Open source mapping tech goes global, helps women fight back

Imagine the scene: You’re a woman walking down the street, you’re on your way to work or to the shops, minding your own business. 

You spot a group of builders doing work on a house in front of you.

You approach the house, walk past, and the men keep on working. They don’t turn their heads or smile at each other or stare right at you. They don’t look at your legs, or any other bits of your body. They don’t even feel the need to whistle, make kissing noises, block your path or shout out any number of questions or comments such as ‘alright darlin’?’. They don’t even make any witty comments on your nice bottom. 

Obviously this is not news. As any woman knows, this is pure fiction.

For millions of females every day, harassment on the street is par for the course. They’re taught to put it with it, that it’s just a bit of harmless fun.

But, thanks to technology, things are a changin’.

A group in Egypt has got so tired of women not being able to go about their daily lives without being harassed on the street that they’ve introduced a text message reporting service.

If a woman experiences unwanted attention from a man in a public place she simply picks up her mobile and sends a text to HarassMap where it’s reported on a centralised computer.

She receives a reply offering support and some practical advice while the information is collated by the group at HarassMap who plot the incident on a publicly-available map and pass their findings on to police.

According to The Guardian, the project uses open-source mapping technology which is more commonly associated with humanitarian relief operations.

Rebecca Chiao, one of the volunteers behind the privately-run venture, told the newspaper: “In the last couple of years there’s been a debate in Egypt over whether harassment of women on the streets is a serious issue, or whether it’s something women are making up.”

Chiao said HarassMap offers victims “a practical way of responding, something to fight back with; as someone who has experienced sexual harassment personally on the streets of Cairo, I know that the most frustrating part of it was feeling like there was nothing I could do.”

According to the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), which is behind the project, harassment of women is a major issue all over the North African country. An ECWR report in July 2008 found that 83 percent of Egyptian women reported being sexually harassed – and 98 percent of foreign women reported the same. However, fewer than two percent reported going to the police for help.

Egypt is not alone in a growing campaign to tackle this issue via the internet. 

The LASH project (London Anti Street Harassment Campaign) was started by financial analyst Vicky Simister who found street harassment in London a real problem after moving  to the capital from Ireland. 

LASH also lets women report any type of street harassment in the capital with incidents plotted on a map.

A look at the map today revealed a collection of recently reported abuse, from “Groped” in Shoreditch to “Assaulted” near Finsbury Park and “Grabbed” in New Cross. All these reports had worrying stories attached to them.

LASH has been working to highlight the issue of street harassment and open it up for public debate – it’s been gaining support and seeing a positive response from MPs and the media.

Then there’s the Hollaback website, which aims to give women a way to, well, holla back at harassers. 

Originally founded in New York, it now also operates in other US cities as well as in Canada and London. Hollaback goes one step further, allowing women not only to submit stories but also photos and videos of abuse.

Meanwhile, a group in the UK are using the internet to show a Google map of every murder committed in London.

The Murder Map aims to use the archives of the Old Bailey to generate a macabre picture of all the reported murders in the capital from the present day back to the times of Jack the Ripper.

Using the online database, users can filter results by murder type, choosing from poison, gun, knife or “blunt object”. It also provides information about each crime.

Not for the faint hearted.