The internet offers the potential to give voice to the voiceless. And in many places around the world, few voices are stifled more than those of women, especially when they are the victims of sexual violence.
HarassMap is one shining example of an internet application that is trying to combat this. It’s an online tool that allows victims and witnesses to sexual violence in Cairo to report instances of abuse – and unfortunately, abuse in this city is endemic. The reports are sent in via SMS, or text message, using mobile phones. They are then categorized as anything from catcalls to sexual invites to rape, and then they’re placed on a map of Cairo. HarassMap is built on the wonderful Ushahidi platform, developed in Kenya.
But HarassMap is more than just an internet application. In part with support from the International Development Research Centre, it’s also turning into an offline movement to raise awareness and change mindsets about sexual violence. Here’s Rebecca Chiao, HarassMap’s co-founder and director, explaining HarassMap’s offline work to IDRC (you can see her full talk here – well worth watching):
A similar initiative has been started in India, where there has been an explosion of awareness and outrage around sexual violence since the horrific gang rape and murder of a young woman in a bus in Delhi. It’s called Safecity (tagline “Pin the creeps”), and it’s another Ushahidi deployment.
The internet can also help to fill an information gap about sexual violence in countries where violence against women is so normalized that it is unlikely to appear in the traditional press. In Egypt, a disturbing video of soldiers beating an unconscious woman went viral, prompting outrage. The soldiers tore off her abaya and her shirt, leaving her blue bra exposed – she became known as the “blue bra woman” (trigger warning), and she became symbolic of the fact that women have largely been left behind by the revolution.
A more positive example of the internet serving as a rallying point for speaking up about women’s rights is the Facebook group called “The uprising of women in the Arab world.” With over 100,000 likes, it carries messages against sexual violence from women and men all over the Arab world.
Slowly but steadily, women are standing up to take their place and to reject sexual violence, and the internet is one tool that’s being used in fascinating ways to advance this cause. Happy international women’s day!