How and why we began

HarassMap was born as a response to the persistent problem of sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt, to which society has become increasingly tolerant. It is the first independent initiative to work on the issue.

In 2005, one of our four co-founders was working at an NGO in Cairo. Overwhelmed by the awful sexual harassment she and her co-workers encountered on a daily basis, she decided to start investigating the issue in order to understand whether sexual harassment was as common in wider society. After circulating a survey, she realized that it was in fact a much bigger problem, affecting most women in Egypt – and that many people were raring to do something about it. So, together with volunteers and friends, she started a campaign to address sexual harassment which eventually got adopted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights. In 2008, the issue received a great deal of attention in the media, and many women’s rights NGOs began to work on advocacy for legislation on sexual harassment. However, instead of waiting for the government to act, the co-founders strongly believed that it was important to do something on the ground in order to address society’s acceptance of sexual harassment.

After working on the issue for several years, speaking to many people about sexual harassment and sharing ideas on how to combat it, the co-founders were eventually introduced to Frontline SMS and Ushahidi – free software that can be linked together to make an anonymous reporting and mapping system for harassment. Since about 97 percent of Egyptians then – half of whom are women – owned a mobile phone, this technology seemed like the perfect fit. HarassMap was launched in December 2010, concurrently with the release of ‘678’, a landmark feature film about sexual harassment. The starting point was to use the online reporting and mapping technology to support an offline community mobilization effort to break stereotypes, stop making excuses for perpetrators, and to convince people to speak out and act against harassment.

It makes us very happy to see that, over the last years, sexual harassment has evolved from being a taboo topic to one that is being widely discussed and tackled by a new crop of independent initiatives. Our team of volunteers has grown enormously and we are constantly working to expand our work on the ground, in cooperation with other campaigns and initiatives.

Since we started, activists from more than 25 different countries have asked us for help to set up similar initiatives in their home countries.