MeToo i MENA (4)
Foto: StringerReuters, Ritzau Scanpix


New study on the fight against sexual and gender-based violence in the Middle East and North Africa.

By Gerd Kieffer-Døssing

#MeToo. You are probably familiar with that hashtag. But what about #EnaZeda or #AnaKaman?

These two hashtags are local versions of the global hashtag originating from Tunisia and Egypt, respectively. As in the rest of the world, the global movement in these countries – as well as across the Middle East and North Africa – was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on sexual and gender-based violence and coercion, and on society’s shaming of women who are victims of such abuse.

In a new report, KVINFO examines the impact of #MeToo in four countries in the Middle East and North Africa– the so-called MENA region, which comprises the following countries: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.

Through research and interviews with researchers, activists, journalists and women’s rights organisations, KVINFO uncovers how the movement unfolded and played out in the four countries: Which campaigns and issues were essential to the movement? Who was the driving force behind the movement? What challenges has the movement faced, where does it stand today, and what changes has it effected?


Protests against restrictive legislation that, in a Kafkaesque fashion, turns victims into offenders. Exposing serial sexual predators – known as well as unknown – as well as university professors who sexually blackmail female students in exchange for good grades.

These are some of the cases that the local #MeToo movements in the above referenced four countries have shed light on.

On the face of it, none of these examples are controversial to object. At least not in a Danish context. Yet, the same rules do not apply in the MENA region.


In the latest edition of The Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the region ranked second to last in terms of gender equality, marginally surpassed by South Asia. The WEF study examines a range of factors such as health, education, economics and political participation in the context of gender equality.


Sexual and gender-based violence refers to violent and otherwise harmful acts that target an individual or group based on their gender. The victims are typically girls and women, but men and boys are also affected, and the term is also used to describe violence targeting members of the LGBT+ community.

There is a direct correlation between sexual and gender-based violence and gender inequality and abuse of power. Abuse that falls into this category is multifaceted and can be both physical, psychological, financial and digital in nature

The numbers speak for themselves: one in three women in MENA has experienced or will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Zooming in on the four countries covered in the report, the situation is even more dire.


In a 2013 study by UNWOMEN, 99.3 percent of women and girls in Egypt said they had experienced sexual harassment in some form. In Jordan, this applies to more than three out of four women, according to figures published by the World Bank, while gender-based violence affects approximately one in two women in Tunisia and Morocco, respectively, according to national figures.

However, few women report experiences of abuse and violence to the police.

In Tunisia, for example, the figure is as low as three percent, according to a 2017 report. In addition, a 2019 government-sponsored study from Morocco showed that the local figure is just 6.6 percent.

As it turns out, there may be good reasons not to report:

“[The women] fear that the police will not protect them effectively, that the courts will not take timely or effective action against the perpetrator, and that their communities will freeze them out for reporting the perpetrator to the authorities,” the report states.


The victims’ fears are linked to the fact that all four countries have very inadequate legislation in place to protect women’s rights, or that laws may end up being used against women who file a report. In some instances, state officials and police are often the perpetrators of abuse themselves.

Egypt’s “morality laws”, for example, mean that police can ask female victims about their sexual history and accuse them of being responsible for the abuse they have suffered. This can be likened to a sort of Egyptian version of “what were you wearing?”, which has been emphasised in a Danish context.


The report MeToo in context: Against sexual violence in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan is based on research and interviews with 13 activists, journalists, women’s rights organisations and researchers. Data was collected in 2023.

The report provides an overview of #MeToo-related movements and local agendas in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. and looks at how these movements operate, how they are organised and what challenges they face, including from the governmental level.

The purpose is to identify how organisations like KVINFO can best support local activists, groups and organisations working to put an end to sexual and gender-based violence and to strengthen the work for gender equality and women’s rights.

Read the full report here.

The report describes how Egyptian women, who are subjected to sexual violence, have “learnt to live with it” and often choose not to report it, but to remain silent.


Paradoxically, in the country where a law against, for example, gender-based violence does exist, as is the case in Tunisia, said law has not yet been implemented. As one Tunisian journalist, who like many other interviewees remains anonymous for fear of social retaliation, says:

“In spite of so-called progressive laws, this country is not safe for women.”

