Meet Rebecca Chiao.
Rebecca is the co-founder of HarassMap, an organization committed to converting the streets of Egypt into a safe space for all women.
Rebecca was born and raised in the United States, and had originally planned to follow a career in medicine. A three-week study tour to Israel/Palestine inspired her to switch gears. After witnessing Israeli oppression against the Palestinian people, Rebecca felt compelled to challenge injustice. She studied international development and then accepted an opportunity to work with a grassroots organization in Egypt.
Rebecca quickly experienced the sexual harassment women in Egypt face on the street every day. Rebecca realized that Egypt’s legal system does not implement existing sexual harassment laws. In 2005, she took matters in to her own hands and began to tackle the issue at street level. Alongside a team of volunteers, Rebecca encouraged survivors and witnesses to report incidents of sexual violence. This initiative would soon evolve into HarassMap.
HarassMap is an online tool that pinpoints incidents of sexual violence throughout Egypt. Survivors and witnesses use text messaging to report cases of harassment directly to HarassMap. Since December 2010, survivors and witnesses have reported over 1200 incidents of sexual harassment and assault which are categorized on a map and made viewable online. Rebecca uses the map to show the scope of sexual harassment in Egypt, and to inspire others to act.
Recent violent protests in Tahrir Square — such as those in June 2013 during which at least 91 women were sexually assaulted by mobs—have brought new urgency to the issue of women’s safety in Egypt. Through HarassMap’s citizen-led, street level engagement model, Rebecca is able to address the need for change and action.
“The solution has to come from us,” says Rebecca. Her initiative has gained international recognition for its ability to effectively mobilize Egyptian citizens against sexual violence and harassment against women.