On April 13th, Hollaback! organized a rally for International Anti-Street Harassment Week! The rally drew more than 300 participants who raised awareness on what street harassment is, who it affects and how to fight it.
Within the event, a skit illustrated by a group of children depicted why street harassment is harmful, and a chalk-walk party where participants wrote positive messages against street harassment in and around the park allowed the large group of attendees to raise awareness for passersby.
City Council Members joined their voices in the fight against street harassment: “As Chair of the Women’s Issues Committee, I am very concerned about street harassment and the effects it has on many women,” Council Member Julissa Ferreras said. “By joining in the annual rally against street harassment, I am proud to send a public message both to those who harass and those who have been harassed – this behavior is not acceptable. I will continue to work with our partners in leadership to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers on our streets.”
“Street harassment is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence and the least legislated against,” said Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback!. “I am proud to come together with our co-sponsors and fellow New Yorkers to demand a city where everyone has the right to feel safe and confident when they walk down the street.”
As defined by STOP Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending gender-based street harassment worldwide that co-sponsored the event, street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender.
Gender-based street harassment, such as catcalls, sexist comments, public masturbation, groping, stalking and assault, makes public places unfriendly and even scary for many girls, women and LGBQT individuals. Street harassment limits women’s peace of mind and freedom, making it a gender equality and human rights issue.
The mobility of all members of the LGBQT community is often restricted as well because of harassment and hateful violence motivated by the person’s actual or perceived gender expression or sexual orientation.
On an international level, countries refer to street harassment by different names. In India and Bangladesh, it’s termed “eve teasing,” and in countries like Egypt, it’s called “public sexual harassment.”
International Anti-Street Harassment Week, marked as the second week in April this year, provides an opportunity to collectively raise awareness that street harassment happens, and that it is not acceptable.
To aid in the end of street harassment in New York City, several elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, Council Member Brad Lander, Council Member Stephen Levin and Council Member Darlene Mealy, attended the rally and spoke about the importance of International Street Harassment Week.
“Everyone deserves the right to walk the streets of our city free from fear,” Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer said. “International Street Harassment Week reminds us that we must continue to fight for this right by bringing the issue of street harassment into the spotlight and breaking down the cultural forces that support it. I commend Council Member Ferreras, Hollaback!, STEPS to End Family Violence, Let Your Voice Be Heard Radio and their partners for organizing such an important awareness-raising event. By working together, we can end street harassment and gender-based violence once and for all.”
“Everyone has the right to walk the street without the intimidation of street harassment,” Council Member Brad Lander said. “We all have a responsibility to speak out, but thank you to Councilmember Ferreras, Hollaback!, and all the other advocates for leading the charge toward safer streets for us all.”
“All women and men deserve the right to walk down the street in peace,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Street harassment is bullying and cannot be tolerated – there are no exceptions. I want to thank Hollaback! for their tireless efforts in making sure New York City is free of street harassment.”
“Issues of power and the over-sexualization of women in our culture are what drive street harassment. We live in a culture that perpetuates male dominance and the notion that it is somehow OK to overstep boundaries of decency,” Council Member Darlene Mealy said. “We need to spread awareness of this very real issue for all women in New York City and combat the problem.”
In addition to the elected officials who attended the rally, several individuals who have experienced street harassment first-hand as well as representative from more than 20 organizations highlighted the importance of presenting a unified voice to stop harassment from occurring not only in the City, but in the world.
The organizations in attendance included STOP Street Harassment, RAPP Truman Peer Leaders, STEPS to End Family Violence, Girls for Gender Equity, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, The Brooklyn Movement Center, UN Women, One Billion Rising, Sydnie L. Mosley Dances, Center Against Domestic Violence, New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, Cornell University ILR School and The Center Against Domestic Violence.
“The Growing movement against sexual violence and harassment in public spaces is one of the most important new global movements of the decade,” said Anastasia Posadskaya-Vanderbeck, Global Manager of UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiative.
“The Brooklyn Movement Center is not here to continue the criminalization of Black men,” said Marly Pierre-Louis, Communications Organizer of Brooklyn Movement Center. “We’re here to organize women of color in Bed-Stuy to start a community dialogue about how we can make public spaces safe and free of intimidation.”
“In our 38 years of helping people prevent, counter and heal from all different types of abuse, we have seen first-hand the devastating effects of violence perpetrated specifically against women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals and youth on NYC’s streets. At CAE we believe everyone has the right to live free from violence, to walk the streets and follow our pursuits without being harassed, denigrated and traumatized,” Tracy Hobson, Executive Director of The Center For Anti-Violence Education, said. “Young people in particular, harassment turns life experiences that could be enriching and strengthening into ones that erode their confidence and self-worth. CAE actively helps young and adult women and LGBTQ communities feel strong, safe, and independent. We believe that street harassment is a community issue and we must address it with a strong community response. When we stand together, we are stronger.”
“Street harassment is the most common way a person experiences sexual harassment around the world,” said Connie Márquez, Deputy Director of Steps to End Family Violence. “STEPS to End Family Violence is honored to stand with our national and international partners to highlight and help reduce this social epidemic and bring safety to our communities, schools and homes.”
“Sisters in Strength Youth Organizers are participating in the Stop Street Harassment rally to represent young women and bring awareness about street harassment,” said the Sisters in Strength Youth Organizers of Girls for Gender Equity, a youth leadership program for young women of color. “We believe we and all people have the right to walk down the street without being hollered at and disrespected. We hope that our actions can help put an end to street harassment, that it will no longer be a norm in society, and that our children will not have to be victimized by it.”
As the event closed with participants leaving positive messages written in chalk around the park, such as “My name is not ‘Baby'” and “I am not a dog, do not whistle at me,” Council Member Ferreras reflected upon the success in broadening the awareness of street harassment.
“This rally successfully embodied the message that street harassment must be stopped,” Ferreras said. “As people walk the streets around the park, I hope the chalk messages left by the participants resonates with them. Everyone deserves respect.”