The Surprising Ways Women In Egypt Are Stopping Street Harassment
Sexual harassment is a serious problem throughout the world, but in Egypt, the issue is especially widespread. More than 99% of women and girls have experienced some form of harassment, according to one 2013 survey by United Nations Women. More than 82% said they don't feel safe on the street. Women across Egypt are now coming up with creative ways to address the issue and help women feel more secure. From interactive maps to scooter clubs, the approaches aim to promote awareness of the problem and help women overcome a practice that can create intimidation and fear. Tinne Van Loon, an Egyptian filmmaker who documented the issue in a piece called Creepers on a Bridge, said most people may not realize that "staring is a form of sexual harassment." But it is — and it's a real problem for women throughout Cairo. The city's busiest bridge is a hot spot for harassment, she said. "They’re like, 'What do you mean, come on, like, staring is so innocent, it’s nothing.' But when 80% of the men in the street are staring at you the entire time you walk by, and especially when those men are in groups, it’s really intimidating," she said. Reem Wael created Harassmap, an online map where women can report experiencing harassment, to help women avoid those intimidating situations. When the project started in 2010, people would deny that harassment was an issue, she said. Now Wael has thousands of data points to prove it's a problem. She hopes that documenting how widespread and accepted harassment has become will help change the perception that women invite the negative attention. "All the excuses that we hear are very much related to the woman’s image, and the woman’s place, and 'Why is she going out alone, and, like, her conduct, she’s laughing this way, she’s walking this way, she’s dressing this way,'" Wael said. "'She’s out alone, she’s out at night,' but all these excuses are very much related to woman’s image in society and what she should be doing." Basma El-Gabry, 21, found a solution to the issue in a scooter. She said she hasn't experienced any harassment since she started riding. "I feel like I’m in a strange situation on a scooter," El-Gabry said. "I feel like I’m the one ruling." Now, she's started Girls Go Wheels, an organization that helps other women buy scooters and learn to ride. She said she hopes it empowers her peers not just to overcome harassment but also to aim high in all aspects of life. "My vision for Egyptian girls [is] to break the bad taboos, to break the unnecessary tradition that makes us go nowhere," she said.