There were some amazing happenings to celebrate International Women’s Day this week… even the bizarre (but arguably, valiant) effort by ITN with their promo featuring Daniel Craig . The sun was shining and I flitted from a vigil outside the Swaziland embassy to a protest in Trafalgar Square to a talk at Amnesty International HQ, all the while receiving texts from the ladies I love celebrating, well, us. I thought about my great-grandmother, who kept the family business running during the First World War and turned a handsome profit; my grandmother, who is very much the leader of our pack; my business executive mother, who was expected to give up work when she married my father (she happily informed my father’s employer that as she was the bigger earner, this would not be happening) and the cunning entrepreneurs and creatives in my gang who are quietly smashing the glass ceiling.
Women are increasingly utilising technology to combat discrimination and change cultural norms. During the Egyptian protests calling for the resignation of Mubarak, one of the poster girls was 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz. Her vlog was a call to arms, radical in her own right, daring the men of Cairo to accompany her to Tahrir Square. Predictably, she received threats for daring to consider stepping outside unaccompanied, let alone joining the crowds on the street. Sam Gregory from Witness recently blogged about how to combat the growing issue of visual anonymity in video and protect the vulnerable. This will be discussed more in Witness’ upcoming report ‘Cameras Everywhere’ and word on the street is that Witness are also developing a new app around this area which should definitely be worth a look.
There has been a surge of initiatives to tackle street harassment of women and end its cultural acceptance. Comments to women about their appearance dished out by strangers on the street, from passing cars or on public transport, are not flattering or complementary- they are insincere and intimidating. Have you ever met a couple who got together after he shouted ‘nice arse’ at her while waiting at the traffic lights? The worse thing is, it’s accepted as part of being female and only really discussed amongst groups of girls like it’s a secret, which is a real shame as the boys I know were horrified to find out how widespread this kind of behaviour is as, obviously, it never happens when they are around.
Back to Egypt, I have been keeping an eye on the Harrassmap project since it started at the end of 2010. This is an SMS service for women to text in incidents of catcalling, touching and worse on the streets of Egypt which are then mapped. A similar initiative, Hollaback, exists in the USA and UK as an app and a map and is currently being rolled out worldwide. I like to think of these as a virtual alternative to a Mace spray, but what exactly will happen to the data once it is collected? Let’s hope these projects have teeth and go some way to changing cultural norms and encourage women to speak out about the unspoken.