HarassMap is an award winning volunteer-based initiative founded in late 2010. It is based on the idea that if more people start taking action when sexual harassment happens in their presence, we can end this epidemic.
To engage all of Egyptian society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment.
We work to achieve our mission by convincing bystanders and institutions to stand up to sexual harassment before or when they see it happen. This way, by taking a collective stand against sexual harassment, we as a society can create social and legal consequences that discourage harassing behaviour and seriously reduce it.
To build a society that guarantees the safety of all people from sexual and gender based violence.
We work to achieve our mission to engage all of Egyptian society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment by convincing bystanders to stand up to sexual harassment before or when they see it happen. This way, by taking a collective stand against sexual harassment, we as a society can create social and legal consequences that discourage harassing behavior and seriously reduce it.
To do this, we use an integrated approach that combines an online and mobile reporting system, research, communications campaigns, and on-the-ground mobilization effort in governorates across Egypt. This is our model:
We crowdsource SMS and online reports of sexual harassment and assault and map them on our online ‘Map.’ We use these reports to show people the scale of this epidemic and analyze them to identify trends, which dispel myths about, and excuses for, sexual harassment – like that ‘how women dress’ or ‘sexual frustration’ are reasons and excuses for sexual harassment and/or assault.
We collect reports by SMS (6096) or online (website, Facebook, Twitter), and each report appears on the map as a red dot. When clicked, each dot shows a more detailed description of the harassment incident. We respond to each report with instructions on how to access free services for the harassed, how to make a police report, access legal aid, psychological counseling, self-defense classes, etc.
The map was first conceived of as a tool for the harassed/assaulted and witnesses all over Egypt to break the silence on sexual harassment and to anonymously report it. We learned along the way that these reports are important for documenting and proving that sexual harassment is a serious problem affecting everyone all over Egypt. The reports provide clear evidence that help us break stereotypes about when, how and to whom harassment happens. We use this evidence to create insightful campaigns against sexual harassment, and in our community mobilization work when volunteers talk to people on the streets about sexual harassment and convince them take action against it by not staying silent but speaking up when they see it happening.
Our community mobilization team is working with individuals and institutions all around Egypt to encourage them to stand up to sexual harassment. By building on the years long experience of our neighborhood outreach volunteer teams, sexual harassment reports to our map, and material from our campaigns, we create informational and educational material and provide customized workshops to support the public to respond to the excuses people make for harassers and to create zero-tolerance to sexual harassment attitudes and behaviors.
This way, we are working together with community partners to convince individuals and institutions to not allow sexual harassment to happen with impunity and to change the atmosphere in their own neighborhoods to a safe and positive environment.
The reports are an important part of our community mobilization work. They show that sexual harassment really happens everywhere, and people are often shocked and moved when they read the details of a real report, and this often proves effective in convincing them to take action against it. One by one, we’re working with residents, businesses, drivers, workers, students, and the academic community all over the country to restore our sense of social responsibility and create zero tolerance for sexual harassment in Egypt.
The idea of community mobilization is to empower individuals and institutions from all parts of society to serve as mobilizers and positive role models in their own circles, encouraging the entire community to stop accepting sexual harassment. This approach is based on the idea that when a big enough number of people stop ignoring sexual harassment and start standing up to it, we will reach a point where the culture of accepting sexual harassment/assault on our streets will change.
Safe Schools and Universities launched in December 2013 and the team works to ensure that schools and universities are places where sexual harassment is not tolerated and where cases of sexual harassment are appropriately dealt with. We provide an anti-sexual harassment policy template that universities and schools can adopt, and we are happy that Cairo University already adopted it in fall semester 2014. The policy provides guidance on how to set up appropriate reporting mechanisms and clear actions to be taken following an incident.
We work with the university administration and with students, teachers, professors and other staff at the school and/or university. The project team trains students (captains) and administration/professors to prepare them to conduct awareness activities and workshops at their institutions and to lobby for the adoption and implementation of a policy. The captains also recruit volunteers at their university and receive support from our core team in order to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment occurring within the university.
Our Safe Areas model aims to create safer streets and neighborhoods one space at a time. The idea is to partner with small businesses, cafes, restaurants, kiosks and taxi drivers and support them to adopt zero-tolerance policies against sexual harassment. By working with people who have a fixed location and already interact with the street and everyday life, we believe we can make durable changes to streets and neighborhoods, whereby our partners become role models demonstrating to their peers and customers that it is possible to make harassment-free zones in Egypt. The idea is that such examples become contagious, and that all businesses and social spaces recognize that it is in their best interest and the interests of all of us to take simple, clear steps to prevent sexual harassment and provide assistance to those who have been sexually harassed.
Through our Safe Corporates project we partner with medium to large size businesses to transform workplaces in Egypt into zero tolerance to sexual harassment “Safe Corporates”. We believe that our business partners will become role models and lead other Egyptian and multi-national corporates to join a nationwide movement for positive action against sexual harassment.
Each Safe Corporate partner is trained and equipped to apply and implement a anti-sexual harassment policy to prevent, and effectively respond to, sexual harassment incidents within its premises. The idea is that it is in the best interest of all of us, business interests included, to take simple but clear steps to prevent sexual harassment and provide assistance to those who have experienced it.
