CAIRO Egypt, under pressure from activists, has moved closer to passing laws to crack down on sexual harassment after overcoming initial legislative hurdles, members of parliament said on Wednesday.
Activists said sexual harassment has been an obstacle to women having a full economic and political role in Egypt, where a 2008 study found 83 percent of those surveyed had been sexually harassed and half said it happened daily.
The push for a change in the law gained prominence in 2008 when a truck driver was jailed for sexually harassing a woman, in the country's first case to be brought to court.
Members of parliament backing draft bills said that without a specific definition in law, penalties can be arbitrary. Activists say a law would curb harassment, an issue that can harm the image of tourism-reliant Egypt.
One bill was presented to parliament's legislative affairs committee this week and another was approved by the Justice Ministry so it can be presented to the committee in days.
MPs behind the drafts say they differ on details, such as the level of fines to be imposed, but would welcome either.
"It shows the state is responding and changing ... They are now understanding the significance of the issue," said Nihad Abu Al-Qumsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.
"There has to be a law criminalizing sexual harassment in Egypt," Abu Al-Qumsan told Reuters, referring to a need to address issues exposed in the 2008 study on harassment.
That study, conducted by Abu Al-Qumsan's independent NGO, was based on a sample of more than 2,000 Egyptian men and women and 109 foreign women. Ninety-eight percent of the foreign women said they had experienced harassment in Egypt.
Both draft bills define sexual harassment, specify its forms and assign punishments. Egypt has so far dealt with such cases under laws referring to lewd acts in public.
"I think the bill will pass, for the simple reason that it has been thoroughly studied by the government," said MP Georgette Kalini, who is sponsoring the bill that has been approved by the Justice Ministry.
The second bill, backed by MP Mohamed Khalil Qaweyta, had been derailed in a preliminary review but was now back in the legislative committee. Qaweyta said he aimed to have it on an agenda for MPs to discuss and vote on within a month.
In October 2008, Egyptian courts sentenced Sharif Gommaa to three years in prison and ordered him to pay about $950 (5,000 EGP) in compensation to Nuha Rushdi, a woman he sexually harassed. Gommaa's appeal was rejected earlier this week.