By Noelani Kirschner

In the past, women and girls have been told what they should do to avoid street harassment — how they should dress, how they should or shouldn’t act, where they should walk. Recently, groups worldwide are putting the responsibility of change where it belongs: on the perpetrators and the communities that tolerate them.

“The reason why so many women and girls are catcalled and harassed everyday has, contrary to popular opinion, little to do with how we look or how we’re dressed,” said Yola Mzizi, founder of Catcalls of Chicago. Instead, she says, it has everything to do with power, misogyny and people’s desire to take away the bodily autonomy of women and girls.

Mzizi is one of many women around the world mobilizing to end street harassment through social media and grassroots campaigns that address the root causes of the problem.

Chalking it out

Catcalls of Chicago is part of Chalk Back — a social media movement started by Sophie Sandberg in New York City — and one of many social media accounts around the world virtually united to share their experiences of street harassment, from Catcalls of Berlin to Catcalls of Bogota.

By writing — or chalking — their experiences of street harassment on the sidewalk where the harassment occurred, women in the movement hope to raise their communities’ awareness of the problem.

“Accountability to me means calling a thing by its name,” says Karimot Odebode, founder of Catcalls of Nigeria. “We can hold harassers and abusers accountable by having a law that protects everyone. A law that is in place which criminalizes street harassment.”

Ending harassment with laws

Two years ago, sisters Maya and Gemma Tutton began a national campaign, Our Streets Now, to make public street harassment illegal in England and Wales.

In England, two out of three girls and young women aged 14–21 have experienced street harassment, and one out of three say it was when they wore a school uniform, according to Plan International UK.

“I think that we can all agree that feeling safe is a basic requirement to live your life,” Maya Tutton says.

Their campaign launched a petition urging the government to write and pass legislation making street harassment illegal. The petition has received over 400,000 signatures online.

Our Streets Now has also provided educational resources for teachers in the United Kingdom to raise students’ awareness of what causes street harassment so everyone — not just girls and women — can work to end it. “We cannot continue to place the onus on the victim’s shoulders,” Maya Tutton told the BBC in March.

Training thousands to step in

Women aren’t the only ones who experience street harassment. Hollaback!, an online international movement, has been encouraging women, members of the LGBTQI+ community and people of color to report street harassment around the world through blogs and phone apps since 2005.

With community-based online reporting, survivors of street harassment raise awareness about the extent of their city’s street harassment problem.

Hollaback! also offers educational programs in bystander intervention, so when people see street harassment they can help safely end the incident. In 2021, they trained more people than ever before — over 240,000 around the world.

Preventing and responding to all forms of gender-based violence is a cornerstone of the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting democracy, advancing human rights and furthering gender equality.

This year, the United States will release the first U.S. National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.