The wonders of HarassMap

Have you all heard of Harassmap? It’s a fantastic application for mobile phones in Egypt, which allows for reporting of incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging. It gives women a way to anonymously report sexual harassment as soon as they happen, using a simple text message from their mobile phone.

You can see the reports as they show up here. One of the more recent ones says ‘followed and touched by ten year old boy’ and another says:

Yesterday evening around 7pm two teenagers followed me over several streets until I escaped into a taxi. They shouted something in my taxi and the driver laughed with them. I got really angry and asked him why he thinks that it is funny and he should help me instead of supporting these idiots. I engaged in a long discussion with him and in the end he said, well if you dont want to be harassed why do you not wear the veil. He was in total denial of the whole situation and didnt believe me that also veiled women are getting harassed.  

One study mentioned shows that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women surveyed have been sexually harassed in Egypt, about half of these on a daily basis. 72.5% of harassment victims surveyed were veiled; only 2.4% women sought help from police [hmm, I wonder why]. 62.4% of men surveyed confirmed that they harass women…

It’s disturbing how ‘normal’ sexual harassment is for a girl or woman living not just in Egypt but in the region. I left Iran when I was 13 or so but remember having my bum pinched quite a few times on the streets. I know many of my friends have had similar experiences. How strange then to come to the west of ‘no morals’ and find that you could actually walk down the street without being manhandled…

Of course, that’s not to say that harassment doesn’t happen here and everywhere but it is an epidemic in the Middle East.

There are a lot of reasons for this, including lack of regard for rights, the rise of Islamism, the low status of women, the fact that it is not illegal in many places, it’s often committed by the state itself (e.g. virginity tests in Egypt or sisters of Zeinab in Iran harassing women for improper veiling) and because women are seen to be the property of men. It’s also under-reported (in the above study only 2.4% of women reported it to the police), mainly because it is downright embarrassing and you end up blaming yourself. I know I never told my parents when it happened to me.

A large part of why it happens also has to do with sexual repression. As comedian Nick Doody says: It’s actually not suicide bombs going off but men exploding from sexual frustration…

Whatever the reasons, though, it has to be stopped and Harassmap is one important way to help do that.

You can follow it on Twitter: @harassmap or find our more on their blog.