Egyptians fight sexual harassment with June 20 Twitter campaign

Twitter and Facebook were flooded with posts from Egyptian women and men in a June 20 online campaign calling for an end to Egypt’s notoriously rampant sexual harassment of women.

Search #endSH on Twitter today, June 20, and you will find a flood of tweets from men and women in Egypt and elsewhere in the region bemoaning and berating the prevalence of sexual harassment in Egypt’s streets – and crowdsourcing ways to combat it.

The thousands of tweets are part of an online campaign encouraging Egyptians to use blogging and social media to share their experience with harassment and what they think needs to be done for it to stop. Sexual harassment awareness organization HarassMap teamed up with activists and bloggers in Egypt and throughout the region to organize the online campaign.

With the Egyptian revolution came an environment that should have made social and cultural change in Egypt easier. Women’s rights organizations saw the country’s collective push for freedom as a natural precursor to achieving greater gender equality; the uprising involved 18 days of harassment-free protests in Tahrir Square. But despite their efforts so far, «women are still living in the exact same nightmare,» Al Ahram reports.

“I worry every time I have to walk for a couple of minutes in the streets: sexual harassment is hurting and frightening me every day,” says Noha Atef, a 30-year-old veiled Egyptian female. Atef reveals the suffering of the majority of Egyptian females, whether veiled or not veiled. …

Harassment in Egypt can go from catcalling, comments, sexual invites, intimidating stares, sexual assault and rape. Many women are called whores as they walk around. The majority of men say that if women wear more conservative clothes they won’t be harassed, but most females deny this argument because even veiled women are harassed.

Women in Cairo have long suffered from sexual harassment on the city streets. HarassMap was founded in December 2010 to combat the problem by enabling the collection and publication of reports of sexual harassment. The report includes the location of the incident, which allows them to be put on a map, alerting women to areas of the city where sexual harassment is particularly common. Because the organization relies on access to technology for it to work, its success has been limited, according to Al Ahram.

The goal of both HarassMap and the June 20 online campaign it helped organize is heightened awareness of sexual harassment and an end to its acceptance among both men and women. With 62 percent of Egyptian men self-reporting that they had harassed a woman and 83 percent of Egyptian women reporting that they had been victims of harassment, ending its acceptance is a lofty goal, according to a report from the Monitor about the launch of HarassMap last year.

On Twitter, there were calls for more government action against harassment as well as assertions that the government wouldn’t do anything and that the responsibility lay with people in the streets. «We need to pressure the government to take firm action against sexual harassers. There needs to be strong repercussions,» wrote Nora Shalaby. «How about the fact that the police r the number 1 harrassers?» she asked in a later tweet.

Indeed, one of the main obstacles that HarassMap cited before its launch was that there is no law in Egypt that defines sexual harassment as a crime or makes it easier to report incidents. Without that, it’s unlikely harassment will be seen as a widespread problem, the Monitor reported.

Crucial to success will be convincing Egyptian men of its importance. From the looks of the #endSH Twitter feed, it seems there are many men already convinced. As Twitter user Safi put it, «I want to live in a country where I don’t have to worry about my girlfriend, wife, daughter, sister, mother or what they are wearing.»

Follow along with the campaign on Twitter at #endSH or Facebook here.

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