The first of it's kind in Egypt, HarassMap is a volunteer based initiative that seeks to end the normalized phenomena of sexual harassment and violence through research, community mobilization, and crowd-sourced mapping.
HarassMap's mission is to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. We want to change the social norm that right now accepts and tolerates sexual harassment to create a social norm that doesn't accept it. We'd like to make it so we as a society are more watchful and active when we see it happening so that we start intervening when we see sexual harassment happening, be it anything from verbal harassment, physical harassment, phone harassment, stalking, to following or any form of indecent exposure to more violent assaults or mob assaults.
The Idea Behind HarassMap:
Sexual harassment and assault is a social epidemic in Egypt. We as a society don't see this as a crime anymore, which we used to in the past. We don't see that there's anything wrong and always place the blame on the victim. Most of the time its a woman and there is a lot of shame associated with being harassed. We also tend to justify and make excuses for harassers. The harasser is an individual human being who takes decision to do or takes decision not to do it and it has nothing to do with thoughts or the way some one is walking or the way someone is looking yet this is the mindset that is creating this kind of very passive behavior where we're completely ignoring sexual harassment and then of course in cases of mob assault for example, a lot of the time people - instead of trying to stop whats happening, they join in or passively watch it.
HarassMap was launched at the end of 2010 by four co-founders, some volunteers and tech partners who were working on the map and the reporting system. It was born out of the shock at the prevelance of daily harassment. For a long time sexual harassment has been very taboo, many people wouldn't talk about it. Even established women's NGO didn't want to work on this issue because it was too taboo and too sensitive. Our founder worked together with volunteers to launch a small program to work on this issue. They distributed surveys to figure out how widespread this problem was. A couple of years later, there was media buzz about assaults that happened during a public holiday. They managed to get media to start covering this because until then media did not cover this issue. A small movement began from women's rights NGOs and government but most of the activity was focused on the law and advocacy. But as soon as the media attention died down, the government attention died down. It was quickly realized that an approach thats only focused on media attention and advocacy for a new a law and institutional action will not go anywhere - work would have to be doneon the community level because its a societal problem.
The HarassMap Model:
We have a lot of different activities that we've been doing for the last 3 years to achieve our mission. We have volunteers in 17 governorates all over Egypt who go out in teams. First they are trained by us and their team leaders about how to talk about sexual harassment and how to talk about HarassMap and what are the underlying issues. People with semi permanent presence on the streets are targeted - people who sell things, who wash or watch cars, or have a small shop or cafe. These are people who spend a lot of time on the street and who also have to the power to create the atmosphere of that street. We talk to them and tell them this is an issue, we want to come together and partner with them somehow to address it and we ask them to be watchful, to intervene when sexual harassment happens to make their area, however big it is, a non-tolerance zone. They will intervene and say this is not acceptable and take whatever measures that the situation demands to help the person who is being harassed and also give some kind of social if not legal consequences to the harasser. Currently, these social consequences don't exist and legal consequences generally also don't exist. We want to approach a lot of people in different areas so that at some point we'll have so many different areas and neighborhoods, the trend and the norm some how changes. Instead of being passive and joining in with the harassment, people are taking action and this is based on the theory that when you reach a certain percentage of people doing that the rest of the people will follow because this is how we are as human beings.
We also have a reporting system online and an SMS reporting system so people who have been harassed and people who witness sexual harassment can report it to us and the reports are visualized on our online map. we also use the report and information when we go out on the streets and talk to people because there is a lot of stereotypes and myths that people have and we use the reports and information to counter these stereotypes
In theory the reporting system should be accessible for everyone because its not only online but also SMS. Most people have a phone if not two. When we launched in 2010, the mobile penetration was 97% in Egypt and now its even more.
By December 2013 we had approximately 1,500 reports in total. The majority of our reports come online not from SMS. initially when we launched we had more SMS reports but over the years it has shifted towards online reports.
Before HarassMap was launched no one wanted to talk about this issue, no one was working on this issue, no women's rights NGOs or other organizations were working on this. Now there are so many. HarassMap was the first independent initiative working on this and now there are probably a dozen independent initiatives and more established women's rights NGOs are working on these issues and there is a lot of activism happening. There are a lot of people wanting to do something about it. When we launched we were over run with people who wanted to volunteer and we are constantly getting volunteer requests than we know what to do with, we don't have the capacity to handle them and get them all into the work. This is a good sign that people are fed up and they also realize that we can actually do something about it and i have the right to speak up about this issue - men and women.
It's difficult to measure our impact in terms of going out and telling people to start standing up to sexual harassment because you can't really check people afterwards. its difficult to follow up even though we try to do this as much as possible. We rely on a lot on anecdotes or stories to tell us. For example, in one area where we had been going a lot talking to people, we get stories back from them that people are helping and are standing up against harassment. This makes a big difference to us because this is what we want - we want people to take action when they see it happening. Even if its one person, it really makes a difference.
We have two different types of challenges. One challenge would be the environment that we're working in, the NGO law is very restrictive and can be difficult at times to get around. As an NGO in Egypt you have to get permission for a lot of things before you can do any activity and permission can take a long time. So it can delay the work. Our biggest challenge is capacity and specific knowledge. We're always struggling because we don't have the technical expertise to deal with our reporting system or deal with any problems that we have with our map or website. It's specific knowledge that we don't really have here so we're always relying on volunteers from abroad and they of course don't always have time and it's unreliable, so this is slowing down or work significantly.
How does HarassMap make women count?
HarassMap doesn't work specifically with women - most people who get harassed are women, no question about it. Our idea is that we will make a change in women's lives and make things better by engaging men AND women to do something very simple which is just to stand up and say that this is not acceptable.
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