Tell us a bit about yourself.
By way of introduction, we are Maya (18) and Natasha (22): two sisters. We grew up in the humble city Ottawa, the capital of Canada. We have a deep connection to this city: our father immigrated here for a better life from Lebanon & our Mother grew up here in the same house we grew up in. Our sisterhood is strong with a foundation of love and solidarity. Maya recently graduated highschool, and is pursuing musical theatre. She is the social media savvy one, and has a caring spirit. Natasha has her undergraduate in International Development and Gender studies. She is currently works as a youth engagement advisor for a Gender Equality and Education advocacy partnership. She is an activist at her core, and works to ensure youth influence at all levels of change.
We both strive in creative environments, are adventurous spirits and are devoted to partnering with other activists to smash the patriarchy.
When did you start the cat call account?
We started the account April 2019! The last 3 months of chalking have been WICKED.
Why were you inspired to start an account?
We have often discussed the patriarchal society we live in and the role that gender norms play in perpetuating gender based violence. Growing up in this city we call home, catcalling was and is still the norm. Discussions with our friends often include how they were harassed on the street. The question we ask is HOW can we CHANGE this culture of toxic masculinity? How can we address street harassment? Something so deeply rooted and complex.
While researching youth led activism projects for work, Natasha came across a post about the brilliant Sophie and Cat Calls of NYC. Viewing the huge impact her account and the others across the world has had, we knew this was our answer to how to address this issue in Ottawa. We were inspired by seeing what a strong community Cat Calls accounts had and their success at educating their communities. Something so simple was something so powerful. We were in! We continue to be inspired each day, especially from seeing the community of solidarity that this concept has built so soon in Ottawa.
Why do you think “chalking back” is a good method to raise awareness?
When you see “I’d f*** you” on the street, you stop. You get uncomfortable. You feel targeted. This is how people feel when they are catcalled. Chalking back is in your face, it is bold, and it is easily visible to all. It is grassroots and impactful, Often forms of activism can be targeted to a specific niche audience, but Chalking Back is not. It makes a diverse group of people stop and think. It is from the bottom up, and is rooted in giving agency to those who have experienced street harassment. They are in control of their own stories and chose to reclaim the space they were harassed.
Why do you think ending street harassment is important?
Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own cities. Ending street harassment is ending gender norms, ending the culture of toxic masculinity, ending a form of gender-based violence. It is not fair that a group of people have to constantly be aware of their surroundings. Have to change the direction of their route or have to worry about what people will say due to what they are wearing. Ending street harassment shifts the power and changes the narrative. It allows people to feel confident and safe in their own cities. It is KEY.
What’s your favorite thing about your city?
Our favourite thing about our city is the green space. So many parks and bike paths! You can be in the city yet be able to connect to nature and feel grounded.
How can your city better address street harassment?
The city can invest in and partner with organizations that are addressing street harassment. Ensure they have the resources to continue the important work they are doing. Partner with experts to conduct trainings for key stakeholders to know how to address street harassment. Addressing street harassment is intersectional and complex. The city must ensure they understand the most holistic and just way to address it in order to not further marginalize specific groups. The city can also conduct consultations to hear about the experiences of street harassment and how people want it to be addressed.
What do you hope is the outcome of your account?
Of course our ultimate objective of this account is to end street harassment in Ottawa. This being said, we think it is much more than this. It is working with others who are addressing street harassment to strengthen our fight. It is creating a community of support and empathy, in which we can connect and stand with one another.
What does being a part of this campaign mean to you?
What can we say? Our hearts are full. This campaign is much more than a campaign. It is a global community of passionate and powerful young people. Being a part of this means that we are standing beside our fellow chalkers, working together, turning a toxic global phenomenon into something beautiful. It means that we are taking action into our own hands. We can confidently say joining this movement is one of the most powerful things we have done. We feel grateful, honoured to be part of this community and cannot wait to continue this journey.