Yemen women use digital tech to improve society with ‘Safe Streets’

An excerpt cross-posted from the Women’s News Network

To push for safer streets in Taiz City, Ghaidaa al Absi, a rising group of 200+ women have brought attention back to the issues of women and Yemeni society. Persistent problems of street harassment throughout regions in the Middle East were discussed openly during a recent world conference on women in Istanbul. But what are the solutions?

The 12th AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) International Forum on Women’s Rights, April 19 – 22, recently provided a dynamic space for open discussion on issues facing women in Yemen and throughout the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Activism and action were highlighted.

As part of the work for ‘Defying the Silence’ in Yemen, Absi’s goal has been to train over 200 women to become ‘experts’ in using open source online digital publishing tools as they become active voices for their communities using digital cyber-activism.

“Society accepts it and women expect that they will be touched and talked to,” said Absi at the AWID conference.

Continued reports of harassment in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a has brought Maeen district police chief, Ahmed Al-Tahiri, to step up efforts to catch and prosecute predatory acts against women on the streets. Despite this promise for stepped up efforts, most men who are reported on sex-harassment charges often have their case caught up in what Sana’a policewoman Bushra Al-Khawlani explains is a process of office “referals’ where a case is referred from one department to another with often little to no final punitive measures being made against the offender.

Currently Yemen does not have any specific legislation protecting women from sexual harassment.

Using Google maps, Wiki and Facebook, numerous Yemeni women cyber-activists are currently now working with other activists to stop the abuse on the streets as they seek solutions, in spite of mobile challenges in certain areas and a lack of sustained internet connections they are working together to bring impact to the issues. Their work is based on efforts to improve, change and remove strife for women in the region.

“Every day I walk in the streets, and every day I face  sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it becomes daily life, and we women are forced to adapt to it either by being silent or yelling at the harassers,” shared Absi in a February 2012 interview to highlight the conditions many women face on the streets as they go about their daily routines.

Stepped-up efforts by the women under a recent micro-grant by the Tactical Technology Collective (TTC – Tactical Tech), along with the organizational leadership of Absi, are now working toward solutions. TTC is an online digital resource that shares open source toolkits, guides and information for cyber-activists worldwide. Through the TTC program grant the  Safe Streets website has produced an interactive map that now reveals ‘real-time’ locations where sexual harassment on the street has been reported by women throughout the Yemeni region.

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