Safer with just one clickMapping harassment in Egypt
Founded 4 years ago, HarassMap was designed to fight the sexual harassment malaise in Egypt. But did HarassMap actually help the women affected? Read More
Would you have thought that Egypt ranks just below Afghanistan in the number of reported cases of sexual harassment? But it does: The 2012 Egyptian Women Status report even characterised Egypt as the worst Arab country for women to live in.
The facts are disturbing: During the second Egyptian uprising of 2013 against former President Mohamed Morsi, in just the four days preceding the military’s takeover, Human Rights Watch counted about 100 incidents of sexual harassment in the country. The Egyptian Women Status report of the same year highlighted the rising number of cases of assault against women, including domestic violence and sexual harassment. It revealed that sexual harassment has been systematically used against female activists and demonstrators as a deterrent to keep women off the streets and silence their demands.
“Sexual harassment has been systematically used against female activists and demonstrators.”
Amidst this bleak picture for women in the most populous Arab country, a number of youth-led initiatives – I won't shut-up on harassment, I saw harassment, Imprint Movement, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, Tahrir Bodyguard, Against Harassment, Expose Harassers, to name some examples – started fighting back against this perturbing dilemma, mainly through social media conduits.
HarassMap is at the forefront of such technologically empowered initiatives. It crowdsources SMSs and online reports of sexual harassment and maps them online. The map illustrates the scale of the problem and is also intended to dispel myths and excuses, such as “how women dress” or “sexual frustration” offered as justification for harassment.
Founded in 2010, HarassMap has already expanded to 18 governorates and is supported by 1,000 volunteers of both genders. These volunteers talk to doormen, shopkeepers, and kiosk owners in their neighbourhoods and encourage them to collectively combat this epidemic. According to Noora Flinkman, the initiative’s head of Marketing & Communications Unit, HarassMap also works with schools and universities on putting a stop to sexual harassment.
What’s wrong with Egypt?
Hani Morsi of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex believes that a huge transformation caused by the information revolution has shaken Egyptian society in the past decade: “Egyptian men who have access to the internet, satellite TV and other technological conduits, have a false perception and a distorted interpretation of freedom and basic rights. An Egyptian male teenager believes that it’s acceptable to show off his virility by harassing women in any way, shape or form, as this grants him a stamp of manhood from his peers, and sadly, from society.”
The Egyptian public, in the majority of instances, blame the harassed before the harasser. The International Federation for Human Rights’ report on sexual harassment in Egypt indicates that the women who experience sexual harassment are often reprimanded for their appearance, including their attire, and also stigmatized and shamed by their families and acquaintances.
So what has HarassMap done about it?
HarassMap is endeavouring to change this recently entrenched passivity in Egyptian society. “What HarassMap has been doing in the past four years,” Morsi explains, “is bringing the sexual harassment discussion to the forefront. Removing the veneer of shame and stigmatization of the victims of sexual harassment has empowered many women to speak up.”
Yet many Egyptian women are still afraid to confront this social malaise. After interviewing seven Egyptian women from 4 governorates, we noted that while they were aware of HarassMap, their willingness to voice their dismay about sexual harassment was still affected by society’s negative perceptions.
“Many Egyptian women are still afraid.”
“No matter what I put on, I am sexually harassed in my hometown of Alexandria on a daily basis,” sighs a 35-year-old lady. The veiled woman, who works at an accounting firm and is rearing a small family of 2 children, believes that the streets are currently an unsafe place for any woman regardless of her age, appearance or nationality. “I am ogled and have to listen to unsavoury remarks and sexual innuendos every time I walk in the street whether accompanied by my husband and children, whether in the morning, afternoon or at night.”
“Many Egyptian women are afraid to disclose their negative experiences on the streets and public transport,” extrapolates Flinkman in an interview with Tea after Twelve. “But others are not anymore. And through HarassMap, they have a venue for sharing their ordeals with the entire world while pinpointing the location, date and time of the unfortunate incident on our map.”
Tainting the country’s reputation
Over the past summer, various approaches were taken by the incumbent Egyptian government in its efforts to address the issue that has tainted the country’s reputation. The President of the Republic directed his cabinet to pass firm measures for combating the troublesome phenomenon. Other sectors of Egyptian society that have seen their interests sullied by the predicament have coordinated their efforts in order to find a quick and lasting remedy.
“The prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) must be addressed as a collective activity over a period of time in order for it to disappear from Egypt,” Morsi notes. “The stylish gated communities and the stricken shanty towns need to be equally involved in combating sexual harassment, though with tailored rhetoric and the appropriate tangible tools. While HarassMap is popular among the rich, educated and smartphone toting Egyptians, it is still a foreign word for the vast majority of Egyptians.”
“We want to raise awareness not only in the posh suburbs of Cairo and Alexandria,” Flinkman states, “but also in the poor and underprivileged rural areas. We want to expand our reach to all Egyptians, regardless of their level of education, background, access to new media, or gender.”
“HarassMap wants to be a tool for all Egyptians for preventing sexual harassment once and for all, and making our society a safer place. I hope that there won’t be one case of sexual harassment in our society by 2020. Till then, we have more work to do.”
“While HarassMap is popular among the rich, educated and smartphone toting Egyptians, it is still a foreign word for the vast majority of Egyptians.”