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Uprising

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012, 7:06 pm

‘Meet Us on the Streets:’ Week of Action Challenges Street Harassment Worldwide

By Lindsey Kratochwill

This week, women and allies around the world are marking the second annual Anti-Street Harassment Week of Awareness, a campaign to raise the visibility of and challenge catcalls, sexist comments, flashing, groping, stalking and assault as forms of gender-based violence.

In a 2008 survey done by the group Stop Street Harassment, which organized the week, more than 99 percent of female respondents reported that they had experienced some form of street harassment.

Last year, SSH founder Holly Kearl organized the first Anti-Street Harassment Day. She was hoping to have a modest reaction of about 500 participants, but was surprised to see the event grow before her eyes. In response to the 2011 event, Simone Leid, founder of the WomenSpeak Project in Trinidad and Tobago, told Kearl:

Being part of an international effort added credibility to the cause and showed that it was not just a cultural idiosyncrasy as many believe, but a global gender discrimination issue.

In 2011, Kearl saw the importance of the event, and forecasted:

Each year, I know it will be bigger, with more participants and events, as we collectively refuse to be silent about this pervasive problem and decide to take action, share our stories and demand its end.

The campaign this year spread to about 100 co-sponsoring groups, representing 21 countries, where people were invited to participate and share their stories both online and offline at events including walks, art exhibits and more:

In Brussels – Feminist group Hollaback girls participated in a chalk walk, in which they reclaimed the streets they had been harrassed on by writing messages in chalk. They wrote on their Facebook page:

“What we discovered was that writing with chalk on the sidewalk, on the street, on the bridge, telling Brussels: "I was harassed here' 'I reclaim the street' is a powerful, liberating ritual and an amazing hollaback!”

In New York – The Center for Anti-Violence Education and New York City Council members hosted a self-defense class aimed at pre-teen women. The Window Sex Project also premiered as a part of a full week schedule in New York. The dance-theatre work brings to light the “window-shopping,” harassment that women face, by placing women on display and forcing the audience to deal with the objectification of women in society. The many events all culminated with a rally on the final day of the week.

In Yemen – Safe Streets campaign collected women’s stories about street harassment and distributed booklets to government and organizations, with a goal “to unify our voices with the other campaign[s] to tell the world in one voice Stop Sexual Harassment,” according to the group’s founder, Ghaidaa Alabsi.

In Chennai – Women participated in Snap Your Fear, in which people were invited to contribute to photos of where they had witnessed or experienced harassment on the street, to aid in the process of overcoming fears, while simultaneously mapping out unsafe public spaces.

In Germany – Soccer is widely popular in Germany, so members of ProChange distributed “red cards” against sexism in public places, such as pubs and buses. They also passed out special beer mats that describe the types of sexism that take place.

In Washington, DC – An art exhibit was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, showcasing submisions from around the world about peoples’ experiences with street harassment.

On the Web – “Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street” video went viral, riding the wave of the popular video meme. This video, rather than just highlighting things people say models ways for men to combat street harassment when they witness it. During Anti-Street Harassment Week, the video gained more than 150,000 views in less than 72 hours.

Occupy Baltimore also participated spreading the word for Anti-Street Harassment week with mud stencils, using art as a medium to publicize the issue.

After the release of Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street video, and the reports of sexual assault in Zucotti Park late last year, there has been increasing focus on internal sexism within the movement.

Lindsey Kratochwill, an In These Times editorial intern, is student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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