We analyze all the reports that we receive and this provides important insight to our communication campaigns and our on-the-ground community mobilization work.
We collect reports (research data) by using crowdsourcing as a data collection method. This means that we gather information (reports) from a large group of people (a ‘crowd’) by using online technology (our reporting options SMS 6069, on our website, facebook, and twitter). Because the reports are anonymous, they include a lot of detailed information about sexual harassment – how, where, and when it happens, to who and by who. We use this information to break stereotypes about sexual harassment and to rouse people to stand up to it. For example, we have received reports of men and women as both harassers and harassed, children as harassers, about geographic and class spread, and noticed no clear trends for who gets harassed.
We have learned many things from analyzing the reports that we would not have learned by using more traditional data collection methods and in June 2014 we published our 2-year study on evaluating crowdsourcing as a method for data collection and research on sensitive issues such as sexual harassment.
Our mission, to work with all of society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment, is all about changing behaviors regarding sexual harassment. To get harassers to stop harassing, all of society needs to stop tolerating and excusing their behavior. A key element to this is changing the perceptions that create and reinforce a culture of blaming the harassed/assaulted, excusing the harasser, and accepting sexual harassment and assault and even thinking that it is ‘cool’.
We use our reports, information from our research, and experiences from our community mobilization work to create insightful communications campaigns that work to challenge and transform these perceptions. These campaigns – via social media, mass media, guerrilla marketing, pop culture and events – support our on-the-ground work. Our volunteers also use campaign material when convincing people in the streets to start standing up to sexual harassment and assault.
We also work hard to steer the discourse in the media away from blaming the harassed and/or assaulted and away from unproductive stereotyping, and towards a facts-based positive discussion of what needs to be done to end this epidemic.
Soon after HarassMap launched, we started receiving messages from individual activists, NGOs, and networks of NGOs from all over the world that heard about our work and were inspired to start a HarassMap in their country. Although our priority remains Egypt, we felt that we had received so much advice, help and support when we were launching, that we couldn’t turn down others. We therefore give coaching and technical assistance to help them plan and implement their own version of HarassMap. HarassMap inspired projects now exist in Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria, India and Algeria. Initiatives in Libya, Turkey, South Africa, US, Canada, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Cambodia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Kenya, Sudan, UK, and a cross-national group from South America are currently also working to set up their version of HarassMap. To date, we have coached activists from at least 28 countries.
By social acceptability, we mean that today, sexual harassment has become accepted. It is considered normal and excuses are made for harassers (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.). The harassed are shamed into silence by blame, or threats to her/his reputation or safety. The laws that could have been used to combat sexual harassment are not properly or consistently implemented, and no social consequences exist anymore. Sexual harassment is not seen as wrong or as the crime that it actually is. As a result, harassers act freely, at all times and everywhere, and bystanders do not intervene. Instead, they either turn a blind eye and let it happen in front of them, or join in the harassment. The lack of shame associated with harassing these days and the parallel blame being assigned to the harassed not only perpetuates and normalizes the problem, but it has even made sexual harassment ‘trendy’, ‘funny’, ‘manly’ and ‘cool.’
This social acceptability comes from both men and women, and even from police who, in theory, are supposed to be enforcing Egypt’s existing laws regarding sexual harassment. However, for the most part they are just products of the same society that blames the harassed and sympathizes with the harasser. Therefore they often do not take people who want to file a report seriously, and sexual harassment by the police themselves is not unknown.
Read more about social acceptability under “How did the idea of HarassMap come about and why was it was created?”
We work to engage all of Egyptian society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment. We believe that this is the most effective way in the current context to address this epidemic. Without society – individuals like you and me – believing that sexual harassment is unacceptable and a crime, people who see or hear sexual harassment happen will not do anything to stop it, laws (current or future improvements) will not be enforced, and harassers will continue to harass with impunity.
We work to make sexual harassment socially unacceptable by convincing bystanders – anyone who witnesses or hears sexual harassment – to step up and change the atmosphere in the streets, other public places, and social circles, that tolerates this behavior. We believe that we all have the power to speak up and make it clear that we will not accept sexual harassment, and that if someone does harass someone else in our presence, we can stand up, intervene, and deter harassers, and at the same time encourage other bystanders to do the same. Bystanders often intervene in the case of other crimes, stealing for example, and HarassMap works to extend this community resistance and intervention to sexual harassment.
By re-establishing social consequences for sexual harassment – shaming harassing behavior and making role models of people who stand up to it – we believe that harassers can be discouraged from harassing again (or as often, or as publicly, or without shame, etc.). Not so long ago, this was the norm in Egyptian society and Egyptians were proud of the safety and respect in our neighborhoods. We all remember stories of bystanders standing up to harassers, chasing them and shaving their heads as a mark of shame. Although we don’t believe in the use of violence, we believe we can restore the values of safety and respect in our streets and dealings with each other.
Our approach involves both digital and on-the-ground strategies and tactics. Digitally, the harassed/assaulted and witnesses to sexual harassment/assault crimes can break the silence on sexual harassment and anonymously report harassment to our map through a form on our website, by email ([email protected]), on social media, or by SMS (6096).
