News / Middle East

New Website Hopes to Fight Sexual Harassment in Cairo Streets

Screenshot of harassmap.org - a new website designed to help fight sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo
Screenshot of harassmap.org - a new website designed to help fight sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo

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Log on to Harassmap.org and the first thing you see is a map of Cairo.  A series of color-coded dots are plotted on the map - different colors represent different offenses - purple for inappropriate touching, blue for improper shouts, brown for unwanted staring and so on.  

The dots indicate places of sexual harrasment incidents. Harassmap.org, which is expected to be fully functional in December, will allow women to quickly highlight such incidents through text messages or Twitter. Participants will be sent an automatic response offering advice and support. The data will be shared with activists, media and police.  

Rebecca Chiao is the site's co-founder. She told Reuters that the website hopes to raise awareness of the problem in Cairo and change the attitude toward harassment.

Rebecca Chiao
Rebecca Chiao

“What we are trying to do is to put together a project that brings the public back involved in this issue, to make a social change on the ground and in the field of sexual harassment.”

Chiao says that the website wants to draw attention to what she called rampant sexual harassment of women in Cairo. The site's co-founder said she was angry when some religious groups encouraged conservative Muslim dress to discourage rape.

Chiao and her co-workers are also fighting official statements that sexual harassment is not a problem. A bill outlawing the practice has gone to Egypt's parliament, but has yet to come up for a vote. Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak called sexual harassment a problem made up by the media and radical Islamists.  

But according to a 2008 survey of more than one thousand women conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women's rights, 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed. Chiao says she hopes that Harassmap.org will give concrete evidence of a widespread problem in Cairo.

“They'll be able to use the map to prove harassment is actually still a problem and where it's happening and to what extent it's happening.  And we'll also take the areas that appear on the map as problem areas and we'll go to these areas with a team of volunteers to do community outreach.”

Chiao and her colleagues face another challenge - persuading Egyptian women to speak up. Organizers hope women will send text messages or use Twitter every time they are harassed.  The ultimate goal is to move the government and police to do something about the problem.

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