In Morocco, there is also a disconnect between legislation and practice. The report concludes that the purpose of legislative reforms is to strike a balance “between being progressive externally and appeasing conservative constituencies and cultural norms internally.”

One example is the change to the country’s family law in 2004, which, among other things, raised the minimum age for marriage from 15 to 18 years. However, families may still apply for an exemption and are granted one in four out of five cases, with the end result that Moroccan girls as young as 14 are still being married off.


In addition to the complicated context, the four countries have another common denominator: #MeToo did not emerge in a vacuum.

The report repeatedly emphasises that national women’s rights organisations in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan have been fighting for years to improve women’s conditions and promote their rights. This work has created a sound basis for local #MeToo movements to build on.

Thus, the national movements have emerged as a result of an organic, bottom-up approach driven by individuals, typically young female university students from the upper middle class, who have had a certain socio-economic advantage, enabling them to engage in social issues.

From there, the movements have spread and gained momentum as women have shared their experiences and testimonies on social media platforms under various hashtags, and high-profile individual cases have helped generate national attention.


In this way, #MeToo in the four countries studied is no different from how the movement developed elsewhere.

In the US, where the movement originated, the case against Harvey Weinstein, a former movie producer and now a convicted rapist, was particularly prominent. Even in Denmark, individual cases against powerful men, who have used their powerful positions to sexually exploit women, have fuelled the movement and attracted high levels of public interest.


A MENA example of such a case stems from Tunisia, where then Member of Parliament, Zouheir Makhlouf, was caught masturbating in front of a 19-year-old female student. Another example comes from Jordan, where university students, under the hashtag #TechnoHarasser, shared testimonies of a professor sexually harassing students.

Finally, in Morocco, the case of Saad Lamjarred made headlines and attracted widespread attention. Lamjarred is a popular musician who was accused by numerous women of sexual abuse, including physical assault and rape.



#Masaktach/Masaktech (”Hun tier ikke stille”), #metoouniv, #RIPAmina, #TaAnaMeToo, #JusticepourKhadija (”Justice for Khadija”)


#EnaZeda (“Me too”)


#AnaKaman (”me too”), #anaAydan (”me too”), #lammakinta_saghira (“when I was a child”), أناflflكمان #assaultpolice, #SpeakUp, #CatCallsofCairo, #Superwomen, #TimesUp, #fairmontincident, #Slayed_by_harassment


#JordanSpeaksUp, #TechnoHarasser

These campaigns were all started either by individuals or by loose-knit activist groups. It was only in the second stage that established civil society organisations came into play. With their organisational set-up and long experience, they were able to build on the footwork of individual activists and create parallel and more targeted initiatives that were actively used in advocacy work, among other efforts.


A good example of such advocacy work is the movement around the hashtag #EnaZeda in Tunisia.

Directly translated, the hashtag means “me too” in Tunisian Arabic. It spread spontaneously in 2019/2020 in connection with the aforementioned case where a powerful politician, Zouheir Makhlouf, was accused of sexual harassment. This spurred hundreds of women to share their own stories of abuse and harassment on social media, resulting in thousands of comments and reactions.

Like the international #MeToo, #EnaZeda became a rallying point for the Tunisian movement and extended beyond the Makhlouf case. It has served as a common hashtag that anyone who wanted to share testimonies or support the fight against sexual and gender-based violence could use.

As the movement grew in the form of smaller groups and spread on social media, established civil society organisations began organising in parallel, starting with #EnaZeda.


The feminist NGO, Aswat Nissa, for example, created a private Facebook group based on the hashtag. The group serves as a safe space where its 43,000 members can freely share and debate issues related to sexual and gender-based violence and harassment. The group has guidelines to follow and anyone who wants to join must fill out a questionnaire. Aswat Nissa moderates the site and makes sure to filter out any trolls or misogynistic comments, so that the group remains a safe place for its members.

Aswat Nissa has also organised campaigns and demonstrations to keep the interest alive and to highlight how skewed the justice system in Tunisia is when it comes to women’s rights.

Other organisations, such as Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (Tunisian Association of Democratic Women) and the feminist collective Falgatna, which works to promote women’s rights, also organised in parallel and participated in various demonstrations.


Despite sharing a number of common characteristics, the four countries have vastly different contexts and legal frameworks, which has played a role in how #MeToo has evolved in the respective countries.