On the ground, community mobilization and Safe Schools and Universities volunteers work with individuals, organisations, or universities to raise awareness among people about sexual harassment, answer questions, and to convince them to not tolerate it when they see or hear it happen. We use the data we collect from our reporting system to help convince people to acknowledge the problem, take it seriously, break stereotypes that lead to inaction and ignorance, and mobilize them to serve as defenders against sexual harassment.
Enthusiastic small businesses and others we talk to can choose become our Safe Areas or Safe Corporates partners by committing, through trainings and an an anti-sexual harassment policy, to make their space a zero-tolerance to sexual harassment area. This way they can become role models in the community and encourage others to stand up to sexual harassment too. As more and more people and institutions decide that they will not accept sexual harassment in their area, sexual harassment will become more and more difficult to get away with without consequences and this in turn will deter other harassers from harassing.
A key element to drive this change is challenging the perceptions that create and reinforce a culture of blaming the harassed/assaulted, excusing the harasser, and accepting sexual harassment and assault and even thinking that it is ‘cool’. We also use our reports, information from research, and experiences from our on the ground work to create communication campaigns that work online and offline to challenge and transform these perceptions and to mobilize bystanders to take positive action and stand up to sexual harassment.
We have a very diverse team of volunteers with a range of backgrounds and experiences. It includes some of the first people to organize campaigns and protests against sexual harassment, conduct research, and raise awareness and initiate dialogue on the issue in Egypt since 2005. It also includes people with practical, professional, and academic experience in youth and rights education, gender and women’s rights, research, advertising, law, marketing and management.
HarassMap was launched in December 2010 by a founding group of four women together with tech partners, advisers, and volunteers. We were all overwhelmed by the sexual harassment and assaults that we, and almost everyone we knew, were exposed to on a daily basis. None of us really wanted to start a new initiative, but at the same time, we felt that we could not continue to stand by and quietly tolerate the damaging effect sexual harassment was having on our daily lives, choices, and feelings of safety and pride in this country.
Most of us had been working on the issue of sexual harassment for several years at that point. One of us had started the first program against sexual harassment in 2005 while working at a women’s rights NGO in Cairo and realizing how badly volunteers were being harassed while commuting to and from the office. Sexual harassment was a very sensitive and silenced issue at the time but by starting to talk to others about it, we and the volunteers realized that this was not an isolated issue, but a problem that was affecting everyone.
We had learned from past experience how effective a public-based approach was in producing progress on the issue – generating not only a mass public dialogue but also pushing the National Council for Women and several MPs to draft new laws, inspiring a first successful court case, and encouraging all the women’s NGOs who had previously been reluctant to take on this issue to form an 18 member NGO Task Force on Sexual Harassment.
Despite this, most NGOs prior to HarassMap lost interest in engaging the public and instead started to focus only on advocacy for a new law, and the progress that had been made to break the silence and start addressing the issue slowed down to almost a standstill in 2008 and 2009.
In 2009 a volunteer introduced our co-founders to Frontline SMS and Ushahidi, which is free software that can be linked together to make an anonymous reporting and mapping system that uses mobile phones and social media. Since about 97% of Egyptians then – half of whom are women – owned a mobile phone, this technology seemed like an opportunity to re-engage the public in this issue. It took a year to develop our model and we analyzed the situation and crafted an approach to target the areas we felt were not being addressed by the advocacy focused NGO programs that were already active at the time.
We wanted to be sure that HarassMap would never be “just a map” but would have a strong community-based component that could make a strong impact on the ground. From our experience working in the issue, we saw that one of the main challenges to tackle had to be bystanders. In Egypt, there are always people in the street – shopkeepers, doormen, police, people parking cars and drinking tea and socializing. In the past, these were the people who would protect the neighborhood and anyone caught harassing a woman would be chased down and his head shaved as a mark of shame. Today, bystanders react this way when there is a thief. Everyone comes to help and no one blames the victim. When it comes to sexual harassment and assault on the other hand, they pretend they don’t see, or they sympathize with the harasser and tell the harassed that she/he is to blame, or in the worst cases, they join in the harassment.
In this environment, it was our opinion that advocacy for a new law on sexual harassment could not stand alone in a context in which existing laws are not enforced because sexual harassment is not seen as a crime, or even as something wrong. So we decided to tackle what we believe is the source of non-enforcement – social acceptability.
Based on these beliefs, we have crafted our approach to target the gaps we feel need to be addressed in order to make a real impact.
Read more about our approach and our model:
3. What is HarassMap’s approach to fighting sexual harassment?
4. What does HarassMap do?
8. Have you cooperated with the government or police? Why or why not? What has been their response to your work?
We are open to cooperation with anyone who is working against sexual harassment, and we have been in contact with individual police officers and some government agencies, but despite some actions begin taken over the past years (periodic arrests, a pilot of special sections in police stations, video cameras) our experience shows us that a bottom-up approach to create a zero-tolerance attitude towards sexual harassment has been much more effective than an official, top-down one. Police stations and government buildings are also not exempt from sexual harassment. This is why we are focusing our work on people and communities rather than on government bodies or officials. We believe that political and legislative change in terms of sexual harassment will only come when the issue has become socially unacceptable and people (including government officials and police officers) themselves start treating sexual harassment as the crime that it is.
We respond to each report we receive on the map with instructions on how to access free services from specialized organizations. This includes information about how to file a police report, access free legal aid, obtain psychological counseling, and take self-defense classes.
