Chicago. London. Tokyo. Cairo. Stories echoing around the world show that gender-based street harassment has no borders. And not even the pandemic, which has halted and restricted social life, can confine them.
According to pooled data from 13 countries, more than half of women think that sexual harassment in public has worsened amid the pandemic. It has also directly impacted women’s safety when walking alone at night, with 40 percent of women across 13 countries saying their feelings of safety have deteriorated since the onset of covid-19. More than ever, activists say, greater awareness and action against harassment is crucial in fighting violence against women.
“It’s incredibly important because we’ve seen … cases of domestic abuse rising, online abuse rising and street harassment, as well, increasing and becoming more dangerous because of less people around,” said Eliza Hatch, a photographer who started a platform and photo series called “Cheer Up Luv,” which documents women’s and nonbinary people’s experiences with sexual harassment.
“It was based on kind of revisiting the place in which the trauma of the incident happened,” she said of the project, “and using that as a stage to speak out on and reclaim the space.”
Hatch is not alone in that effort: A collective of more than 600 activists are also retelling stories of harassment through a series of local “CatcallsOf” accounts formed under the organization Chalk Back, said founder Sophie Sandberg. Using chalk, activists etch stories of catcalling on the sidewalks and streets where they occurred and then post them on social media.
Given their aligned approaches, Hatch and Sandberg have teamed up regularly since they first came into the activist scene in 2017. So in recognition of the 30th anniversary of 16 Days, an annual global campaign against gender-based violence, it seemed fitting that the two join forces again for a project that would marry what they do, Hatch said.
“This was kind of an opportunity to talk more about next steps and what accountability means and how to bring in people who aren’t normally involved in this conversation into the conversation,” Sandberg said.
Their joint project, which ran from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, featured interviews with seven activists from around the world who run “catcalls” accounts, along with their photographs, which were shot and directed virtually by Hatch over FaceTime.
Explore photos and excerpts from the conversations to learn how activists view advocacy, allyship and accountability within the movement. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“Men and boys need to understand that not being a harasser is not where the bar is set and it’s not something to applaud them for; we need action. If the ‘good men’ start making it clear that street harassment and violence against women is unacceptable, more men will have no choice but to comply.” Read the full interview.
“Since I started chalking on the streets of Chicago and the Chicagoland area, I have received mixed reviews, to say the least. Most of the backlash I receive are from men, and more specifically, men with daughters. I recall once chalking near Millennium Park, a very family-friendly park in Chicago. The story I had chalked was from a 16-year-old girl who shared with us her most recent experience with street harassment. [It was] quite profane. This man and his 10-year-old daughter walked up to me to essentially give me a piece of their mind about how children seeing the chalking is harmful and is ruining the ambiance of the park.” Read the full interview.
“In my experience making chalks on the street, men and boys don’t come to look at what we write. In general it is women who ask us what we are doing. We have had negative experiences in which we have been called ‘exaggerated’ or ‘feminazis.’ I have friends who are men who have been interested in the subject and have asked me how they could help. Once I went out to make chalks and for some reason I felt ‘safer’ being with a man than when I went out with my team in which we are all women. I think that is part of the unfair reality in which we women live that every time we go out on the street we are afraid.” Read the full interview.
“I believe realistic next steps towards accountability are creating safe spaces to hold each other accountable to unlearn, be compassionate and heal. It does not include: cancel culture that shames and isolates persons but reinforces harmful practices. In most situations, cancel culture is not helpful for perpetrators to understand their wrongdoings, take accountability or commit to doing better. Remember, accountability is anti-cancel culture. It aids with transformative justice in creating healthier communities and dismantling systems of oppression.” Read the full interview.
“Accountability to me means calling a thing by its name. No mitigating the effect. Letting the world see it the way it is! Everyone needs to be accountable when it comes to gender-based street harassment.” Read the full interview.