Dalia Othman, a researcher and human rights activist, reports on a new initiative in Ramallah, Palestina, that uses online mapping and mobile phone technology to allow women to combat sexual harassment in the streets.

Say No to Sexual Harassment

The initiative began in October 2011 with an invitation to an open meeting in Ramallah, publicised through word of mouth and social networks. More than 70 men and women showed their concern about sexual harassment in the city by taking part. The diverse group included staff from Palestinian women’s organisations, other members of Ramallah’s civil society and many people with their own stories of harassment.

Residents of Ramallah and visitors noted that there are isolated individuals who act inappropriately towards men and women in public spaces. It is important to set apart these “bad elements” and give support to people using the streets of Ramallah.

Follow-up meetings and working groups identified a set of needs and possible actions. People wanted:

  • to know when/where sexual harassment is taking place in Ramallah;

  • to obtain and share information on how victims can find the support they need;

  • to share information about and try to support existing initiatives on this issue.

  • Victims have talked of a sense of helplessness and isolation which they feel after experiencing harassment. Other men and women have asked about the extent of harassment in Ramallah, whether there are any “harassment hot-spots” and what can be done?

    A new initiative to give victims a voice

    At the first meeting, some people gave their testimonies of suffering sexual harassment in Ramallah and elsewhere in the world. The meeting gave people a chance to vent their frustration, to feel heard and even to report occasional instances of successfully confronting harassers. For some, this was the first time they heard that professional victim support (in Arabic and English) is available in Palestine, and that there is already momentum for action.

    People agreed that testimonies and good advice need to be turned in to tools which can be used to help Ramallah’s citizens and visitors be safe in the streets. They wanted to create a forum through which they can find and share advice and can report their experiences in a way which helps to identify trends.

    Local activists were inspired by an Egyptian campaign designed to address Cairo’s notoriously high levels of sexual harassment in public spaces. In Cairo, campaigners developed “HarassMap” – an interactive map through which victims of sexual harassment can report and locate the incident, allowing thousands of people to play their part in showing where action most needs to be taken.

    A HarassMap for Ramallah

    Drawing energy from the passion and hurt shown in the first meeting, working groups have been trying to reach out to existing Palestinian support mechanisms and women’s organisations for information on how to access their services.

    A website has been set up using the Ushahidi platform and Frontline SMS technology to enable victims to report incidents from their mobile phone the moment they happen, or once they are out of harm’s way. The person will be able to include the time of the incident, a description with a categorization of the type of harassment and pinpoint the exact location of the incident on the map. Readers of This Week in Palestine are encouraged to visit the map, to report any incidents, and to share the victim support information with friends. Find the site here http://streetwatch.crowdmap.com/ and spread the word.

    Ending the isolation and linking to support

    If well supported, the Ramallah StreetWatch map will be an invaluable tool to address the questions asked during October’s “Say No to Sexual Harassment” meetings. It takes barely a minute to report each incident and is accessible (in English and soon in Arabic) to anyone with a mobile phone or time online.

    The website also complements existing sources of victim support by directing people to appropriate Palestinian service providers for legal advice and professional counselling. One development also in the pipeline is for an automated SMS response to any Ramallah StreetWatch texter. This would instruct them on how to access the website where they can add incident details, see other people’s (anonymous) reports and view the information page.

    Taken together, the map, the incident reports and the support of existing service providers should help victims of sexual harassment to know that they are not alone. What is more, they have an opportunity to help themselves and other honest citizens of Ramallah to isolate the problem areas and to say no to sexual harassment.


    Screen shot of “Ramallah StreetWatch: Tracking Sexual Harassment on the Streets” from streetwatch.crowdmap.com

    The article was originally written for the December issue of "This Week in Palestine"

    Dalia Othman, a researcher and human rights activist, reports on a new initiative in Ramallah, Palestina, that uses online mapping and mobile phone technology to allow women to combat sexual harassment in the streets.

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