We also always encourage the person who has been harassed or assaulted to stand up to sexual harassment and to understand his or her rights, through our media and social media campaigning for example. We also respond to questions sent to us about sexual harassment, and provide guidance on how to deal with different situations of harassment. Although the main part of our work is focused on targeting bystanders, i.e. all people who witness sexual harassment happen, as part of our strategy we also create campaigns and partner with initiatives that work to empower the harassed or assaulted. One example of such a partnership is our participation in “IGMADI Did El Ta7arosh” – a series of Zumba Fitness and WenDo Self Defense events that combine physical fitness, body awareness, confidence, and knowledge about sexual harassment and assault to empower women against sexual harassment. However, our focus is to encourage all of society to use their power as bystanders to say no and stand up to sexual harassment.
HarassMap team members and volunteers were part of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH), an initiative that operated in Tahrir Square during massive protests in 2012-2013 to pull women and girls out of mob sexual assaults and take them to safety.
OpAntiSH was a crisis management operation that was born as a response to the increased mob assaults taking place in Tahrir Square in November 2012. The aim of the operation was to secure women/girls who are being assaulted by intervening, pulling them out of the mob, and providing safety and support.
OpAntiSH’s work is extremely important as an immediate emergency measure to fight sexual harassment and assault in Tahrir Square. HarassMap’s day-to-day work, targeting bystanders to intervene and to make sexual harassment and mob assault completely socially unacceptable, is more of a longer-term measure that is focused on addressing some of the reasons for why these mob assaults happen in the first place.
HarassMap believes that these attacks are an extreme symptom of the general social acceptability of sexual harassment, and made possible by, among other things, perceptions about sexual harassment that allow some people to harass, assault, and sometimes rape women and girls without anyone stepping in to stop it – at demonstrations and in everyday life.
Attacks have, at least in the past, been partially triggered by organized mobs but from Opantish’s work in the Square we have seen that most of the time attackers are ‘regular’ people and that bystanders often choose to turn a blind eye or even join in – in one way or another accepting it. Changing perceptions and behavior requires long-term work. This is why we think that the most effective way to stop these kinds of attacks is to make people (bystanders) stop accepting all kinds of sexual harassment, and to make them start intervening to stop it. It is pretty obvious that these attacks, carried out in front of thousands of people, could not take place if bystanders stood up against the attackers.
When we first thought of starting HarassMap, sexual harassment was a huge problem affecting everyone we talked to, but no one wanted to talk about it or admit that it existed, and not even women’s rights NGOs wanted to do something about it. However, right after our launch we received a lot of reports and positive feedback from people who were relieved to find a space to break the silence and talk about the issue.
Today, more and more people who get harassed and/or assaulted choose to speak up about it and share their stories publicly and with family and friends without feeling ashamed. A lot of women are realizing that the harassment that happens to them is not their fault and that it has nothing to do with the clothes they wear. We also know that an increasing number of women are starting to stand up to and respond to harassers, and the number of police reports is also increasing. Between December 2010 and January 2015 we also received 1386 reports of sexual harassment/assault. Some of the women who have been assaulted and/or raped in mob attacks in Tahrir Square have started to come forward to tell their stories, and so have male and female witnesses and volunteers.
We have also started to break some of the stereotypes and myths about sexual harassment and assault that underlie the problem. When we launched and started getting reports, we discovered from the data that most of the myths and stereotypes about the issue was being proven wrong, even stereotypes we ourselves had. Our data (reports and research) and community mobilization work show for example that:
- There is no link to socio-economic background or marital status – harassers are young and old, big business owners and street vendors, married and unmarried. Delayed marriage, one of the most common reasons given for sexual harassment, isn’t really the problem. Poverty or lack of education isn’t either.
- Many harassers are children and have not reached the age of puberty so sexual frustration, another common reason or excuse for sexual harassment, isn’t the problem either.
- The age or dress or actions of the harassed do not matter, and our reports and research show that some women experience getting harassed more after dressing more conservatively.
- Sexual harassment happens at all times of day, even early in the morning.
- Sexual harassment happens everywhere. We have reports of sexual harassment from rural and urban areas all over Egypt, so urbanization and overcrowding is not the reason.
- Men and boys are being sexually harassed.
Step by step we are creating a movement against sexual harassment and assault, in Egypt and beyond. In 2010 when we started we were the first and only independent initiative working on the issue of sexual harassment/assault in Egypt. Today there are dozens of different anti-sexual harassment groups active in and outside Cairo, many of which we have supported and/or coached when they launched. Older organizations and NGOs (such as EIPR, Nazra for Feminist Studies, and El Nadeem Center) have also directed some of their work towards the issue. Sexual harassment is also discussed on much more of a wide scale today in media and activist communities but also among people in general and especially among youth. Our experience shows that not only are young people aware of the problem, but many also know of at least a few initiatives working against sexual harassment (such as HarassMap). We have also coached activists in more than 28 other countries in replicating our model and eight HarassMap-inspired initiatives have already launched to fight sexual harassment in countries around the world (including Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria, India and Algeria).
When we launched in 2010, many people joined us as volunteers and the number of volunteers quickly rose to the hundreds that we have today all over Egypt. More and more people want to join in and we see this as a sign of how an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the problem, are starting to talk about it, and decided that they too want to fight against it.
