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EGYPT: Activists plan online map to track sexual harassment

November 10, 2010 |  7:39 am

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Egypt has earned notoriety for being one of the worst countries in the Middle East when it comes to sexual harassment, and women's rights groups have previously described the harassment on the street as Egypt's "cancer."

What to do? A group of activists has decided to fight the leering and groping with a new private venture that, beginning in the near future, will use open-source mapping technology to identify harassment hot spots in Cairo and allow women to instantly report incidents of sexual abuse through text messaging and on social media sites.

It's called HarassMap and will reportedly run off the open-source software platform Ushahidi, which was first used to report violence in Kenya in 2008. 

HarassMap co-founder Engy Ghozlan told Babylon & Beyond that the venture is being launched to tackle sexual harassment and raise more awareness about the problem.

"The idea came from a group of volunteers," she said. "There is not much going on the sexual-harassment issue. We want to bring back the momentum ... so that they don't forget that sexual harassment is still an issue." 

_44844998_egypt226 In 2008, a report by the Cairo-based Egyptian Center for Women's Rights offered some shocking statistics on sexual harassment in the country. It said that no less than 83% of the women responding to a survey claimed that they had been subject to harassment in the streets, including slurs and groping. The study also found that observing an Islamic dress code or avoiding revealing clothing were not a deterrent for harassers.

Activist groups started to push for a law banning sexual harassment, and some members of the Egyptian parliament have reportedly backed bills that would prohibit it, leading some to believe that Egypt is moving closer to pass legislation to clamp down on harassers.

When in operation, HarassMap will allow women -- and men -- who have been subject to harassment to anonymously send a text message describing the incident and when and where it took place to a hot-line number through mobile phones. Reports can also be filed via e-mail or on Twitter, according to Ghozlan.

The information will then be published on HarassMap's public website, displaying the harassment location and details about the incident provided by the victim on a user-generated digital map of Cairo. The data will be shared with the media and the police. Reports will be compiled into a comprehensive map that will show the most common harassment spots in Cairo and places in the city where it might be dangerous for women to walk alone.

Those filing the sexual-harassment reports will receive a reply with contact information from support groups, general safety tips and advice on how to deal with street harassment and file police reports, among other things.

Ghozlan says that HarassMap is currently run on a volunteer basis while seeking funds and that it has the potential to reach about 55 million mobile phone users in Egypt -- a number that could increase by about 10% each year, according to HarassMap's statistics.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Cairo

Upper photo: A snapshot of HarassMap's website. Credit: HarassMap

Lower photo: Egyptian women's rights groups have described sexual harassment in Egypt as a "social cancer," and reports say that women are targets for harassers whether they are conservatively dressed or not. Credit: Getty Images 

 

 

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