Counter-Mapping: How to Pave the Way for Social Justice

For centuries maps have been used on a global scale to educate, inform and assist individuals and the wider community on issues of geography by embodying cartographic imagery. But did you know that maps are not just utilised by individuals to get directions? “Maps make things happen” (Evans, 2015) and maps are an extremely powerful and effective tool for promoting issues of social justice.

The counter-mapping movement has become more and more prevalent in today’s modern and ever-changing society, providing everyday individuals with the opportunity to modify maps in order to suit their needs. Also referred to as ‘community mapping’, these maps created by global citizens prove that mapping is no longer a job for mere professionals as crowdsourcing becomes the way of the future for cartography.

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In 2005, a group of New Yorkers created the Hollaback! organisation to counter-map occurrences of sexual harassment on the streets of their city. What was a small idea grew into something bigger, as the Hollaback! map crossed transnational borders and became a global success for the crowdsourced mapping movement.

The Hollaback! movement aims to “end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world” (Hollaback! 2015). Popular in over 79 cities, 26 countries and available in 14 different languages, the Hollaback! movement embodies the notion of globalised crowdsourcing as a way to promote social justice and equality. By sharing experiences and stories of street harassment individuals provide others with awareness, validation and the courage to stand up against this ongoing social issue.

Hollaback! on a Global Scale

The Hollaback! movement has further extended its global accessibility by creating a free app available for both iOS and Android devices. By doing so, it has provided users with the opportunity to access and interact with others on a more macro level, thus engaging a wider audience and providing more substantial awareness on the issue of street harassment on a globalised scale.

As the Hollaback! movement notes, “the explosion of mobile technology has given us an unprecedented opportunity to end street harassment. By collecting stories and pictures in a safe and share-able way, Hollaback! is creating a crowd-sourced initiative to end street harassment by calling out the harassers on their behaviour” (Hollaback!, 2015).

Similar to the Hollaback! movement is that of its Egyptian counterpart, the HarassMap. HarassMap is another volunteer based initiative aimed to stop sexual harassment, proving its significance as a means for promoting issues of social justice.

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The HarassMap integrates online communication and technology alongside the process of counter-mapping in order to address the issue at hand. By doing so, this process of crowdsourcing SMS and online information has allowed for a safer local, national and globalised community.

HarassMap in Action

HarassMap in Action

As a part of their mission statement, HarassMap has noted the extreme importance of becoming a mobilised community striving for a sense of social equity and stability. “One by one, we are working with residents, businesses, drivers, workers, and students in neighborhoods all over the country to restore our sense of social responsibility and to create zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault in Egypt.” (HarassMap, 2015)

Members of the Community Working Together to Aid HarassMap

Members of the Community Working Together to Aid HarassMap

Below is co-founder Rebecca Chiao discussing the importance of the HarassMap for achieving social justice. She draws upon personal experience to describe just how prevalent this global issue is for individuals on a day to day basis, and also explains why HarassMap is here to help bring about social change and reformation.

Counter-mapping, the Hollaback! movement and HarassMap prove that “maps make things happen” (Evans, 2015) and highlight that cartography is changing for the better. We no longer live in a society that is limited to the borders placed on a map and thus through ‘community mapping’ and the power crowdsourcing we have the ability to make formerly tabooed or unspoken issues of social justice centralised concerns in the global debate. As Bernard Nietschmann indicated “Maps are power. You either will map or you will be mapped.”

– Evans, N., 2015, ‘Global Visions: Mapping the Planet’,  Lecture Notes / PowerPoint Slides, BCM232, University of Wollongong, 17 March 2015.
– Monmonier, M., 1991, ‘Maps for Political Propaganda’ in How To Lie With Maps, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 87-112.
– Strom, TE., 2011, ‘Space, Cyberspace and Interface: The Trouble with Google Maps’, M/C Journal, 14:3.
– Hollaback!, 2015, Hollaback! You Have The Power to End Street Harassment, Hollaback!, <> viewed 1 April 2015.
– HarassMap, 2015, HarassMap: Report Sexual Harassment, HarassMap, <>, viewed 1 April 2015.


4 thoughts on “Counter-Mapping: How to Pave the Way for Social Justice

  1. Great Blog. Hollabank! and HarassMap are great for removing the isolation one feels when subjected to sexual harassment on the street and gives people power to help bring about an end to this ongoing social issue which you generally hear very little about. While these movements are popular in 26 countries they are generally Western countries so the aim now would be to have the movements expand into Asia, Africa and South America.

    • Hi Emma!
      Thanks for your feedback, I really appreciate the comment. I very much agree with you and believe that getting similar organisations set up in nations within Asia and Africa would be more effective for individuals looking for social justice.

  2. Pingback: Power to the People: Active Audiences Assemble | A Blog in the Life of Melissa

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post on counter-mapping and the different roles they play as effective tools in promoting social justice issues. I like that you emphasised how counter mapping is now an opportunity for everyday citizens to take control and create their own maps going against the accepted norm of cartography being exclusive to professionals and governments. I didn’t know the Hollaback movement had extended its reach through an app which is excellent for instantly reporting a harassment issue opposed to waiting until you get home and going on the computer. Also with the Harass map I hadn’t thought about it as a way to restore social responsibility and change people’s attitudes towards harassment. I first thought as the map as way to identify ‘places’ or ‘areas’ to avoid harassment, but now I understand that it is a movement that is actually changing community standards. I also liked the links and video’s you provided, they were really informative. ☺

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