The message and the materials from our on the ground community mobilization activities to convince bystanders to stop being silent and to start standing up to sexual harassment and assault are reaching thousands. There are many examples of how perceptions and behavior concerning sexual harassment and assault are slowly changing. This is only one example: one microbus driver in Shubra, a Cairo neighborhood where one of our outreach teams have conducted on-the-ground street activities, has made a clear statement that sexual harassment is not acceptable in his vehicle. He has covered his microbus with stickers from our campaign to dispel myths about sexual harassment, and when witnessing sexual harassment on the street he makes a point of stopping his microbus, even if it is in the middle of the road, getting out, and stopping the harasser. Our HarassMap volunteers do just this – make a statement, take positive action against sexual harassment, and inspire others to do the same.
We have also evolved as an initiative. After two years of running HarassMap as volunteers alongside our fulltime jobs, self-funding all of our activities and struggling to accomplish our plans in the evenings and weekends, and during these unstable and unpredictable times, in June 2012 a grant from IDRC for our research project on crowdsourcing allowed us to finally hire a full-time team. This, and other grants, has made it possible for us to become more organized and effective in our work, to establish and run our four units on a full-time basis, and train and coordinate more community mobilization teams all over Egypt.
Anyone who has been harassed and/or has been a witness of sexual harassment/assault can report it to our reporting system by telling us what happened, where, and when. We record all reports anonymously. These are the different ways to report:
- Sending an SMS to 6069
- On the website
- On social media: www.facebook.com/HarassMapEgypt and https://twitter.com/harassmap
All reports are reviewed to confirm that they meet our criteria. This means that we make sure that the report is about sexual harassment and not harassment in general, and that the report is about one or more specific sexual harassment incident(s) and not a general statement about sexual harassment. The report also has to say where and when it happened, and what kind of sexual harassment it was.
Each SMS report gets an automatic reply with information about how to access free services offered by Nazra for Feminist Studies, such as psychological counseling and legal assistance and advice.
The reporting system uses a combination of a pro-bono service provided by TA Telecom Megakheir and Ushahidi, which uses mobile phones, email, a web form and social media to combine the reports with the online map. Each report is mapped and appears on the map as a red dot, which shows the report text when clicked.
All reports are reviewed to confirm that they meet our criteria. This means that we make sure that the report is about sexual harassment and not harassment in general, and that the report is about specific harassment incident(s) and not a general statement about sexual harassment. The report also has to say where and when it happened, and what kind of sexual harassment it was.
Each SMS report also gets a reply with information about how to access free services offered by Nazra for Feminist Studies, such as psychological counseling and legal assistance and advice. We also provide contact information on our website to other organizations/groups that provide free psychological counseling and legal assistance.
The reports are very important. They help break the stereotypes and myths about sexual harassment that give excuses to harassers and blame the person who is being harassed. We use them to create campaigns that bring attention to the serious issue of sexual harassment and to how we can take action against it by becoming active bystanders who stand up to it when we see it happening. We also use the reports to show people and institutions that sexual harassment is in fact a serious problem, and that it happens to people regardless of how they’re dressed, where they are, what time of day it is, or even if they are male or female. So, we document that sexual harassment and assault exists, and we also use the reports to convince more people to stand up to sexual harassment.
Every report is evidence that we use to:
- Build campaigns to change perceptions/mindsets about sexual harassment and convince people to take action against it
- Equip our volunteers with evidence and information that they use when they talk to people to convince them to stand up to sexual harassment
- Conduct new research that we use to prove myths and stereotypes about sexual harassment wrong
- Put an end to stereotypes (about sexual harassment) that blame the harassed and make excuses for the harasser
- Make people understand that sexual harassment is a crime that has serious consequences
Together, these things work to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault. Read more about our approach and how reports are connected to our work:
As of January 2015, we have received about 1386 reports overall (not including reports that didn’t meet our criteria).
Read more about our criteria under “How to report harassment and how does reporting work?”
At the beginning, we focused all of our attention on our on-the-ground community work. Our reporting system was there from the start, but we didn’t emphasize it nearly as much as our offline work in communities. However, as we worked, we learned how essential these reports are to our understanding of the issue and in convincing people in the streets. So we started to encourage people to help us to document this issue by sending reports. Every report helps us and others working on the issue to learn more about the problem so that we can attack it effectively. And every report is published anonymously on our map and website, and also helps our volunteers to demonstrate to bystanders in their community the true scale and facts about the problem.
Sexual harassment in Egypt
Sexual harassment is:
any form of unwelcome words and/or actions of a sexual nature that violate a person’s body, privacy, or feelings and make that person feel uncomfortable, threatened, insecure, scared, disrespected, startled, insulted, intimidated, abused, offended, or objectified.
Sexual harassment can take many different forms and include one or more types at one time:
- Ogling: Staring or looking inappropriately at someone’s body, body parts, and/or eyes.
- Facial expressions: Making any kind of facial expression (licking, winking, opening the mouth) that suggest sexual intentions.
- Catcalls: Whistling, shouting, whispering, and any kind of sexually suggestive sounds/noises.
- Comments: Sexual remarks about someone’s body or clothes or way of walking/behaving/working, telling sexual jokes or stories, suggestions that are sexual or offensive.
