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Perceptions and management of gender roles and dynamics inside OpAntiSH Intervention Teams in Cairo

Perception et gestion des rôles et dynamiques de genre dans les équipes d’intervention de OpAntiSH, au Caire
Leslie Piquemal
p. 133-152


A number of anti-sexual harassment and anti-sexual violence initiatives were formed by Egyptian citizens after 2011 to confront the rising tide of gender-based violence against women in the public sphere. Among those focused on direct intervention in cases of mob sexual assault in mass gatherings in Tahrir Square (Cairo), Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH) was the only one that always integrated male and female volunteers in all teams, including Intervention. This study of the management and perceptions of gender dynamics by volunteers inside OpAntiSH’s Intervention teams in 2012-2014, is based on micro-sociological analysis of the data gathered through participant observation and semi-structured interviews during this period.

This paper first addresses women volunteers’ motivations – based on their own narratives – for joining Intervention teams, a choice that could be viewed as counter intuitive or frowned upon in Egyptian society, in which the dominant model of gender roles remains quite close to the model of hegemonic masculinity. Many framed this choice within an identity-based reading of the phenomenon of mass sexual assaults as attacks on all women as political agents in the public sphere, and their response as a means of resistance and reclaiming agency. Women’s presence in Intervention teams was initially an issue for many volunteers, who developed certain techniques and coping strategies to manage it. These included specific ways of performing gender within the group that differed from their practices in other contexts, and various approaches to the negotiation of gender roles within teams. Intervention involved a broader learning process about gender for some volunteers, whose view of women’s presence in teams evolved, though it remained somewhat of an issue for other “silent dissenters” of sorts. Ultimately, the particularity of the OpAntiSH experience is connected to the creation of a social sphere of gender equality and solidarity, geared toward the joining of forces between men and woman as equals, to fight mass sexual violence in the public sphere, within a very non-egalitarian society.

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Full-text article is available on Cairn platform in open access. It will be available on this URL in January 2019.
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Why women joined OpAntiSH Intervention teams: gender identity and agency
Men, women and the issue of female volunteers in Intervention
Performing gender, coping strategies and the negotiation of gender roles
Dissent, learning and creating a sphere of gender equality

Text / first lines

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (known as OpAntiSH or al-Quwwa dedd al-taharrush) is a collective founded in November 2012 to fight the growing phenomenon of extremely violent mass sexual assaults against women during large gatherings in or around Tahrir Square, in central Cairo. Human rights groups and activists have reported them repeatedly during large political gatherings in this area since 2011. In fact, such cases had sporadically occurred in different crowd contexts (protests, football games, holiday crowds, concerts) in the public sphere since the mid-2000s in Egypt. Perpetrators – mostly all male – have included police or military forces, “baltageyya (“thugs,” civilians serving as police auxiliaries), young boys on the street, or men and youths attending a cultural or political event. The mob assaults in Tahrir Square since 2011 have ranged from mass groping to the stripping and gang rape of women using hands, and occasionally blunt or sharp objects as well.

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Electronic reference

Leslie Piquemal, « Perceptions and management of gender roles and dynamics inside OpAntiSH Intervention Teams in Cairo », Égypte/Monde arabe,Troisième série, 13 | 2015, Online since 10 November 2017, connection on 10 December 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ema.3540

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About the author

Leslie Piquemal

Leslie Piquemal is a former academic, now working in the field of human rights advocacy. She earned a PhD in Middle Eastern Politics from the Paris Institute of Politics Studies (IEP Paris - Sciences Po) in 2012. As a doctoral and post-doctoral researcher, she was affiliated to the CEDEJ in Cairo, where she lived for 10 years. After her PhD she returned to Sociology to conduct fieldwork about the new collectives fighting gender-based violence in the public sphere in Cairo. Leslie Piquemal is the author of a PhD thesis about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s political project at the end of the Mubarak era, as well as a number of academic articles.

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