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New HarassMap Campaign: ‘Harasser = Criminal’

Resources, street harassment | on May, 23, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

From our friend HarassMap in Egypt:

“Our campaign ‘Harasser = Criminal’ (El Mota7aresh Mogrim) is live!

It is a campaign to motivate people to take action and stand up to sexual harassment when they see it happen, so that we can start building a society where sexual harassment is not tolerated and harassers do not get away with their crime.

We launched with a press conference on Thursday May 21 at the Goethe Institute in downtown Cairo. The launch was covered by MBCMasrMada MasrYoum 7, and others. Check out our video from the press conference here

The campaign is now running online on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Over the next week it will roll out on the streets in Cairo and other governorates around Egypt.

TV and radio ads will be aired on MBC Masr, CBC, El Nahar, Dream 2, and Radio Masr. Find the directors cut versions of the campaign ads here:

You can find more written information about the campaign on our website.”

 

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#SayHerName

race, Resources | on May, 22, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

Yesterday was the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) release the report:‪#‎SayHerName‬: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women” to help shed light on the extent of the issue.

From the AAPF website:

“Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” said Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Director of the African American Policy Forum and co-author of the brief. “Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”

#SayHerName gathers stories of Black women who have been killed by police and who have experienced gender-specific forms of police violence, provides some analytical frames for understanding their experiences, and broadens dominant conceptions of who experiences state violence and what it looks like…

In 2015 alone, several Black women’s lives have already been lost to police violence. For instance, just before Freddie Gray’s case grabbed national attention, police killed Mya Hall–a Black trans woman, on the outskirts of Baltimore. No action has been taken to date with respect to the officers responsible for her death. Most recently, police fatally shot Alexia Christian in the back of a police cruiser while she was handcuffed. And in Ventura, CA, Police officers fatally shot Meagan Hockaday–a young mother of three–within 20 seconds of entering her home in response to a domestic disturbance.

#SayHerName responds to increasing calls for attention to police violence against Black women by offering a resource to help ensure that Black women’s stories are integrated into demands for justice, policy responses to police violence, and media representations of victims and survivors of police brutality.”

There was a rally in New York City. Here is footage:

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The Netherlands: Female Hitchhikers Defy Highway Harassment (Part 1)

correspondents, Stories, street harassment | on May, 21, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

Julka Szymańska, the Netherlands, SSH Blog Correspondent

Hitchhiking: it’s as old as the road itself, but not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of hopping into a stranger’s vehicle for a ride. This may especially be true for women who are warned about the possibility of harassment or assault while hitchhiking. Yet hitchhiking still has its popularity and plenty of women are hitting the road with their thumb or a sign. So who are these women and why are they getting into a car with complete strangers?

Paulina.

Paulina is a brave 21 year old, born in Poland and currently living in Denmark. Two years ago she embarked on her first hitchhiking journey and ever since that first trip she has used most of her time off school to travel, contributing to her 20.000 kilometers on the road with her thumb. She wanted to see more of Europe’s many different cultures, but didn’t have much money, so hitchhiking was the perfect solution for this desire to explore.

Out of many positive experiences, she did encountered one negative situation: while hitchhiking with her friend in Georgia she was groped by a man after accepting his apparent hospitality. Fortunately they could get away by excusing themselves.

“Hitchhiking is more dangerous for women, women aren’t as physically strong and we risk rape too of course”, Paulina explains. “But i have pepper spray to keep myself safe and I use the ring my grandmother gave me as a fake engagement ring to communicate that I’m not looking for sex. ”She takes pride in being a rule breaker and doesn’t think too deeply about harassment: “If I start worrying about this, I could as well just stop hitchhiking and I don’t want that.”

Paulina’s golden tip for hitchhiking as a woman: “Be careful, but don’t stop traveling. Take a friend with you and you’ll gather memories you will never forget.”

Marjan.

Founder of Dutch hitchhiking foundation Nederland Lift, 36 year old Marjan is a mother of two and hitchhikes to work every Wednesday. She writes about these weekly 15-minute trips on her Dutch-language blog LiftGeluk.nl. After 124 rides in one and a half years Marjan is still hopelessly addicted to hitchhiking and the spontaneous, fun, and sometimes touching encounters she has along the way.

Marjan has never personally encountered any harassment during hitchhiking, but attributes this to the time of day and the short drive to her destination. She also acknowledges that there’s a world of difference between a confident 36 year old woman with plenty of experience and –for example– an unprepared 18 year old.

“An interesting aspect of hitchhiking is the anonymous, yet very real contact you make with people who you would otherwise not have a conversation with, this is unique,” Marjan proclaims. “Hitchhiking negates prejudice: you share a car with people of all walks of life. I believe this brings people closer together.”

Marjan speaks out against the bad reputation hitchhiking has due to harassment by explaining that people often blame hitchhiking, but not trains or buses, where it happens too. The harasser is responsible, not the method of transportation.

“Hitchhiking is a lot like life itself: you never know what comes your way, but it sure is beautiful”, is her motto.

Elisa.

