As Egypt toughens its sexual harassment law, women's rights activists raise concerns over a lack of enforcement
Cairo - Egyptian women's rights activists called on Monday for laws protecting women to be better enforced after the introduction of stronger penalties for sexual harassment offences.
They welcomed a move by Egypt's parliament on Sunday to reclassify sexual harassment as a felony, increase the minimum jail sentence from one to two years and raise the fine to at least 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,400).
But they warned this would only be effective if enforcement of such laws was improved, citing a lack of awareness among police, judges and society as a whole.
The legal amendments are the latest in a series of moves to strengthen laws protecting women in the socially conservative, Muslim-majority nation, where hundreds took to social media last year to denounce sexual assault.
Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of Egypt's Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, said it was a "commendable step", but awareness-raising and enforcement were the real challenges.
"What is really important is to put the law into effect, prepare mechanisms for implementation and raise social awareness about the dangers of sexual harassment," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Randa Fakhr El-Deen, executive director of the Union on Harmful Practices against Women and Children, an NGO, warned there was a risk the reclassification would further prolong the legal process, delaying justice for survivors.
"What really matters now is what is next. It is important to see harassers put in jail and punished instead of seeing them acquitted," she said.
Sunday's amendments allow for progressively longer jail sentences and larger fines for repeat offenders, and for longer sentences where the defendant was in a position of authority over the victim or wielded a weapon during the assault.
They define sexual harassment as committing sexual or pornographic acts or insinuations, whether by sign, word, or deed, including electronically.
Egypt's reckoning over sexual violence began last year when a 22-year-old student launched a high-profile campaign that led to the arrest of a man accused of raping and blackmailing multiple women.
Weeks later, it brought to light a gang rape case involving up to nine suspects from powerful, wealthy families.
Several of the suspects were arrested, but prosecutors shelved the case in May, citing a lack of evidence, a move condemned by women's rights campaigners.
Other legislative changes include the introduction of a law in August giving women the automatic right to anonymity in sexual assault cases.
In April, parliament also toughened penalties against female genital mutilation. ($1 = 15.6400 Egyptian pounds)