March 18-24th is International Anti- Street Harassment Week, where 100 groups in 18 countries combine forces to create a unified effort to make the streets a safe place, free of harassment. The week is aimed at tackling the global problem of street harassment of women and men not only in the United States but also across the globe in cities like Cairo, Delhi, Instanbul, Montreal, Oslo, and Sana. The week has the goal of “collectively rais[ing] awareness about gender based street harassment.”
The statistics are alarming. By the age of 12, 1 in 4 girls will experience street harassment in the form of unwanted attention in public and by the age of 19 that number is nearly 90 percent. Street harassment can turn a causal walk up the block into a gauntlet of unwanted attention that can bring on feelings of anger, fear, shame, and anxiety.
“Street harassment is seen as a given by many women, girls and LGBQT individuals. Meanwhile, most people who are not harassed do not realize how much it happens,” said Holly Kearl, street harassment expert and founder of International Anti-Street Harassment Week. “This week is about challenging the normalization of street harassment, showing it’s a worldwide problem that negatively impacts lives, and working toward solutions.”
The groups participating are engaging in a variety of different activities including sharing stories in online and offline spaces, organizing sidewalk chalking parties with friends, school discussion groups, and events in the community. Kearl notes that, “Black Feminists UK will publish a post a day on their blog highlighting stories of harassment from Black women in different countries. Women in Yemen will hand out a book with women’s street harassment stories to NGOs, members of parliament and post it online. In Germany, activists will hand out “red cards” against street harassment on buses, subways, clubs, pubs, and schools. In Afghanistan, activists will host a debate about street harassment and how best to address it.” All in an effort to raise awareness and create the atmosphere needed to bring about a change in the status quo.
EBONY spoke with Nuala Cabral, a primary organizer based in Philadelphia and filmmaker of the 2009 short film Walking Home. The film explores the harsh realities of street harassment and features the voices of young women who have been subject to vulgar insults and cat-calling as they simply try to move about in peace. Cabral says, “personal experience inspired [her] to make Walking Home: “Throughout my 20s, I lived in different cities and learned that navigating street harassment was like an art form, something many women learn how to do out of necessity. I found that disturbing and fascinating — and as a filmmaker I felt compelled to respond.”
After Cabral uploaded the film to Youtube in 2009, she was introduced to the anti-street harassment movement where she now is an influential activist. “[The film took on] a life of its own,” she says, “sparking dialogue and becoming part of an international discourse around street harassment.”
International Anti-Street Harassment Week is necessary because street harassment is not an isolated problem. “Street harassment is not a ‘woman’s problem,’ Cabral says, “Men are a big part of the problem and they need to be a part of the solution. This week is about standing in solidarity with people throughout the world and sending the message that street harassment is not okay. For many of us who experience street harassment regularly, it often feels normalized because we are used to it. But street harassment is not normal and it hurts our community. I hope [International Anti-Street Harassment] week of action makes this [fact] more clear.”