by Sealia Thevenau

The story of sexual harassment is an all too familiar one. It is present in the workplace, in public spaces, and beyond. It happens at night in the dark but also, probably more commonly, in broad daylight. It is even present for some amongst their friends and family. Social media movements such as #balancetonporc, in France, and #MeToo, in the US, have shown the shear magnitude of people who have experienced some form of sexual harassment. It seems that today to have been sexually harassed is the rule, rather than the exception.

However, now that we have heard the outrage and felt the solidarity, what next?

Well, an organization in Egypt, together with Canadian NGO The Sentinel Project, just might have an answer. Their solution: HarassMap.

HarassMap is an award-winning initiative in Egypt based on the idea that if more people start taking action when sexual harassment happens in their presence, then we can end this epidemic together. The premise is simple: if you are subjected to, witness, or intervene to stop an act of sexual harassment, then you report it.

This reporting serves two main purposes. This first is to map the reports. Even a cursory glance at the map is a slap in the face showing the extent of the problem. This also allows for “hot spots” to be identified and hopefully get addressed more quickly. You can also click on the map to read individual reports. These individual reports show the reality and scope of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. The second purpose to reporting is to provide a platform for those who are harassed or assaulted to speak out and get support. Reports can, of course, be done anonymously, and most are, however, there is also a platform that allows people to show support and the HarassMap volunteers are trained to help.

Every report is evidence used by HarassMap to convince people that sexual harassment is a serious problem and that if Egypt is to be freed from it, then action must be taken against it. After all: silence is complicity.

The HarassMap team uses their website and technology for more than just mapping. They are working to make their fellow Egyptians understand that the stereotypes that blame the harassed and make excuses for the harasser need to stop. They build campaigns to change perceptions about sexual harassment and convince people to take action against it. HarassMap also equips its volunteers and partners with tools and information they can use to create zero-tolerance attitudes and behaviors in schools, universities, workplaces, and, of course, in the streets.

In this world where in less than 48 hours #metoo was re-tweeted nearly a million times (and is still going…) perhaps HarassMap is exactly the kind of tool we need as a society to cement the idea that harassers are at fault and should be held accountable. The fault does not lie with the person being harassed.

HarrassMap’s goal is to engage all of Egyptian society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment.

Let’s hope that innovation can spread beyond Egypt’s borders.