By Deea Ariana
CAIRO: While a call for speaking out against sexual harassment online gathered a lot of attention on the blogosphere, women’s rights activists agreed that more needs to be done to put an end to the problem.
On June 20, bloggers and Twitter users took part in a campaign titled “Blogging and Tweeting Day Against Sexual Harassment and Gender Violence” where they called for fighting sexual harassment in Egypt in a 24-hour blogging and tweeting marathon.
Nehad Aboul Qosman, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), raised concern that although using social media was a good initiative, it is limited to middle and upper class of Egyptian society.
Aboul Qomsan emphasized that traditional media such as newspapers and television talk shows should also be used to spread awareness against sexual harassment as it can reach a wider audience.
“Everyone in Egypt [either] reads newspaper or owns a television,” she said. “But you need to feed media with statistics.”
Aboul Qosman also said that there is a strong need to reform the laws. She advised that women who have been sexually harassed should take legal actions beginning with promptly reporting the incident to the police.
However, she is optimistic that the end of sexual harassment will soon be a social reality.
Following the online campaign, a roundtable discussion held by Nazra for Feminist Studies, a research organization on women’s rights, and HarassMap, a technology-based initiative that allows women to report incidents of sexual harassment, concluded that changing the cultural perception of sexual harassment as well as implementing already existing laws are key to putting an end to the problem.
Activists who participated in the campaign discussed blog posts and tweets from the previous day as well as possible solutions to curb sexual harassment and gender violence.
While June 20 did not put an end to sexual harassment, Engy Ghozlan, co-founder of HarassMap, said that it was “a wake-up call.”
Mozn Hassan, director of Nazra, maintained that the social media approach has been successful in raising awareness on sexual harassment. “[Social media] is opening up the space to discuss the issue,” Hassan said.
Hassan believes that gender-based violence and the patriarchal structure of Egyptian society are some of the causes behind why women are regularly harassed.
Ghozlan said the responses to Harassmap “surpassed our expectations.”
Since the project’s founding in 2010, there have been over 400 reports of sexual harassment in Egypt, according to an interactive digital map found on the project’s website highlighting areas in Egypt where cases of sexual harassment were reported.
According to Ghozlan, when using social media in combating sexual harassment, “girls become more vocal. They speak about their problems.”
She pointed out it is not enough to amend laws against sexual harassment, and that stopping it is a personal responsibility of every member in society.
“Everyone is responsible in our own communities to come up with solutions,” she said.
However, to reach people who have no access to the internet, volunteers from HarassMap hold community outreach programs where they visit areas where sexual harassment is prevalent.
The programs aim to increase awareness by dispelling commonly held beliefs about sexual harassment by talking with women in the community since women are made to carry the blame when they are harassed, according to Ghozlan.
On June 20, over 100 blogs by men and women shared personal experiences of being sexually harassed, often out in the streets, and petitioned to help stop harassment in Egypt. On Twitter, tweets that spoke out against sexual harassment ended with the hashtag #endSH.
One blogger from Cairo, Andreas Fares, wrote in his post, titled “Facing One Of Egypt’s Most Infiltrative Disease; Sexual Harassment.”, that, “State media, most newspapers, government authorities, have all failed to discuss it [sexual harassment], dig its causes and look for solutions. So that’s what we bloggers are trying to do now.”
Some bloggers also felt that the online campaign against sexual harassment should expand outside social media. Social activist, Gigi Ibrahim, tweeted, “I think we should have a women’s anti-sexual harassment march, but this won’t be organized just on Facebook, we need a big plan! #endSH.”
Other bloggers felt that part of the problem of increasing sexual harassment is not reporting it. “When we silently endure harassment, we unknowingly contribute to the problem. Speak up, woman! Let them know u won’t take it anymore. #endSH,” Deena Adel tweeted.
Blogger, Cairene, expressed similar opinions in her post “#endSH – A Post Against Sexual Harassment” that, “It [sexual harassment] reflects a lack of tolerance and acceptance”.
Activists from Libya, Syria and Sudan also joined the protest via Twitter, blogs and Facebook groups. One Facebook group in Sudan was created to document incidents where people opposed to being sexually harassed or stood up for another person.