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In Cairo, a group of vigilante men are making headlines as they combat sexual assault and street harassment against women by spraying the harassers with paint to mark them as predators.

The men, who call their group “Estragel” or “Be a Man”, began spray painting those who were seen violating women following the 1,000 complaints of sexual harassment filed over four days celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha in Cairo. The men took to acting themselves when they did not think that the police response was too slow. Harassing women, particularly activists and journalists, is a common practice in Cairo and one that the police frequently ignore.

Estragel has been spray painting perpetrators, as well as talking to them about the importance of ending street harassment. As a model of vigilantism, Estragel has inspired a number of other similar groups to form around the city.

Though this is an incredible step in the right direction to protect the women of Cairo, some of the Estragel interrogations have become physical, some members tackling suspected harassers to the ground or spraying them in the face. One of the vigilante members, Muhab Selim, was quoted as saying, “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.”

Is this kind of violence an effective means of creating the change that Cairo wishes to see? Or will it just heighten tension and put the women in more danger as a result? Either way, I believe the intentions of the male allies of Cairo are admirable, and do believe that their emphasis on education of harassers is key in effecting the genuine change that they want for their city.

Categories: Sexual Violence