Spanish Audio-Visual Communication student, feminist and acting aficionado Elisa just returned from traveling around the USA by finding rides through word of mouth networking and the Internet. This 23 year old, armed with her camera, overcame her insecurity of traveling alone by deciding to ‘just do it’ and isn’t planning on stopping any time soon.

Elisa is very clear in her convictions: “I believe that discouraging women to travel alone for fear of harassment can lead to victim-blaming. We live in a sexist society where women are told that we cannot do the same things a man can do without hearing ‘I told you so’ if something bad happens.” She wants to disprove that point by doing exactly what people say she can’t do: hitchhike and travel alone, regardless of harassment. “We should do something about harassment and empower women to not be stopped by fear, because otherwise it will paralyze us. I think the solution is to put tools (such as feminism) in the hands of both women and men to prevent harassment.”

Harassment happens in your own neighbourhood too, Elisa calls this ‘the enemy at home’, an enemy women are less prepared for when crossing their own street. “Being scared all the time is no way to live, but during hitchhiking it is something you have more control over.” Elisa carefully selects who to accept a ride from and writes down license plates: she’s aware of the risks and has trust in herself and others.

Stay tuned for the second part of this series next month.

Julka is a 25-year-old feminist activist and soon-to-be Cultural Science student with a generous amount of life experiences -including street harassment – and even more passion for social justice.

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USA: School is a (un)safe place

correspondents | on May, 20, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

Laura Voth, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

Artwork by a high school student in Virginia.

Artwork by a high school student in Virginia.

I am twelve years old, walking down the locker-lined hallway of my middle school on the way to the bathroom. The corridor is empty but for two or three eighth-graders loitering outside of a classroom. As I walk by, one of the boys, a red-head, calls out “where you going, pretty girl?” He bares his teeth and narrows his eyes at me, giving a poor imitation of a smile.

I give the boy my fiercest glare and continue on to the bathroom, looking back once to make sure he isn’t following me. As I wash my hands and return to class—taking care to go a different route to avoid running in to the redhead—I think about what has just happened. Surely I shouldn’t feel so upset; a boy called me pretty. Isn’t that a compliment?

At the time, I couldn’t describe why I felt dirty and disgusted by what had happened, and for years afterwards I was still confused. Why did such a seemingly-innocent phrase make my stomach turn? Why did I feel nervous every time I saw that boy in the hallway or at an assembly? I didn’t even know his name—and to this day I still don’t—but that boy made me feel unsafe in an environment that ought to have been something of a haven. More than that, his words made me feel as though I didn’t deserve to be comfortable at school.

I still wonder today what that boy was thinking—why he would choose to make that comment and why it would even occur to him to say it. It’s true that fourteen-year-olds aren’t great at making wise decisions, but this wasn’t an impersonal, largely harmless action. I still remember the look in his eyes and the timbre of his voice—I believe that he knew the impact of what he was saying.

I wonder where that boy learned to call upon women in passing as though he had a right to comment on them. I wonder whether he saw his father or brothers doing it. Maybe he saw it in a music video or a TV show. Maybe he legitimately thought that his comment was a good way to get some positive attention from a girl.

When I tell this story of the first time I experienced street harassment, the listener sometimes indicates that I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill, that the boy’s comment was harmless, and that I ought to let it go (although perhaps I should). But how can someone forget the first time they felt that their personal safety was in immediate danger? I remember that moment as the point when I realized that those around me considered my body fair game for public scrutiny; that my body was not truly my own.

For many women, street harassment starts around puberty, with 90% of women experiencing it before the age of nineteen. Harassment sends a message that the victim doesn’t deserve to feel safe in her environment and that she is not worthy of simply moving through her world without a crude comment tossed her way.

It’s no wonder that girls’ confidence seems to drain away as they emerge into adolescence. With men and boys harassing them at school and in their very own neighborhoods, how can girls be expected to assert themselves in other situations? After all, if they can’t feel safe even moving through their world, venturing outside of their comfort zone—socially, academically, emotionally—becomes an even greater risk. If a thirteen-year-old isn’t able to walk down the street without being catcalled, she won’t explore avenues unfamiliar to her.

Those of us who began experiencing harassment at young ages—and I know there are many who were first harassed younger than I was—need to nurture the girl who still believes she is undeserving of safety and respect. Explain what happened like you would to a niece or a daughter: remind yourself that you are worthy of feeling comfortable in your environment and that nobody has the right to take away your peace of mind.

If I could go back to that day in the middle school hallway as an adult, I’d ask the red-headed boy what he thought gave him the right to accost a girl who was doing nothing more than existing in a public space. I would tell him the impact that his comments can have on a woman—that the women he harasses will likely remember his words for years to come (and may even write articles describing their negative experiences with him).

I would tell that red-headed boy that his actions are neither respectful nor attractive and that no woman has ever thought “damn, I’d love to go out with that guy who catcalled me today.” I’d tell him that the words he says to women in the street are not indicative of his power, but rather of his inability to see women as human beings.

I’d tell him that, while the girl he just catcalled has no idea what to say to him and only knows that she feels confused and violated, he is the one that should be ashamed.

I’d ask him whether his comment was worth the momentary swagger; whether he truly deserved the brief ego-boost more than I deserved to feel safe at school—safe to walk through the halls, safe to make my voice heard, safe to explore my world.

