WITH sexual harassment being a daily reality for many Bahamian women, especially young women, the Hollaback! initiative is gearing up to launch even more programmes to engage the country’s youth in education and awareness programmes.
Alicia Wallace, director of Hollaback! Bahamas, said over the next 18 months the group plans to really focus on young people and on offering educational workshops.
Among the projects planned are a workshop and training session for College of the Bahamas Students Union, awareness events on the COB campus, and the STARR Initiative, which calls upon local businesses to make their establishments safe spaces.
“Hollaback! Bahamas will offer training for management and staff, provide resources and promote the businesses as safe spaces under the STARR Initiative once the requirements have been met,” Ms Wallace told Tribune Woman.
Hollaback! Bahamas launched in April, but became active in March following the joke made by MP for Tall Pines Leslie Miller about domestic violence in the House of Assembly. It is a member of the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence and helped in the planning for the Violence is Not Funny open forum to support the petition at tinyurl.com/violenceisnotfunny.
The group is a part of a global movement, based in New York City, to end street harassment. The Bahamas was the 26th country to join the non-profit.
Since its launch, Hollaback! Bahamas has worked to raise awareness of street harassment and educate the general public on its effects.
“Sexual harassment is a part of the daily lives of many women in the Bahamas. We have learned from lived experiences to expect to be subject to commentary on our own bodies from strangers. Many of us have become accustomed to the stares, horn honks, whistles and propositions. Regardless of the normalisation of sexual harassment, we must realise it is not normal. Some would argue that it is cultural, but sexual harassment takes place all over the world. The only culture it could be attributed to is rape culture,” Ms Wallace said.
“Street harassment is a pervasive, intrusive form of sexual harassment that women and girls are expected to accept. It’s rooted in misogyny and is an obvious example of rape culture in practice. People only think it’s okay because of their attitudes about gender, sex and sexuality.”
The effects of street harassment, according to Ms Wallace, include feelings of discomfort, insecurity, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, regret and powerlessness.
“Women and girls do not exist for the entertainment of others, and deserve equal access to public spaces. Public spaces, including streets, parks, parking lots, and malls, should be safe for everyone,” she said.
Hollaback! Bahamas has presented to a sociology class at COB, at the Sugar + Spice empowerment seminar for tweens and at the Lyford Cay Foundation’s FOCUS school enrichment programme.
“The sociology class was highly engaged and spoke of experiences with street harassment. Young men admitted to harassing young women due to peer pressure, and being unsure of how to respectfully approach young women in public spaces. Young women shared stories of harassment and the fear they felt,” Ms Wallace said.
At Sugar + Spice, an event for girls between the ages of eight and 13, Hollaback! Bahamas confirmed that school-aged girls experience street harassment.
More than 90 per cent of the girls present had experienced street harassment. All of the girls agreed that street harassment is wrong, but did not know how to respond to it.
“This proves that street harassment is an issue. It isn’t funny, it isn’t a compliment, and it doesn’t make people feel good about themselves. It can be scary experience and affect the way we live our lives,” said Terneille Burrows, assistant director of Hollaback! Bahamas.
“Two girls shared stories of being followed by adult men while in school uniform,” she added.
The group of seventh and eighth grade students at FOCUS were aware of street harassment and actively participated in discussions. They identified common examples, reasons it is wrong, and the effects it has on people experiencing it. They also offered suggestions for the movement to end street harassment.
Bahamians are encouraged to share their stories of street harassment at bahamas.ihollaback.org, and complete the survey. Hollaback! Bahamas is gathering data to determine the prevalence of street harassment in the Bahamas and its effects.
For more information, connect with the group via www.bahamas.ihollaback.org and Facebook/com/hollaback242. For more on the upcoming STARR Initiative, contact Alicia Wallace at email@example.com.