However, based on the report’s findings, a pattern emerges.

In the two kingdoms, Morocco and Jordan, the movement has struggled to gain a foothold and form a united front. Unlike the unifying #EnaZeda hashtag in Tunisia, the movement in these two countries has been characterised by a wide variety of different hashtags, individual cases and scattered initiatives, particularly linked to the education sector.

None of these campaigns have managed to create enough momentum to involve a larger part of the population and develop into a real movement. Both countries have had extremely difficult starting points largely due to restrictive legislation and widespread discrimination against women, involving a high degree of social stigmatisation.

In both countries, sexual intercourse before marriage is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, making it risky for unmarried women to talk about sexual assault because they are indirectly guilty of breaking the law – even if they are victims of rape.


In Jordan, the situation is so difficult that the mere fact that activists and organisations have been willing to speak openly about sexual harassment and violence could be seen as a success:

“[When organisations and activists] are brave enough to talk about the problem, public awareness [of the issue] automatically increases. This in itself is a very important and successful step,” the report states.

In relation to Morocco, the report highlights some progress. For example, the #MeTooUniv hashtag that broke through at the end of 2021, encouraging students to share experiences of teachers and professors demanding sexual favours in exchange for good grades.


The situation is different in Egypt and Tunisia, where #MeToo has had a greater impact.

Unlike Morocco and Jordan, these two countries underwent a revolution and a changeover of power during the Arab Spring in 2011. Several of the sources and interviewees referenced in the report point out that there is a connection: namely, that the experiences during the revolutions created the basis for #MeToo to gain greater resonance in Egypt and Tunisia.

According to Professor Nadje Al-Ali, who is quoted in the report, the “strategic and systematic violence” that Egyptian security forces inflicted on female protesters and activists brought “unprecedented public attention” to the country’s deep-rooted problems with gender-based violence and sexual harassment.

Many may remember the “girl with the blue bra”, who, during demonstrations in December 2011, was being pulled across the ground by security forces, causing her abaya to fall off, revealing her light blue bra underneath. The incident was captured on video and went viral on social media.

In other words, a taboo was broken back in 2011, and the #MeToo movement has been able to build on this incident, as concluded in the report.


Lene Steffen, International Director at KVINFO, finds this connection particularly interesting:

“As a civil society organisation, this provides us with a different starting point for how we should offer our support in the countries concerned. Although the context in both Egypt and Tunisia is extremely difficult at this moment, the report emphasises the point that some seeds were sown during the revolutions, and we must now do everything we can to nurture them so that we can support the continued fight for women’s and girls’ rights,” she says.


In all four countries, there are examples of #MeToo campaigns and activism that predate 2017, the year the global #MeToo movement took off. However, the report notes a shift as activism has moved to social media outlets.

As in other countries, the online component has meant that the movements have reached a wider audience and allowed more people to participate by sharing their stories or showing their support.

“Online media provides a space for activists and citizens to organise and promote change, which is extremely valuable in contexts where freedom of expression and opportunities to protest and mobilise are limited,” the report states.

In these contexts, “social media has thus played a major role in promoting and facilitating social change.”

Although all four countries have used local Arabic-language hashtags, activists have also often included English hashtags in their posts. This has created the opportunity to connect them with the international #MeToo movement and create a form of global resonance, while allowing the movements to remain localised and speak into the specific local context.


In none of the four countries studied, has #MeToo resulted in a revolutionary impact on society.

Neither institutions nor systems have undergone fundamental changes. Nevertheless, researchers and activists agree that in the wake of the movement there has been a “public awakening” and increased awareness of sexual and gender-based violence.

Moreover, the report concludes that the various #MeToo movements “have played a role in breaking taboos and providing platforms for women to raise their voices and break the silence that has otherwise been imposed on them.”

Lene Steffen finds this conclusion to be crucial. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in civil society’s room for manoeuvre in the region, and the situation in Egypt and Tunisia is particularly alarming, she says:

“We find ourselves in a situation right now where it is far more difficult to work in these countries than it was just a year and a half ago. However, the report clearly shows that important changes happen because some people keep fighting for many years. It is the long, tough fight that we must support – even when the road gets bumpy.”

KVINFO’s work in MENA is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark through the Danish-Arab Partnership Program.