In recent years, sexual harassment in Egypt has become a major concern. According to a UN report, sexual harassment is so common that people have become accustomed to such occurrences, and those witnessing harassment rarely act to prevent it. Social acceptance of such behavior contributes to the escalation of sexual violence and gang rapes.
The volunteers at HarassMap are dedicated to addressing the root causes of this problem by changing the perception and behavior of Egyptians so that they no longer tolerate harassers or blame victims. HarassMap is built upon the core belief that engaging with the public is critical to combating sexual harassment in Egypt, because advocacy for stricter laws and adherence to international standards are not enough. In raising awareness around the issue of violence against women, experience around the world in numerous and differing contexts has shown that the behavior of perpetrators is not only tolerated, but that it is excused and victims are often blamed. In Egypt, sexual harassment has been dealt with in a similar manner. When confronted with such violence the average observer tends to excuse the behavior of harassers (e.g., he can’t help it, the harassed tempted the harasser by how she/he dressed or something she/he is doing, men can’t afford to get married, boys will be boys, etc.), while the women are shamed into silence or receive threats to themselves or their families for speaking up. By engaging with the public and fostering good traditional community sense, HarassMap volunteers seek to encourage people to feel some responsibility for those around them and create social consequences for those who harass.
A Diverse Approach with a Broad Reach
With volunteer teams in 22 governorates across Egypt, HarassMap combines a myriad of approaches in an effort to change the atmosphere in the streets. They have created a system that enables public reporting of sexual harassment incidents via crowdsourcing, an online reporting system used to gather information from a wide group of people. Once the report is validated, the time and location of the incident is included on an Ushahidi map, creating an invaluable resource that identifies hotspots for sexual harassment and demonstrates the frequency with which such incidents occur.
Invaluable Research Can Change Perception
HarassMap conducts research to evaluate the effectiveness of crowdsourcing as a method of data collection. Because these incidents are highly personal and include detailed information, such as where, when, to whom, and by whom, they have found that the anonymous aspect of crowdsourced information allows for more candid and complete disclosure. Armed with crucial details of actual events, HarassMap can be used to negate stereotypes about sexual harassment (e.g., that women are harassed because of their style of dress, or that veiled women don’t get harassed) and motivate people to take a stand against it. In August 2014, HarassMap released “Towards a Safer City- Sexual Harassment in Greater Cairo: Effectiveness of Crowdsourced Data”, which analyzes the benefits of using different technologies to record incidents of sexual harassment. Their research efforts also include monitoring and analyzing media coverage of sexual harassment in Egypt, the results of which are used in their own media campaigns, and the publication of an annual report (this year’s report will cover 2013 and 2014).
Empowering the Community
HarassMap also utilizes innovative community outreach efforts. “Neighborhood Outreach Campaigns/ Days” involves a nationwide effort to send over 1000 volunteers to the streets to raise awareness, dispel myths and encourage bystanders to stand up against sexual harassment. Using evidence from their reports, the volunteers directly engage citizens on the issue of sexual harassment, answering any questions they have and educating them on why it affects Egyptian society as a whole. This approach is used to mobilize regular citizens to become positive role models and advocates for the cause. Drawing from lessons learned during their community mobilization work, HarassMap has launched several public campaigns in which they use research to contradict myths about harassment that are perpetuated in the media. To combat popular stereotypes used to blame victims, they fight back with statistics. “80% of women who were harassed were wearing hijab” and “39% of the harassers in 2012 were below the age of puberty” are points impossible to ignore and make for an impactful message. The campaigns are launched using social media, print, and community outreach.
By fostering a community-based approach, HarassMap targets the source of the perpetuation of sexual harassment. Efforts to amend the current legal framework must be coupled with a change in the perceptions of Egyptian citizens so that they view sexual harassment as socially unacceptable and proactively discourage any such action.
 HarassMap Frequently Asked Questions, http://harassmap.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/HarassMap-FAQs.pdf.