- Stalking or following: Following someone, close or at a distance, by foot or in a car, repeatedly or just once, or waiting outside someone’s work/home/car etc.
- Sexual invites: Asking for sex, describing sexual acts or wishes, asking for phone numbers, dinner dates and other suggestions that are implicitly or explicitly sexual in nature.
- Unwanted attention: Interfering with someone’s work or actions by seeking unwelcome contact, asking to socialize, making sexual demands in exchange for work or other benefits, giving gifts that are sexually suggestive, insisting on walking/driving someone home or to work in spite of refusal from the victim.
- Sexual photos: Showing sexual photos or pictures online or offline.
- Online: Repeatedly or occasionally sending unwanted, abusive, or obscene messages, comments, and/or photos and videos via email, instant messaging, on social media, forums, blogs, or online discussion boards.
- Phone calls: Making unwanted phone calls or sending text messages that are sexually suggestive or threatening.
- Touching: Unwanted touching, massaging, pinching, rubbing up against, standing too close, grabbing, groping and any kind of sexual gesture towards someone.
- Indecent exposure: Showing intimate body parts to someone, or masturbating in front of someone or in someone’s presence.
- Threat: Threatening with any form of sexual harassment and/or assault (including rape).
- Mob sexual harassment: Sexual harassment (any of the above categories) committed by large groups of people against one or more individuals.
Sexual harassment is a form of sexual violence. Other forms include:
- Sexual assault: Coerced and/or forced sexual acts such as kissing, undressing etc.
- Rape: Coerced and/or forced oral, anal, or vaginal penetration using body parts or other objects.
- Mob sexual assault/rape: Sexual assault (including rape), committed by large groups of people against one or more individuals.
Read more here.
From our experience we know that sexual harassment happens everywhere and therefore it is not possible to identify specific hotspots. Because we crowdsource reports rather than going out and collecting them, the hotspots on our map show areas that we have received many reports from, but it does not necessarily mean that sexual harassment/assault is more prevalent there compared to any other areas. This only shows that people, for whatever reasons, are more inclined to report it in those areas.
It is also important to note that it is not our objective to identify ‘sexual harassment hotspots’ or warn people against going to specific areas. We believe that we should all be free to choose where we go, when, and how.
But the reports provide important information about the state of sexual harassment in Egypt: where it happens, when, how, and to whom and by whom. Rather than identifying hotspots, we use this information to identify trends that break stereotypes about sexual harassment, counter misperceptions, and to convince people to stand up to it by not staying silent but actually speaking and standing up when they see it happening so that we all can feel safe and comfortable everywhere.
- What is HarassMap’s approach in fighting sexual harassment?
- What does HarassMap do?
There is no typical profile for harassers or harassed. When we started working, we personally had expectations and biases about this. We thought that it was only an urban problem or that only women get harassed and only men harass. These ideas turned out to be wrong.
Our reports and research, and our experiences from community mobilization work, show that harassers are young and old (even children!), married and unmarried, and from all kinds of socio-economic and professional backgrounds. They include police and security personnel, guys in fancy cars as well as fathers with children, elders, sellers on the street, taxi and minibus drivers, etc.
In the same way people who get harassed are young and old, veiled and unveiled, Egyptian and non-Egyptian, married and unmarried, women and men, and they also come from all kinds of socio-economic and professional backgrounds. The dress, age, profession, way of walking, talking, or behaving does not determine whether or not a person is or will be harassed. What determines if harassment happens or not, is that the harasser decides to harass.
The assumption that only certain women get harassed, and that only certain men harass is therefore one of the myths about sexual harassment. Our reports show that this is simply not true. The harasser and/or the harassed cannot be categorized into groups with specific characteristics. Sexual harassment is affecting all members of society, and it is a crime committed by all kinds of people. While most harassers are men, and most harassed are women, it is also important to note that women can also be harassers, and men the harassed.
Read more about common stereotypes about sexual harassment and assault, and how we work to challenge them through these campaigns, or check out our research study for more information about the magnitude for sexual harassment.
In the last decades, sexual harassment has gradually grown into an epidemic in Egypt. We learned from our parents’ generation that sexual harassment (mostly catcalling) happened in the fifties and sixties, but that society was less tolerant back then. Even as recently as in the 90s, people remember that bystanders used to defend their neighborhoods against harassers and help the harassed – a common punishment was shaving the harasser’s head as a mark of shame. Now the situation is totally different, people witness harassment and turn a blind eye, or even defend the harasser or join in.
There is no data that exists on why sexual harassment has become common in Egypt, so everything here is based on our experiences. Our HarassMap data indicates that none of the expected trends seem to apply:
- Our reports and our experiences from talking to people on the streets indicate that there is no link to socio-economic background or marital status so delayed marriage isn’t the problem.
- The age or dress or actions of the harassed don’t seem to matter and our reports and research show that some women experience getting harassed more after dressing more conservatively.
- Sexual harassment happens at all times of day, even early in the morning.
- We have reports from rural and urban areas all over Egypt so urbanization and overcrowding is not the cause.
- Many harassers are children and have not reached the age of puberty so sexual frustration isn’t the main problem either.
