When did you start the account?
The instagram account was created on the 30th of July, 2019 after Tia and myself, Kelsie had our first official meeting to discuss our take on this street harassment project on campus.
Why were you inspired to start an account?
The project is being implemented by IGNITE, a student group at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. IGNITE is a social justice activist group operating under a feminist framework, under the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. We are actively engaged in community organising and sensitisation of social issues on campus, with Gender Based Violence (GBV) being one of the primary issues. Street Harassment is a pervasive cultural norm, which affects women and girls in Trinidad and Tobago daily, which has been recognized and integrated into our work. Two of our members Tia Marie Lander and Kelsie Joseph, came across the Cat Calls of NYC page and were inspired to start a campaign at the UWI campus, given their own encounters with frequent harassment and stories from their peers. The idea was presented to the club and then we took the steps to engage the UWI administration for approvals and buy in of the project. GBV is also a major problem in Trinidad and Tobago, with high levels of violence. For many, there is a gap in recognizing cat calling as a form of harassment or violence. Hence, the project seeks to establish these links, bringing the information directly to students implicated in the system, directly and indirectly affected. We see it as an opportunity to incorporate this initiative into our work for the 2019 observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and align our actions with those of other student groups, the UWI, our civil society and Non-Government Organisation (NGO) partners. And to sustain actions to promote an environment where students feel comfortable and safe to navigate the “streets”.
Why do you think “chalking back” is a good method to raise awareness?
To educate persons on the issue of street harassment in a creative way.
Many people, especially men, are disconnected from the impact of street harassment, because many of them do not actually experience it directly. This chalking back allows stories to be shared in an anonymous fashion, but in a way that can possibly resonate with them, given the jarring nature of some experiences. Bring awareness to the public that street harassment victims should not accept catcalling as compliments. It shows how catcalling can be violent and threatening to those on the receiving end, how power intersects with everyday experiences of students. Create an environment where people can recognize their social responsibility to step in and not be a bystander in such cases. It will also assist in helping persons to think about use concrete ways to intervene if they witness something happening. The hope is to foster an air of accountability among peers. To combat and reduce instances of street harassment on campus.
Why do you think ending street harassment is important?
Street Harassment can sometimes come across as a stranger just giving another stranger a simple compliment. Of course, we all like to be told we look good but it potentially influences on women’s well being and body image and vice versa. Street Harassment does not always seem aggressive, but the initial component of violence is often ignored. Having to change our routes, alter our plans, consider our clothing, speech and behaviour in order to avoid being catcalled, touched, approached or even followed. This part of the discussion is usually dismissed as catcalls can seem harmless and to many ‘ just a compliment.’
What’s your favourite thing about your city?
The majority of our time as students is spent right here on campus. These are “our” streets and we should have the right as individuals to feel safe on our main streets. This campaign was created with the sole purpose of reminding others to be mindful of their comments towards each other in public spaces, to bring awareness to this issue, how it can be reduced with the ultimate goal of elimination, and to foster a sense of security and comfort for students. We also think it is important that persons should be able to hold each other accountable for irresponsible actions, which make others uncomfortable or contribute to a feeling of safety.
How can your city better address street harassment?
The University of the West Indies has a strict Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures but it has no impact on the ongoing issue of sexual harassment occuring everyday on campus. These are “our” streets and we should have the right as individuals to feel safe on our main streets. As members of the IGNITE, we are doing our part to combat instances of street harassment on campus by this movement, as part of our wider work in GBV.
What do you hope is the outcome of your account?
Our generation is very intuned with social media and Instagram is one of the more popular mediums used by students on campus. As such, it will allow us access to a wider population to complement the graffitti and canvassing done by members of IGNITE. It also serves as a safe space for people to share their experiences of street harassment and have that experience help others.
It will provide evidence as to the pervasive nature of street harassment and the reality of it on Campus, where many do not believe that it occurs.
What does being a part of this campaign mean to you?
IGNITE doing this as part of our work for gender justice and leading up to the 16 Days of Activism to combat Gender-Based Violence, which runs from November 25 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to December 10, Human Rights Day.