Women Who Inspire Change: Anti-Street Harassment Activists
Holly Kearl, Guest Contributor
"I came to tell the truth. All I want is for justice to be done," Gabriela Chacón said just moments before Luis Enrique Sossa Maltés was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. A few months prior to that victorious day, Luis sexually abused the 25-year-old woman on the street of San Jose, Chile. Unlike most men who harass women in public, Maltés was held accountable for his actions.
All over the world girls and women face unwanted sexual harassment in school, at their jobs, and also on the street. Recently, many of these incidents have caused enough public outrage to force the legal systems and protective authorities to take women's safety more seriously. To kick off International Anti-Street Harassment Week, I'll tell you about a few brave women who are making public space safer for women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Respect for women’s bodily autonomy should be a guaranteed human right, and women throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are fighting to ensure they have the right to be safe when they walk down the street. In Bogota, Colombia, the Latin American Women and Habitat Network (LAWHN) launched a poster campaign on city buses that reads: "We don't need that kind of support."
“During rush hour, when the buses are packed, the male passengers take the opportunity to stand close to women and feel them up,” said Marisol Dalmazzo. “It’s offensive and restrictive to women.”
The WomenSpeak Project in Trinidad and Tobago provides an online platform for street harassment victims to share stories of discrimination and receive peer support. The project leader, Simone Leid, also uses the media to increase public awareness about street harassment being a socially accepted form of violence against women and a global women's rights issue.
"[Sexism] is still present and it affects us every day of our lives," explains Simone. "If you take the time to examine street harassment, you see that it has a great deal to do with discrimination."
Based in Argentina and coordinated by Redmujer, the Cities Without Violence Against Women, Safe Cities For All project is being carried out in several urban areas throughout Latin America -- such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. "The project is based on an assessment that shows that public safety policies in Latin America do not take into account violence against women in both the public and private spheres," said Liliana Rainero.
After the assessment is complete, Redmujer will present city officials with concrete strategies on how to design safer cities. In the meantime, they are also engaged in public awareness campaigns and provide safety training for women, young people, and the police. Some local organizations involved in the project have also started neighborhood revitalization and public art projects to bring the community together to fight violence against women.
From today until March 24th groups around the world will participate in International Anti-Street Harassment Week to collectively demand respect for women’s safety and an end to street harassment. It's women like Marisol, Simone, and Liliana that provide me with the inspiration to continue the lifelong struggle for women's equality and human rights. Join us and become the inspiration for other women to become a part of this growing movement.
Holly Kearl is the author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women and the founder of International Anti-Street Harassment Week.