for their female peers.

What do you make of the Egyptian spray paint technique?

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

 

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