Founder of Hollaback! Trinidad, Cherry Boodhan, 28, said street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces, typically against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) persons. She believes “it’s gender-based violence that should be stopped as it makes the target feel intimidated and scared to walk the streets.” Street harassment can be sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist.
The original Hollaback! movement was started in the United States in 2011 for women to report incidents of street harassment and has expanded to at least 26 countries. Boodhan said she was inspired to form the organization by an experience she had last year. “I was going for a walk one evening by myself, though usually I walk with my brother and someone said they could ‘beat up that tight p*%$y.’ That hurt my feelings and I felt scared, afraid and intimidated because I don’t know what they would do. I don’t know if they would follow me or if something bad could happen to me after that point.”
When she spoke to people about it, they didn’t think anything was bad about her experience. “People here in Trinidad, if you get harassed on the street, they just say, “oh it’s OK, well what are you going to do,” they’re not going to take it seriously or think about it differently. A lot of people say it’s culturally appropriate and nothing to worry about.”
There are two components to the Hollaback! Trinidad initiative, a Facebook page and a website. In addition, Boodhan wants to expand to Twitter soon. Persons who’ve been harassed can go to either site and report their experience in as much or as little detail as they wish. Viewers will be able to support them and show they are against street harassment as well. “The site is for everyone, straight, LGBTQ, male, female, they can report their experiences and there will be someone there to listen and give support, and have your back. I will try to respond to each message and readers can express support by clicking a ‘like’ button for each post. I will also be posting some tips and strategies on how to think differently about street harassment.” Boodhan said she would consult with a lawyer to see if it would be legal under T&T law to upload pictures of harassers on the website.
She said as she began to research street harassment, she posted her experience on www.stopstreetharassment.org, and later found the Hollaback! Website, which encouraged people to begin a branch in their city or country. Boodhan will be launching the initiative next month at the Fyzabad Anglican Secondary School where she works. The students will be involved in the launch and members of the public will be invited. Following the launch, she hopes to partner with the Education Ministry and give talks in schools about street harassment.
Boodhan stated she is enthusiastic about the project, even though “people were telling me the organization won’t work in Trinidad because it’s OK for someone to be harassed on the street, it’s OK for someone to say “good morning darling,” “take me home with you.” But it’s not OK. I want to walk the street, as do most women, with no-one telling you anything. You don’t want to feel intimidated when you’re walking down the street. I was being discouraged even though I wanted to do it because people said it was a part of T&T culture, but I don’t want people to think like that.”
Boodhan expressed hope that men will visit the website and Facebook page and begin to think about street harassment differently, as they are usually the main perpetrators. She said it is obvious that if young boys and teenagers see an older man harassing a woman on the street, they will learn that that type of behaviour is OK and it will be passed on. “Similarly to how women are always told that they should dress a certain way instead of telling men not to go out and rape, I believe people have to think differently about it. Men especially grow up with this learned behaviour that it’s OK to harass someone but with the Hollaback! Initiative, men will hopefully be able to understand that it’s not OK to harass anyone based on their gender or sexual orientation.”
Boodhan stated she doesn’t expect the initiative to make an immediate difference as “right now everyone thinks it’s OK for someone to be harassed on the street and I believe that it would take a while to change their attitudes, it won’t happen overnight.”
Users can use the hashtags #streetharassmentinT&T, #stopstreetharassment and #hollabackTT.
Original link: http://digital.guardian.co.tt/?iid=126004#folio=134