Sexual Harassment has been a pressing issue in Egypt. The latest report by the UN, published in 2013, found that 99.3% of Egyptian women and girls have experienced some sort of sexual harassment, and more than 50% of women stated they experienced harassment on a daily basis, mostly while using public transportation and in the streets and this is, of course, a kind of violence against women.
In the wake of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign (25 November -10 December), Daily News Egypt interviewed the co-founder of StreetPal application, Abd El Fattah ElSharkawy.
The application was launched in October to fight and spread awareness about sexual harassment against women.
Moreover, ElSharkawy has great expertise in the area of women’s rights, working as a consultant to UN Women in Egypt.
Furthermore, he is the CEO of Smart Civic Solutions company, which implements smart solutions to develop communities and solve their problems. Thus, he decided to create a joint cooperation between Indeves company and Smart Civic Solutions to launch the StreetPal application, aiming at spreading awareness and helping women who have been harassed, ElSharkawy said.
What services does the application offer to women or girls who are harassed?
First of all, StreetPal aims at helping the women who have been harassed through three procedures: first, you find out what the girl is being subjected to, whether she can ask for help from friends, family, or any other close acquaintance. Otherwise, it suggests the nearest police station, so the application provides the girl with various tools that she could use to respond to sexual harassment.
Furthermore, the main objective of the application is to provide girls and women with much-needed awareness about sexual harassment as a crime, empowering them to take a stand against it, and providing options for survivors.
What are the application’s key features?
It contains many features such as a dynamic chat guide, on-site help, and steps to follow that can guide you through different situations.
Furthermore, it offers a trusted contact feature which provides any female who was subject to harassment with the option of sending an SMS and an email to a trusted contact, alerting them with updates about her status and location.
Also, the “mark as safe feature” allows a harassed female to send an SMS and email to the trusted contact to give him a live update whenever the danger has ended.
Moreover, the map navigation feature guides the girl to the nearest police station or hospital, and can also refer her to legal and psychological support entities.
Finally, the last two features are live audio recording of the harassment incident when needed and a basic library that contains a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to sexual harassment.
Does the application allow reporting harassment in any region in all governorates or is it limited to specific locations?
Up until now, all the features of the application can be used in any region in all governorates, but we will launch a new version soon that will have a feature limited to a specific location. However, we will try to expand it gradually to reach all governorates.
What is this feature and what is your plan to develop the application in the future?
The first version of the application does not allow you to ask for help from people around you, so in August 2018 we will add a new feature which is the advocate platform. This platform will allow the girls to seek help from trained persons in a nearby area. Moreover, we hope to cooperate with the Ministry of Interior in 2019 in order to allow the victim to file a report online then go to a police station only to follow the report.
Also, this month, there will be a blog where women can share their experiences and questions about sexual harassment.
Furthermore, we hope to run the application abroad in 2020.
Why did you choose the name “StreetPal”?
It was our goal that the name and the message be well-understood in terms of the human rights and gender frameworks.
The word pal came as the application allows people to help themselves or help others, while street came since we are referring to harassment in public areas.
You told me that funding was through the two companies, but did you seek help in funding from human rights institutions or the National Council for Women in Egypt?
No, the project was self-funded by the two firms, but this does not mean that we do not communicate with these entities. We seek to create channels of communication with them to coordinate our work for the new feature.
What are the main obstacles that you faced when implementing the application?
Technically, we had a talented team who worked and implemented what we planned. Also there was expertise in the framework of gender and sexual violence, so when these two elements united, work went smoother than we thought. Although we worked on implementing the application over 14 months, we were happy during every phase as the team understood each other well.
Meanwhile, we could mention that the main obstacle is investing in something that has little financial reward but has another type of reward, which is changing the behaviour of a community, which is always more difficult.
There are many applications that have emerged to fight sexual harassment in Egypt, but quickly shut down and failed to continue working, so how will you try to ensure the success and the continuity of StreetPal?
We should mention that the application is just a tool to raise the awareness of people. Yet, it will not be effective unless people intend to change their mindset and unite.
Also, the application will be used in cases that involve negative feelings, so we have to attract the people to continue using it through our marketing plan and through the application’s features.
Furthermore, we are interested in receiving feedback, in order to know users’ needs and update the application according to these needs. So, we send a survey to users every time they use the application.