An increasing number of Arab women are turning to social media to expose the sexual harassment they endure on a daily basis.
Tired of facing groping, sexualised comments and indecent exposure each time they are out in public, women in the region are fighting back by posting pictures and videos of their assailants and detailing the attacks online.
Dismissing inappropriate behavior as "just teasing" or "boys will be boys" only fosters such behavior for the future. #mesh_basita— Che (@RachelDaggers) August 15, 2017
In a culture that often dismisses or even blames women for being attacked, posting incidents on social media challenges the patriarchal notion of women as objects whose bodies are owned and controlled by men.
Supporting women through apps and online campaigns
Taking cues from the uptake of social media use, NGOs are turning to the digital sphere in an attempt to support women and raise awareness of the harassment epidemic.
In Egypt, an NGO called HarassMap records instances of sexual harassment and assaults on an online map of the country.
“It used to be taboo to talk about sexual harassment. Even the media would describe it as flirtation,” Alia Soliman, communications manager at HarassMap told Arab News. “Now, people are starting to speak up.”
In a country where a UN survey found 99 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment, HarassMap not only helps legitimise women’s experiences but also warns them of places to avoid.
NGO are also encouraging women to share their stories using hashtags such as “mesh basista” or “it’s not ok” - a two year project by Lebanese group The Kip Project on Gender and Sexuality.
The project aims to raise awareness of sexual harassment and discrimination as well as connect civil society and academics working on the issue.
"We believe that issues of gender and sexuality can't be isolated from any one sector or discipline," Heather Jaber, communications coordinator for KIP told Stepfeed. "We similarly want to invite all voices from the national landscape to share their messages because these issues, and sexual harassment, in particular, concern all members of society."
Societies waking up to the realities of harassment
Not only do initiatives like these listen to women, recording instances of sexual harassment also encourage society as a whole to intervene and support women when they witness such an attack.
“We’ve seen how one small intervention, even just asking the time, can divert the attention of the harasser and give the victim a window to get away,” explained Soliman.
In August, a video showing the gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Morocco went viral, prompting mass outcry by the public.
Although neither the bus driver, nor other passengers intervened on behalf of the victim, the huge outpouring of public anger as well as pressure from rights groups prompted authorities to take action and all the perpetrators have since been arrested.
It remains to be seen whether they will be charged.
#Mesh_Basita because we get catcalled, harassed and stalked on a daily basis because some think it's fun.— Kween (@IWazYoung) August 14, 2017
Facing the long-term impact of harassment
The impact of harassment as well as the victim blaming that ensues often affects women for the rest of their lives.
“The impacts of sexual harassment go far beyond the incident itself, said Farah Mesmar, a Jordan-based human rights advocate. “It affects the daily routines of many women and hinders them from carrying out normal activities to avoid being harassed. Simple activities like going for a run or catching the bus need a lot of consideration, especially regarding choice of clothing or timing.”
However, finding support from feminist groups as well as other women online is helping victims of sexual harassment speak up and fight for the justice that they deserve.