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In Cairo, an effort to put sexual harassment on the map – via Twitter and text

HarassMap, a website devoted to publishing reports of Cairo's endemic sexual harassment, debuts next month. Women can report abuse via Twitter, text message, e-mail, or Facebook.

By Correspondent / November 23, 2010

An Egyptian girl is watched by soldiers securing the site of Cairo New court, in this April 28 file photo. It's a problem nearly every woman in the Egyptian capital has experienced, leering, whistles, groping or other sexual harassment on Cairo's thoroughfares and backalleys.

Amr Nabil/AP/File



Women walking the streets of Cairo have long endured pervasive sexual harassment, with little support. But now a group of independent volunteers is introducing a web-based project to help women fight back against the abuse that often leaves them feeling powerless.

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Next month the group will launch HarassMap, a website devoted to collecting and publishing reports of Cairo's endemic sexual harassment. Its creators, who have already debuted the website for pilot testing, don’t claim it will solve the issue. But they hope that by raising awareness the project will help turn the tide of abuse that affects nearly every woman who lives in Egypt.

“Our goal with HarassMap is to change the social acceptability of harassment,” says Rebecca Chiao, one of the project’s founders.

That’s a lofty goal in Egypt, where a 2008 survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights revealed that 62 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Eighty-three percent of Egyptian women surveyed, and 98 percent of foreign women, said they had experienced harassment.

The abuse, which takes place regardless of what a woman is wearing, ranges from catcalls, stares, and comments on the street to molesting, groping, indecent exposure, and assault.

Women can Twitter, text, or e-mail abuse

The website, built with the Ushahidi open-source mapping software first used to report postelection violence in Kenya in 2008 and being implemented ahead of Egypt's Nov. 28 elections, will allow women to send reports by text message, Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail when they are harassed.

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They report the location and type of abuse, and the reports then show up on a map of Egypt. Women who send in reports will receive a message back with information on support services and how to file a police report.

Getting shop owners involved

The organizers plan to use the map to identify harassment hot spots, and then conduct community outreach in those areas, talking with community figures to discuss ways to prevent the harassment. The map will give them a way to prove that harassment is a problem that needs to be addressed in a country where many have denied it.

“The map is a basic stepping-off point that helps engage everyone and creates a bit of proof. For us it's a tool to engage people on an individual level,” says Ms. Chiao, who has worked on women’s rights issues for a number of years in Egypt. “The only way it's going to change is if we take some ownership, so we're targeting shop owners especially because they're a presence in the neighborhood. We’ll tell them when they see harassment, to speak up.”


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