From the age of five, gender-based street harassment has been an undercurrent in my life—even on my wedding day last year. I was in a grocery store parking lot when two men told me I looked beautiful, then immediately escalated into sexually explicit comments about my body, making me feel dirty and humiliated.
I am not alone, of course. Gender-based street harassment—from sexual or homophobic comments and gestures to stalking and groping—affects at least 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men in the United States. And it’s not just a problem here. A growing number of studies confirm that women around the world experience street harassment, and an underlying threat of sexual violence often makes public spaces unsafe for them.
While groups and organizations take action in their communities year-round to address this social problem, there is strength in numbers. That’s why Stop Street Harassment creates space for them each spring to join forces and take action in unity, in solidarity, during Meet Us on the Street: International Anti-Street Harassment Week.
Below, six organizers share what they will do, and why.
What: Ahead of the week, Free Women Writers called on people around the country to send photos with messages about the harassment of women and girls in public spaces. Free Women Writers will share the photos, as well as women’s street harassment stories, on social media throughout the week.
Why: “From a young age, we are traumatized, marginalized and silenced by street harassment and we are speaking up because not only is this a violation of our rights, but marginalizing women and preventing their public participation in rebuilding Afghanistan is a betrayal to our nation.” — Noorjahan Akbar, founder of Free Women Writers, a blog about gender equality and social justice in Afghanistan
What: Women for a Change, Cameroon is hosting a street harassment seminar for youth ages 14 to 19.
Why: “Participating in the week of activism means so much to us in terms of building cross-border solidarity against any forms of abuse or violence on women and girls.” — Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo, founder of Women for a Change, Cameroon
What: Observatorio contra el Acoso Callejero Chile (the Observatory against Street Harassment) will host the Festival Respeto Callejero (Street Respect Festival). They will have music, stand-up comedy, workshops, a self-defense class and activities for children. Additionally, they will launch a joint social media campaign with groups in five other Latin American countries called #NoEsMiCultura (#NotMyCulture).
Why: “We believe the international week provides great momentum for us to strengthen our voices and invite more people to join the movement all around the world.” — Alice Junqueira, international coordinator, OCAC Chile
What: Stop Harcèlement de Rue (Stop Street Harassment) is coordinating a campaign across six cities in France, including sidewalk chalking, workshops in schools and film screenings.
Why: “Our organization’s first events in Paris took place during International Anti-Street Harassment Week 2014. We were only four activists on the Monday of #MeetUsOnTheStreet week, but by Friday, our group grew to 25! Since then, every year we use the week to start new campaigns and make many noises against street harassment.” — Héloïse, co-founder of Stop Harcèlement de Rue
What: Youth Advocate Nepal (YAN) will organize many events in Kathmandu, including a street drama, sidewalk chalking, a youth workshop on ‘government policy and street harassment,’ a rally and a film screening.
Why: “YAN is coordinating our events because street harassment based on gender has been a neglected issue in Nepal, but it should be on the public agenda. To make it part of the public agenda, we aim to create awareness among policymakers, government officials and general people regarding its negative impact.” — Naren Khatiwada, president, Youth Advocacy Nepal
What: To Be for Rights and Freedom will hold an informational event in collaboration with other Yemeni NGOs in Aden, to share street harassment survey results, a film and personal stories.
Why: “Women [in Yemen] are not only dealing with sexual harassment, they are also dealing with threats of acid being poured in their faces if they don’t cover up. They are dealing with magnified violence. As such, it is important for us in Yemen to participate in this week to document, to share experiences and learnings, and to support women at those especially difficult times.” — Rasha Jarhum, a Yemeni sociology and social policy researcher and board advisor to To Be for Rights and Freedom
Anyone, anywhere can participate in the week, including by sharing your stories and/or images online, writing sidewalk chalk messages, hanging up Stop Telling Women to Smile posters, snapping photos of your dog/s for #HoundsAgainstHarassment and joining the Global Tweetathon on April 12 (use #EndSH in your tweets).
I invite you to Meet Us on the Street. No action is too small to make a difference.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jeffrey Zeldman licensed under Creative Commons 2.0