Given this information, the only factor that seems to make sense is that sexual harassment is a form of general aggression, power and violence. Many people in Egypt seem to agree that aggression in general has been increasing over the years. In a repressive and hierarchal society like Egypt, people at the top take out their aggressions on the people below. We see it happen all the time in the workplace, if something happens blame gets passed down to the most junior staff even if they have nothing to do with the problem because no one can defend themselves against people in higher positions. Women occupy a lower status in society and are therefore acceptable targets for aggression and violence. This seems to explain why some women get harassed more when they are dressed more conservatively. The attacks take on a sexual nature because women’s sexuality is the most hurtful form of violence here: even when insulting a man, the worst insults are about his mother’s or sister’s sexual organs.
Another factor that has made this trend worse could be society’s denial and silence, which has caused the problem to remain unchallenged and unacknowledged for a long time. The harassed have often been isolated and have not had the possibility to speak up because of the fear of being blamed. At the same time, harassers have been excused and their actions justified (‘they cannot afford to get married, sexual frustration, they can’t help themselves, she provoked him’ etc). When our co-founders started working on the issue in 2005, many men and women insisted that sexual harassment never happened in Egypt, and many people still don’t want to admit the problem. This has allowed the problem to remain under cover and worsen over the years as perpetrators face no consequences and the harassed stay silent out of fear.
Another reason for the problem’s increase could be the government’s passive attitude towards the problem. Although there are laws that criminalize sexual harassment, they are most often not enforced and no one is being held accountable for sexual harassment incidents. In many cases the police officers themselves are the ones who harass. We believe that not enforcing laws against sexual harassment is due to the fact that sexual harassment is socially accepted and tolerated within society. The police do not have adequate training or supervision, and their enforcement of laws depend very much on whether or not the individual police officer believes that sexual harassment is a crime that deserves punishment and that the harasser is the one at fault.
Finally, women are still being blamed and held responsible for the harassment or assault that they experience. Authorities have so far failed to respond to everyday sexual harassment as well as mob assaults in Tahrir Square – no one is being punished, attackers/harassers act with impunity, and the idea that sexual harassment is acceptable and excusable is reinforced. For example, in response to mob assaults in Tahrir around January 25, 2013, members of the Shura council accused women themselves as responsible for the attacks and said that by going to demonstrations, women either ask for it or deserve it. Following the week of horrific mob assaults and rape in Tahrir from June 28, 2013, there has also been no response from authorities or the organizers of the demonstrations. This shows that the issue is often ignored and not taken seriously and the harassed/assaulted are often blamed for the attacks (‘she should not have been there anyway’ etc.).
This is why we focus on changing the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault, mobilizing bystanders and bringing back this Egyptian tradition of not tolerating harassers. We think that harassment will only stop when people, including police, return to our belief that harassment is a crime like any other and that the harasser deserves blame. And even if we have the most perfect law, it will never be enforced until this belief is held.
On a positive note, in the last few years, starting in 2007 and especially after the revolution, we have witnessed a significant change. Sexual harassment has become less taboo, people have started to admit the problem, and there has been a lot of discussion and debate on the issue on both on community and media level. Since 2011 there has also been a flood of activism and volunteering on the issue. When HarassMap started, we were the only informal group of volunteers working against sexual harassment, but now there are many small groups that have started up and are working tirelessly to fight this problem.
Yes, sexual harassment is a crime according to Egyptian law. Harassers can, should, and have been charged based on articles 306 (a) and 306 (b) of the Penal Code. According to the law, verbal, behavioral, phone and online sexual harassment will attract a prison sentence of 6 months – 5 years, and up to LE 50,000 in fines.
Read the full text of the law here.
The sexual harassment offenses are there for us to use. No law, even the best one, is effective unless it is used and implemented well. In the past, laws have not been well enforced, and this has helped to create the idea that sexual harassment is not really a crime. It is. This is why HarassMap believes that we need to build a strong social consensus against sexual harassment, so that everyone sees it as a crime that a harasser should be punished for. If bystanders and police continue to make excuses for harassers and blame the harassed, not even the best law will ever be enforced.
Yes. Already in 2008, the first sexual harassment case in Egypt’s history resulted in a three-year prison sentence and a 5,000LE fine for the harasser, who groped a woman in Cairo. Another harasser was sentenced to 2 years in prison and a 2,000LE fine in November 2012. In April 2013 yet another man who verbally harassed and attacked a woman was sentenced to 3 months in absentia. A man who harassed and killed a young girl in Assiut in September 2012 was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2013.
Since the amendment to the law on sexual harassment in June 2014, when the term sexual harassment was specifically added to the text of the law, more harassers have been tried and sentenced. Successful court rulings include cases of verbal as well as physical sexual harassment, filed both with and without witnesses.
Read more about the law on sexual harassment here.
We don’t have good, representative data (with a random sample that accurately represents the Egyptian population) to determine if there has been an increase or a decrease in sexual harassment. What we do know is that sexual harassment is much more openly talked about now compared to a few years ago.
That being said, many people feel that there has been an increase – and that could be both because it is more open and/or because there is an actual increase. In recent years many people also feel that society has become more aggressive in general. Our data suggests that sexual harassment/assault is related to aggression and violence rather than sexual frustration, behavior of the harassed, income level, etc. so an increase is not out of the question.
