Take Back the Tech: Online Shaming to Fight Street Harassment

Hummingbird
Posted October 26, 2015 from Syrian Arab Republic

Street Harassment Organisation define street harassment as:

“Gender-based street harassment is unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Street harassment includes unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault, and rape.”

In many countries in MENA, harassment is an epidemic especially in Egypt, and street harassment reaches horrific levels in public holidays and celebrations. The harassment is usually takes place in gardens, public transportations and markets, and it includes leering, honking, whistling, sexist Comments, vulgar gestures, sexually explicit, kissing noises, following, path blocked, sexual touching or grabbing, target of public masturbation, assault, and not ending with group rape which is publicly known in Egypt as the “feast.”

One sad thing many women in MENA endure, is their refusal to face the harasser and shame him in public. Many women remain silent when they are touched or grabbed because they don’t want to be embarrassed before society, a strange twisted logic for society to see the victim’s call for justice is an insult to the values and traditions without seeing harassment as a crime and the harasser as an abuser needs to be shamed and punished. The law does not stand beside the victims, many women resorting to police stations to complain and demand action are either insulted or even harassed by the police. Women are demanded to remain silent and do not shame their families by talking about what happened to them. The blame for this falls on women who are called to wear more decent cloths or even go out less despite the fact that a lot of women in MENA cover their bodies and hair, while calling to stay home is an unrealistic and backward call that curtails women’s basic right of free movement.

In Egypt, a campaign called “Expose a Harasser” started on social media to encourage women to speak up and shame the perpetrators on larger scales since laws and traditions do not bring justice to women, women had to seek justice for themselves and for others. The campaign called women to document what happened to them, and if they could take pictures or video of the harasser and post it on the campaign’s Facebook page to expose him and alarm other women when they see his face in their area. The campaign gathered many women together to talk, defend and heal.

Expose a Harasser is one step toward women empowerment in a patriarchal environment that does not even recognises women’s rights to demand justice and be seen as human beings. This campaign seemed to shame the persons who deserved to be shamed and not the victims. Without technology, such campaign would not see daylight, and women would not be able to resort to one place in cyberspace and defend themselves freely.

Comments 7

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Liz Poulsen
Oct 29, 2015
Oct 29, 2015

Hi Hummingbird - 

Firstly, I'm so sorry that street harrassment is so common where you live. It is so unpleasant to deal with, and often worse than simply unpleasant. 

I love this idea! I imagine that it must take a weight off of the women who are being harrassed to feel like they can actually do something about it and place the shame back where it belongs.

Hummingbird
Oct 30, 2015
Oct 30, 2015

Dear Liz,

Thank you for your reply. Online shaming was the only way activist thought of to stop or at least put a limit to disgusting action like street hrassment. Laws did not help, security did not help and even society itself didn't move to protect women. So as you said, shame should be placed back were it belongs, it is not how women wear and what time they are in the street, it is all about understanding that this is not a normal action, it is a violating action. The fight still on against this ugly issue.

Currently I am in a safe place, but yes I used to go out everyday expecting to be harassed at any moment.

Hugs and love,  

Tamara Kubacki
Oct 30, 2015
Oct 30, 2015

Dear Hummingbird,

I am glad to hear that you are in a safe space. It is terrible that we have to worry about harassment just because we are or present as women. It horrifies me that the fear of harassment in many countries is more than fearing an unwanted gesture or comment but the fear of violence or losing one's life.  The campaign in Egypt to shame the perpetrators sounds powerful. It seems as if the result that the "campaign gathered many women together to talk, defend and heal" is a very important part. Knowing we are not facing these battles alone makes us stronger.

Thank you for posting this story. Let's hope things will begin to change (and quickly!). 

Sincerely,

Tamara

Hummingbird
Oct 31, 2015
Oct 31, 2015

Thank you my sister for your comment, yes let's hope things will begin to change, and hopefully soon.

love and support,

Sarah Murali
Nov 03, 2015
Nov 03, 2015

Unfortunately, this kind of harassment is all too common, in most of the world. I'm reminded of a woman in Minneapolis, USA who got so tired of being harassed on the street that she printed up cards explaining why the kind of "attention" she was receiving was actually harassment, and handed them out to men who harassed her. You can read about her story here (and see video she secretly recorded of her interactions with harassers on the street). She also started a website called Cards Against Harassment where you can learn more, and even print the cards she made out if you want to use them yourself.

Of course, this kind of direct confrontation is not safe in every situation. Fortunately, campaigns like the one you posted here give women a way to "confront" harassers from a somewhat safer distance when direct interaction is not possible.

Thanks for sharing, Hummingbird!

Hummingbird
Nov 05, 2015
Nov 05, 2015

Thank you so much Sarah for your replay. I do agree that confrontation is a bit dangerious for women in MENA, believe it or not the harrassers sometimes deny their action and claim that women are framing them and lying. Worse from all of this is that in several cases women were violently attacked. This online campaign do give women a voice to expose from a safe place, women can also remain anonymous if they want.

But in my opinion, confrontation will shake the harrasser and make him hesitate to touch and speak to a woman who can defend herself. I loved the idea of the cards and definitly will read more about it.

Love and light,

Nilima Raut
Nov 14, 2015
Nov 14, 2015

Yes, the problem is not us- women being silent but the problem is our society is not ready to hear that women are harrashed. Family pressures on women not to reveal these incidents are much worse, they think that it will be shameful to reveal such thing. We all have experienced it and it is not only the problem about Asia or Middle East. It's everywhere and its common. Internet could be one way to address these street harrassment.

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