In honor of 16 Days of Activism, Chalk Back and Cheer Up Luv are teaming up to highlight what accountability means to six activists around the world in a photo and interview series. The series will highlight the topic of accountability from the perspective of young activists in different contexts. We hope these interviews will help engage people of all genders in the conversation on gender-based harassment. This interview features Kelsie Joseph, co founder of @CatcallsofUWI and Education Lead for Chalk Back. Kelsie is a young, passionate intersectional feminist activist with Chalk Back. Kelsie is committed to amplifying the voices of the most vulnerable, acknowledging our biases and privileges through meaningful engagement in hopes of creating a gender-just world.
What is the role(s) of men and boys in the movement against gender based street harassment?
Men and boys have a significant role in the movement against gender-based street harassment since the stories we receive and chalk highlight that they are the main perpetrators of this form of violence against women and girls. In our patriarchal society, women and girls are taught to be responsible for the street harassment they experience because of their choice of clothing, not being aware of their environment and not learning how to accept compliments. The focus needs to shift to hold the perpetrators more accountable since men are socialized to feel entitled to women and girls’ bodies. Men and boys need to listen to our experiences, be willing to unlearn these harmful actions and be allies in the fight against gender-based street harassment. They have to acknowledge that catcalls are not compliments. They are microaggressions on the hierarchy of violence and gateway to other forms of gender-based violence. And even more importantly, men and boys need to stop blaming women and girls for the violence they experience and instead hold themselves and their peers accountable for their participation in it.
2) What has your experience been with men and boys during your time running Catcalls of UWI? What are their reactions? Have you gotten negative or positive feedback?
I have been an activist with Chalk Back and helping run Catcalls of UWI since 2019. My experience with men and boys during my time with Catcalls of UWI has been both positive and negative interactions. Since the Catcalls of UWI project began on our university campus, it was welcomed with positive feedback and served as a safe online platform where students can anonymously share their experiences of street harassment. However, I have observed that cis-heterosexual men are always shocked with the catcalls we chalk but are afraid to publicly hold their bredrens accountable because they don't want to come off as feminine. Also, while straight men support our artivism, fear and upholding the patriarchy are limitations to being allies and ending gender-based street harassment. Also, they believe catcalling is our culture and it is not something to be outraged about and, a spam account called 'Dog calls of UWI' was created to give men a voice of freedom. But with the negative, there were positive experiences with men and boys like my family, friends and strangers engaging with our chalkings and having conversations about gender-based street harassment, showing solidarity and practising to not catcall anymore.
3) What does accountability mean to you? Who needs to be accountable when it comes to gender-based street harassment? How do we hold harassers and abusers accountable?
Accountability is a valuable attribute of my life as a feminist activist. Recently, in therapy, I recognized accountability is something I take seriously and I practice it by being honest, bold and accountable for my actions. Accountability is the power of being aware of one's actions, willingness to unlearn and commit to making a change to do better. The fight to end gender-based street harassment is everyone's responsibility from catcallers, bystanders, enablers and the systems of oppression that perpetuate violence against women, girls and queer folks. Therefore, no one person or institution in our patriarchal society needs to be held accountable but as a collective to dismantle this violence from awareness to accountability like this year's theme of #16daysofactivism.
4) In your context, what are realistic next steps towards accountability?
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 of cancel culture, it is not helpful for perpetrators to understand their wrongdoings, take accountability and commit to doing better. Remember, accountability is anti-cancel culture. It aids with transformative justice in creating healthier communities and dismantling systems of oppression.
5) Anything else you want to add?
I want to add that even after the #16daysofactivism global campaign that violence against women and girls don't stop. Therefore, it is an everyday commitment to raise awareness, hold each other accountable and fight the patriarchy. This fight is not over until women and girls can walk the streets without being catcalled, followed and even murdered. It is not a women's issue alone but everyone's responsibility to ensure the safety of women and girls.
Photo by Eliza Hatch/ @CheerUpLuv