Laura is an emerging adult-slash-college student studying to enter a healthcare profession. In addition to studying and writing, Laura works at her university’s women’s center where she helps design and implement programs on all things lady. 

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#SafeCitiesBecause Campaign

Activist Interviews, Resources, street harassment | on May, 20, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

Join ActionAid​‘s call for ‪#‎SafeCitiesBecause‬ EVERYONE deserves to go to work or university, use the bus, walk down the street – simply live their lives – without the threat of sexual attack.

Find out more, join the movement, sign the pledge, and Tweet #SafeCitiesBecause today to share why you believe we need safe cities. Read how women all over the world are reclaiming what is rightly theirs: the right to be in public spaces safely.

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USA: Poetry and Street Harassment

correspondents, street harassment | on May, 19, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

Michelle Marie Ryder, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

Slyvia Plath, via BrainPickings

Despite her themes of feminism, there is no Sylvia Plath poem about street harassment. If you type “street harassment” into the search bar at two of the largest poetry databases (The Poetry Foundation and poets.org) you’ll get zero results. Type in “trees” or “love” and you’ll find hundreds or thousands of matching results.

It appears as if street harassment is not the subject of poetry. Which isn’t surprising, considering how historically male-dominated the literary world has been. Just like public space, cultural circles and high centers of learning are long-established male domains. Only within recent memory have women experienced some success in forcing the doors open, demanding a ‘room of their own’ in the literary world.

Still, I don’t think I ever expected to find a poem about street harassment by Sylvia Plath, despite the regularity in which her name surfaced when I talked to people about the subject. As both a literary giant and a feminist icon, I understood why Plath came to mind. But the dots, easy to connect, were still too few.

In truth, only very recently are enough dots beginning to appear and fuse intelligibly to bring the bigger picture into view. Thanks to our ability to disseminate our stories through modern technology, women from all ranks of society are speaking up and being heard, exposing the bigger picture of street harassment for what it really is: “a pattern of violence that constitutes a genuine social crisis,” writes Rebecca Solnit.

Despite the lack of search results at some popular websites, the poetic imagination is alive and flourishing. Survivors of street harassment are fighting back and sharing their experiences through the poetic medium. They are using poetry as a powerful tool to develop a vocabulary of dissent against gendered oppression in the public sphere. Surging with raw poetic insight and justified rage, these poets are transforming the streets by changing minds.

Being the digital age, this conversation is happening mostly online, on personal websites and social media platforms, among career artists and activists and ordinary folks alike. And because of its grassroots nature, it is expanding beyond the limited reaches of the white, cis, middle class female experience in order to embrace the experiences of the LGBTQIA community, lower-income people, people of color, and people with disabilities. Anyone who is not a wealthy, straight, white man is likely to endure public harassment at some point in their life.

Perhaps what’s most fascinating about this burgeoning genre of poetry is that it is dominated by spoken word: “performance-based poetry that focuses on the aesthetics of word-play and storytelling” (Wikipedia). This is in part because the literary establishment has yet to take street harassment as a subject of poetry seriously, but also – and more importantly – because spoken word is a natural fit.

Rooted in the oral tradition, spoken word has long served as a powerful vehicle for voicing dissent and agitating for social change. Poetry about street harassment is about moving beyond the individualistic poetic pursuit. It is about translating painful, self-aware moments into something larger, pushing poetic self-expression to answer to larger political realities in order to create a wider community consciousness – i.e. a movement.

It is about practicing freedom, even if we don’t have it yet. Change can and does start with a poem, even if your voice trembles. And now is the time to speak up. Visibility of the issue is at an all time high. The term “street harassment” has finally entered the popular lexicon thanks to the hard work of countless organizations and individuals.

Sylvia Plath may never have written a poem about street harassment, but it would be disingenuous of me to leave you with the impression that she was silent on the issue. She wasn’t. She suffered too, as much from the problem itself as from her own radical understanding of it, writing in her journal:

“My consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars — to be a part of a scene… all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…”

The limitations patriarchy placed on Plath’s life were obvious and unwelcome; catcalls, sexual solicitations and the underlying threat of assault policed her existence.

If street harassment is the shrinking of one’s world, poetry is its opposite.

Michelle is a freelance writer and community organizer. She has written for Infita7.com, Bluestockings Magazine, and The New Verse News on a range of social justice issues, and shares her poetry regularly at poetrywho.blogspot.com.

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“I never thought that would happen to me at such a young age”

Stories, street harassment | on May, 19, 2015 | by | 0 Comments

I was going to my locker to get my stuff. Some guys were sitting outside on the opposite side of my locker and we’re doing an art project. As I turn to leave and walk down the hallway, I hear one of them say ʺI’d hit that.ʺ I’m in middle school and I never thought that would happen to me at such a young age.

– Anonymous

Location: School

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SSH will not publish any comment that is offensive or hateful and does not add to a thoughtful discussion of street harassment. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, disabalism, classism, and sexism will not be tolerated. Disclaimer: SSH may use any stories submitted to the blog in future scholarly publications on street harassment.