However, so far, only a few studies provide some data on sexual harassment in Egypt. HarassMap’s study from 2013 shows that 95.3 % of the surveyed women in Greater Cairo have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment. A 2013 study from UN Women with a nationwide sample indicates a similar number at 99.3%. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights’s study from 2008 shows that 83% of the women surveyed had been sexually harassed. The studies illustrate the epidemic levels of sexual harassment in Egypt, but it is not possible to determine whether or not there has been an increase after the revolution. These studies differ in sampling size and are not generalizable, and without representative data we just can’t make a definitive statement.
With mob attacks on the other hand, there has been an increase in the number of attacks, and in the severity documented. So far, at least 500 cases of mob sexual harassment, assault or rape have been documented in and around Tahrir Square since June 2012.
The trend that we have seen after the revolution is increasing attention, awareness, and mobilization around the issue of sexual harassment. In the first few days of the revolution, an almost harassment-free environment was also created. This did not last, but it was great to see.
We believe that mob attacks have in the past sometimes been triggered by organized mobs. Our experience working in our individual capacities with OpAntiSH in Tahrir Square shows that the attacks that took place in November 2012 and January 2013 often started in very similar ways, following similar tactics and patterns, and often happened simultaneously. Attacks were also very violent, and attackers sometimes used sharp objects to rape girls and women, and other weapons to keep our volunteers from intervening to rescue the attacked. However, while many of the attacks that took place in November 2012 and January 2013 most certainly were more or less triggered by small, organized mobs, the hundreds of bystanders who joined in the assaults rather than tried to intervene, were not.
It is clear that not all mob assaults are organized, on the contrary. What we have seen, especially lately, since July 2013, is that attacks are often started by ‘regular people’ and then fuelled by opportunistic bystanders who turn a blind eye, watch, or join in the attack. Our friends who also work on the ground in Tahrir with other initiatives tell us that often 5 to 20 men surround and isolate one girl/woman, and then hundreds of others join in to harass, assault, and sometimes rape. It is also important to note that mob assaults are not limited to Tahrir Square, and that they have been happening over the years in protests as well as social events.
Whether or not these attacks are organized and/or pre-planned, it is important to acknowledge that the magnitude and viciousness of the attacks would not exist on this scale if it weren’t for the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of bystanders who choose to join the attack rather than to try to stop it. Assaults have become tolerated, accepted, and expected, and instead of intervening to stop them, often make excuses for attackers and blame women themselves for being attacked. Some people even deny that mob assaults or sexual harassment happen at all. We hope that in the future people will once again take responsibility and pride in making sure that these attacks don’t happen, and if they do, that they are stopped immediately.
We believe that if we can convince people in general that sexual harassment and/or assault is completely socially unacceptable, more people in Tahrir and elsewhere would not hesitate to intervene against attackers/harassers and stop harassment and mob assaults from happening. If everyone thought that these attacks, and everyday sexual harassment, is a crime and something they cannot accept happening on their streets or in their demonstration, then they would stop them from happening. And, then not so many people would consider it acceptable to join in in a crime that someone else triggered in a public square or anywhere else.
A number of things tell us that ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment is possible and that some things have already started to change. First of all, the social acceptability of sexual harassment has not always been as big of a problem as it is now. Instead it has grown over the years, and so it can also be reduced over time. Egypt also has a tradition of standing up to sexual harassment the same way as any another crime. In the past, it was not accepted and tolerated the same way as it is today and bystanders are known to have spoken up to harassers, and sometimes even chased them and/or shaved their heads as a mark of shame. All Egyptians can identify with traditions and values of respecting each other, stepping up to help each other, and standing up against crime.
Sexual harassment has already become much more acknowledged and it is being discussed everywhere, in media and activist communities but also among people in general and especially among youth. This is a great development from when we launched and no one wanted to talk about it and it shows that things have already started to change. This also means that more and more people are reporting it instead of staying silent (we received 1386 reports by January 2015), and in some cases harassers have, over the last few years, been brought to court and charged. The taboo of sexual harassment has slowly started to change. Some of the women who have been assaulted and/or raped in mob attacks in Tahrir Square have started to come forward to tell their stories, and so have male and female witnesses and volunteers.
The number of volunteers (we have hundreds all over Egypt) and activists and initiatives who no longer accept sexual harassment in their society and who are determined to fight it, also show that things are already changing. People are coming together all the time to work against sexual harassment and the number of new initiatives has increased rapidly over the last couple of years (from 0 in 2010 to dozens in 2015). The rate of change can also be seen in the streets during our community mobilization. When confronted with facts and information that break the stereotypes and myths about sexual harassment that lead to justifications, blaming, silence (and social acceptability), many people start changing their way of thinking about it, and then their way of acting too.
This is just one example: In April 2013 a young woman was walking down a street in Zamalek in Cairo when she was verbally harassed by an older man who also followed her. This caught the attention of the caretaker of a fast food chain restaurant located close by. The caretaker called the police who came by car and took the man into custody. The caretaker, when asked why he had intervened, replied reflecting HarassMap’s philosophy: ‘Because this is a safe area, sexual harassment is not acceptable here!’
Ending the social acceptability of sexual harassment – changing perceptions and behaviors – is a huge challenge but we believe that a lot of things have already happened to show that it is possible to bring about change.
 At this time the program was adopted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and called the “Safe Streets for All” program.