Stopping Sexual Harassment in Egypt

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Amel Fahmy, co-founder of Harassmap, speaks at EmpoderaLIVE 2015, a meeting of social entrepreneurs whose mission is to promote citizen empowerment in social innovation through information and communications technology. Credit: Fundación Cibervoluntarios

According to the UN Population Fund, Egypt is ranked the second worst country in the world for sexual harassment, after Afghanistan. A study by UN Women found that 99.3 percent of Egyptian girls and women surveyed reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. Women reported feeling unsafe on public transportation or when walking the streets. In June 2014, the Egyptian government passed a law criminalizing sexual harassment, making it punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years and fines between 2,000 and 5,000 Egyptian pounds (USD$249 to $623). However, many rights groups are skeptical that this law will amount to more than mere words on paper, and are calling for stricter enforcement.

 

After experiencing near constant sexual harassment in Cairo, Rebecca Chiao, Engy Ghozlan, Amel Fahmy, and Sawsan Gad cofounded Harassmap, an online and mobile tool to combat sexual harassment. Harassmap crowdsources text messages and online reports of sexual harassment and assault and adds them to an online map. The map shows areas affected by 17 different categories of sexual harassment. The campaign conducts research into social dynamics surrounding sexual harassment and sends volunteers into their own neighborhoods to encourage others to stand up to sexual harassment. Volunteers also recruit local businesses and universities to serve as Safe Area partners, who pledge to enforce a zero tolerance policy on harassment in their establishments.

 

Harassmap celebrated its five-year anniversary this January, and it has grown widely since its inception. Harassmap has inspired and coached 28 other similar initiatives not only in the MENA region, but in the United States, South America, and East Asia as well. The campaign ultimately seeks to eradicate the “social acceptability of sexual harassment” with education and diligent reporting.

 

The organization recently partnered with Uber, the popular private car service, and will provide anti-sexual harassment training to all of its drivers. This could be a big step for Egyptian women, 86.5 percent of whom reported feeling unsafe on public transportation according to the UN Women survey.