Egyptian lawmakers on Tuesday approved a draft law that would give survivors of sexual assault and harassment the automatic right to anonymity, under pressure to do more to encourage women to report such crimes.
The government drafted the bill in July to try to encourage reporting of sexual violence, which women’s rights campaigners say is rife in Egypt but often goes unreported because victims fear a backlash or pressure to withdraw their claims.
The move follows the arrest of a man accused of raping and blackmailing multiple women, many of whom had been unwilling to go to the police until the public prosecutor promised their identities would not be made public.
That case triggered a flood of stories of harassment from women on social media that has been dubbed Egypt’s #MeToo movement and put pressure on the government to act.
Lawmaker Magda Nasr said the bill would be put before the full parliament later this month after it was approved by a committee of MPs on Tuesday. If it is approved, it will go to the president for final ascent.
It is designed to protect women’s rights and “encourage them to report cases of sexual assault”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Lawyer Reda Eldanoubki welcomed the move to ban identifying complainants, saying many came under pressure to withdraw their allegations if their names and contact details were public.
“Now, it is a very good move as it will have a positive impact in encouraging girls and women who have been harassed or sexually assaulted to report,” said Eldanoubki, executive director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness.
If it becomes law, the bill would mean anyone who identified a victim would face jail of up to six months, he said.
Egypt’s National Council for Women has also raised concerns about the identification of victims.
Last week it urged anyone who was being intimidated into silence to go to the authorities, after an Instagram page set up as a space for women to report sexual assault had to shut down when its administrators received death threats.
Randa Fakhr El Deen, head of the NGOs’ Union Against Harmful Practices on Women, said the bill was a “remarkable step that highlights state keenness on turning Egypt into a safer place for women and girls after years of marginalization and violence”.
She said the law must be applied universally, regardless of power or influence.