16 Days of Activism – Girls chalk up a victory in the fight against street harassment

  • PublishedNovember 26, 2019

From Nairobi to Delhi, girls and young women from across the world will document the catcalls they’ve been subjected to in public spaces by writing them in chalk on streets and pavements as part of a collaboration between child rights organisation Plan International and anti-street harassment initiative Chalk Back.

The action in four global cities – Nairobi, Kampala, Cairo and Delhi – is taking place to mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual campaign calling for the elimination of violence against women and girls around the world.

The goal of the Chalk Back action is to raise awareness and generate a global dialogue both on the streets and on social media about the importance of putting an end to street harassment.

Pauller, 18, a young activist who will be leading the chalk back activity in Nairobi, said: “This campaign for me is the difference between talking and action. I believe talk is cheap. We can no longer accept the social ills that have been allowed to thrive in our society. This is one way of combating them.”

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said: “Our research shows that girls face relentless sexual harassment daily and that even when girls speak out, the authorities fail to respond to their complaints. Street harassment and threats of violence affect their ability to access education, to work, to use public transport and lead full lives.

“These 16 Days of Activism are an opportunity for girls to challenge the status quo. Chalking back is an innovative, peaceful way of tackling harassment and drawing much-needed attention to this global problem.”

Use of crowd mapping technology to allow girls and women in five major cities to anonymously record incidents of street harassment, (from cat-calling to stalking, threatening behaviour and physical and sexual assault) revealed that fewer than 1 in 10 incidents in Lima, Kampala, Delhi, Madrid and Sydney were reported to police, and when they were, less than one-third of cases were acted upon.

The Chalk Back concept is the brainchild of 22-year-old New York-based university student Sophie Sandberg, who began posting real examples of catcalls in her city on the @CatcallsofNYC Instagram in 2016. Since then, the idea has blossomed into a youth-led movement against gender-based harassment in 150 sites across global cities.

A Plan International survey of experts in 22 cities found that sexual harassment is the number-one safety risk facing girls and young women across the world. Sixty per cent of the experts surveyed said incidents which occurred in their city were never or hardly ever reported to the authorities.

The Chalk Back action is taking place as part of Plan International’s global campaign Girls Get Equal which is about ensuring every girl and young woman has power over her own life and can shape the world around her. Making sure every girl is able to live freely and without threat to her safety is central to the campaign.

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