December 30, 2016 | Adrian Gregorich
HarassMap is a volunteer-based initiative whose mission is to engage Egyptian society in creating an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment. This is carried out by crowdsourcing SMS and online reports of sexual harassment and assault, and mapping them as a red dot on an online map, which serves as a point of reference for occurrences of incidents, positive interventions and available services. The map and corresponding reports are used to illustrate the current extent of the problem of sexual harassment, and to dispel common myths about sexual harassment, as well as the excuses made for its occurrence. HarassMap responds to each report with instructions on how to access free services for victims of harassment, how to make a police report, access legal aid, and psychological counseling. In this sense HarassMap’s work integrates both online and offline programming, with the online mapping phase leading into various avenues of community activism.
Similar to the Sentinel Project’s Una Hakika initiative in Kenya, HarassMap volunteers across Egypt use the reports generated to work in their own neighbourhoods, in this case to convince community members to confront those who engage in sexual harassment. Volunteers also reach out to potential partners of HarassMap Safe Areas – shops, cafés, university campuses, workplaces, etc. – and support them in implementing a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment in their space. This challenging of social norms calls for a critical mass of bystanders and the wider community to take a stand and get involved. The groundwork in Egypt is only the beginning – HarassMap and the Sentinel Project envision a system which tracks sexual harassment globally.
HarassMap contributes to research that assesses current social perceptions and responses to sexual harassment, and partners with similar initiatives around the world to bolster their efforts by sharing their experiences of their grassroots campaigns. Through HarassMap’s efforts, more and more people who are harassed or assaulted choose to speak up about their experiences and share their stories publicly without feeling ashamed. As a result, many women now know that the harassment they’ve experienced is not their fault, and an increasing number of women are starting to stand up to and respond to harassers, and the number of police reports is increasing.
The Sentinel Project has partnered with HarassMap, through the International Development Research Centre, in analyzing different strategies for moving forward with their current platform on a global scale, and assessing how this application could be of service in other contexts around the world.
Below, the Sentinel Project’s Director of Technology Timothy Quinn discusses the logistics of this objective:
How could HarassMap’s model be applied in other contexts around the world?
Pulling data from organizations all around the world makes HarassMap a much more valuable tool both because it affords the opportunity for unparalleled analysis and because it encourages a recognition of sexual harassment as a problem of not just one country or region, but as a problem of global significance.
What would this entail in terms of technology and the platform itself?
The platform obviously needs to be regionally aware. In WikiRumours, we solved this problem with domains – this_domain.com brings out certain attributes in the underlying platform that are different than attributes on that_domain.com. The other major consideration is content and process administration. The platform needs to be administered not just on a global level, but also on a regional and organizational level, which means building a potentially complex permissioning model. A good analogy is Wikipedia, which uses various tiers of administration to ensure that content is efficiently validated without bogging things down at the strategic or architectural level.
How can the Sentinel Project’s experience with the Una Hakika initiative in Kenya assist in HarassMap’s mission?
I think there’s a lot we’ve been able to leverage anecdotally from doing community intake for Una Hakika and Peaceful Truth – optimal user flows, data validation and transformation, privacy and security considerations, etc. On the technology side, I see the greatest opportunity being the consolidation of a single global HarassMap codebase that a myriad of organizations around the world can leverage in real time, much like WikiRumours is the single global platform that powers real-time instances like Una Hakika and Peaceful Truth.