I was standing with my dad on the pavement when a group of five guys in their late teens passed by us. They made comments about me and kept staring at me, even when they passed us, they kept turning around to look at me.
I got out of the taxi in which I was harassed on Tahrir street in Dokki to walk. Not one block later, a man made loud kissing noises at me.
These messages are posted on HarassMap.org, a technology-based project that allows women to report incidents of harassment in Egypt.
US-born co-founder of HarassMap, Rebecca Chiao is one of the four women who started this voluntary project. Chiao says sexual harassment in Egypt is so frequent, that not a day goes by that there isn’t an unpleasant episode. “We want to change what happens to us when we get out of our homes and walk into our streets every day,” Chiao says passionately. By working for free, this team of dedicated volunteers provides a forum where women can post harassment complaints through SMS, e-mail, Twitter or the web.
Chiao explains that their enthusiasm is not driven by monetary incentives. “We get nothing – no money and no benefits,” says Chiao. “But we get impact, and that is what matters.”
She explains that apart from being a forum for women to vent their anger and record a complaint, HarassMap provides guidance to women about legal aid and free psychiatric help that most women are unaware of.
Part of HarassMap’s agenda is to visit areas with high reports of harassment and spread awareness about sexual harassment. The team conducts question and answer sessions with women in that area and dispel commonly held myths by giving facts. “Women believe that they are at fault when they are harassed,” says Chiao regretfully. “We want to tell them that this is wrong – and that they should let the harasser know that he is doing something unpleasant.”
Chiao feels that sexual harassment in Egypt is common because people have anger built up inside them. “The pressure is too much and it is unleashed on women – they are easy targets,” says Chiao.
So far, HarrassMap has not received any substantial help from the government. According to Chiao, during Mubarak’s government, campaigns and bills were drawn to curb harassment. But she feels it was all a gimmick. “The government helped us then to improve their public image,” she says. “There was no practical effect – none of those laws have been passed.”
After the revolution, Chiao is hopeful that the minister of communication will help them. “We contacted him through Facebook and, to our surprise, he responded!”
However, Chiao retains some skepticism. “He wants to help us, but we’ll see what happen,” she says. “There is lots of bureaucracy.”
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