Celebrating Our Peers on International Women’s Day

Bebe Santa-Wood

In the last twenty years there has been an explosion of grassroots movements led by young men and women to create greater awareness of the issue of street harassment and find creative solutions to a complex societal issue. Here at SAFER: NYC, we believe the solution to ending street harassment is by changing the minds and behavior of men, particularly those men who engage in street harassment or simply do not consider it a genuine issue. And we’re in good company! For International Women’s Day, SAFER: NYC would like to highlight the work of two great organizations that are also working to engage men in the movement to end street harassment and are addressing the issue of violence head on.

Some of the most powerful street harassment prevention campaigns have come from grassroots groups working within their communities to solve the issue collaboratively. Grassroots approaches to raising awareness, building solidarity, and educating community members in cooperation with local police forces can be a powerful agents of change. Chicago’s Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) surveyed women to determine the frequency of street harassment and where it occurred in their communities. They then coordinated with neighborhoods to identify and address “hotspots.” Working with store owners and businesses in the area, they provided bystander training so community members could better self-police these areas and stop harassment before it happens. They also coordinated with local law enforcement to conduct safety campaigns and install video monitors and better street lighting in neighborhoods with high rates of sexual harassment incidents. In 2006, YWAT created the campaign “Real Talk: Engaging Young Men as Allies to End Violence”, which included a comprehensive research project, a documentary (made with Beyondmedia Education), the creation of a male-specific toolkit, and trainings for men and boys to lead discussions related to the film and the issue of street harassment.

Breakthrough engages men and women to confront sexual harassment in public spaces. Their advocacy work includes targeting sports teams and students to call out their peers, working with fraternities on college campuses to provide leadership training designed to address violent social norms, and engaging male celebrities in music, comedy and film to address the issue of violence. They encourage men to intervene through their Be That Guy campaign, and are breaking through gender stereotypes with their new The G Word storytelling platform. Breakthrough also works in multiple countries by creating Breakthrough training hubs, of which SAFER: NYC’s Joseph Fan is a graduate, to engage youth leaders who can carry out their own awareness campaigns and trainings in their own communities.  

These two examples are representative the diverse body of organizations that share SAFER: NYC’s mission. We’re fortunate to be able to celebrate their successes and learn from their struggles. We know that conscious empowerment and education campaigns, supplemented with PSAs and statistics as valuable tools, will ultimately be able to create the change we want to see. As organizations like YWAT and Breakthrough have shown, interacting with people one-on-one is still a powerful way to change minds, especially with something as personal, violent, and divisive as street harassment. In honor of International Women’s Day and the many men and women who have worked to make our streets SAFER, please start a conversation about street harassment with your friends today. Talk to your friends about how their behavior affects women. Talk to your friends about how to build solidarity in opposition to patriarchal structures. Remember that we celebrate International Women’s Day to commemorate the efforts made so far towards gender equality while also recognizing that there is a lot of work still left to do. And YOUR conversations and actions contribute to the movement to end street harassment!