If you’ve ever been to Cairo, you’ll know that, as a woman, walking down the streets of the city, the chances that you’ll get harassed are sadly pretty high. I actually cringe writing that and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to acknowledge it publicly. Whether it’s because as Middle Eastern women, we’ve been conditioned not to talk about it, or because it tarnishes the country’s image, I can’t tell. But that way of thinking is probably part of the inspiration behind the relatively new Cairo-based initiative, HarassMap.
We spoke with one of the co-founders, Engy Ghozlan, to get a better idea of where the concept came from, and where the site is headed.
Harassmap soft-launched in November 2010, after a year and half’s worth of work preparing the site, with the daunting task of spreading awareness when it comes to sexual harassment in Egypt. The site works on a very simple premise – whenever you’re harassed, report the incident.
There are several ways you can report harassment incidents through HarassMap. You can SMS your report immediately to the Egyptian mobile number provided on the site, or you can submit your report using the online form on the website itself. You can also email HarassMap the report directly, or if you can sum it up in 140 characters, tweet it accompanied by the hashtag #Harassmap. While they do receive SMS reports, Engy explains that most of their reports come through Twitter and on the website itself. The very act of reporting the incident through Twitter can also lead to reaching an even wider audience, and is yet another way in which we can raise public awareness through social media.
The very act of reporting the incident is the first step in awareness, as Engy explains. “The main idea is to provide women with a platform where they can speak up, share their thoughts and experiences.” But it doesn’t end there, they plan to take that information offline, using the website as a springboard for community outreach programs with over 300 volunteers who visit the areas with a high volume of harassment reports and speak to neighbourhood residents and shop owners. “We hope that maybe one day in the future, the information we receive can be useful if police decide to take action towards harassers,” Engy added.
HarassMap is a grassroots effort in every sense of the word. With the use of the website and SMS reports, it attempts to breed awareness in regards to an extremely sensitive topic. Egypt isn’t the only country that is in need of a similar initiative. “We have received requests from Lebanon, Yemen, Brazil, UAE, India, and many other countries to start HarassMap, and we are coming up with a globalization package to help other countries take the same steps towards facing sexual harassment.”
There is also more in store for HarassMap itself in the coming days, with plans for a hotline number and a voicemail system to facilitate reporting sexual harassment incidents, as well as working on an initiative to change the legislation in regards to sexual harassment.
HarassMap is available in three languages, Arabic, English and French, and all of the information that is submitted to the site can be publicly viewed by anyone. That alone is an essential part to the site’s initiative. Looking at the number of reports received in various areas can be a rude awakening, and also a reminder, for a woman, that you’re not alone.