Lati­nas fight back against ha­rass­ment


Ev­ery day Sara Velez, a Colom­bian law stu­dent, walks to class through a hail of cat­calls that of­ten veer into ob­scen­ity, a daily re­al­ity that Latin Amer­i­can women are in­creas­ingly fight­ing.

The “piro­pos,” or “com­pli­ments,” that men shout at pass­ing women are an old tra­di­tion in Latin Amer­ica, de­fended by some as a sort of work­ing man’s street po­etry.

But to Velez, they are far from flat­ter­ing.

“It dis­gusts me,” said 26-year-old Bo­gota res­i­dent.

“I can’t walk in peace with­out some­one star­ing at me and shout­ing all kinds of things.”

On the bus, in the sub­way, on the street — sex­ual ha­rass­ment, both ver­bal and phys­i­cal, is an in­escapable fact of life for many Latin Amer­i­can women.

In Mexico City, Laura Reyes rides a des­ig­nated sub­way car for women and chil­dren.

But even so, “I don’t feel very safe,” said the 26-year-old wait­ress.

Even with women-only cars, “a lot of per­verts slip in. And if I ride in the other cars, I get groped all over,” she said.

In Brazil, jour­nal­ist Caro­line Ap­ple re­cently sparked a na­tional de­bate when she pub­lished a frank first-per­son ac­count of be­ing ejac­u­lated on dur­ing her evening com­mute, com­plete with a pic­ture of

the the stain on her back­side.

“To­day I was a vic­tim,” she wrote. “A sub­way rider ejac­u­lated on my pants.”

Scenes of daily ha­rass­ment play out in public spa­ces across the re­gion.

One man sees a plain woman on the street and calls out, “I’ll give it to you any­way.”

Another sees a preg­nant woman and yells, “I’ll give you two more.”

“So much meat, and me with no teeth,” shouts another to a volup­tuous woman.

New Gen­er­a­tion, New Fight

Thanks in part to cam­paigns by out­raged women’s rights groups, at­ti­tudes to­ward such be­hav­ior are shift­ing.

Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru have passed laws against street ha­rass­ment that in­clude, in Peru’s case, prison sen­tences of up to 12 years for the most ex­treme of­fend­ers.

Law­mak­ers in Ar­gentina and Chile are con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar bills.

In Chile, nine in 10 women have ex­pe­ri­enced some form of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in public, and 70 per­cent say they have been trau­ma­tized by it, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 study by the Ob­ser­va­tory Against Street Ha­rass­ment.

An Ar­gen­tine study found sim­i­lar num­bers.

In a sign of the grow­ing in­dig­na­tion, the Ob­ser­va­tory has spread from Chile, where it was founded, to Ar­gentina, Colom­bia, Nicaragua, Peru, El Salvador and Uruguay.

It has also taken its cam­paign onto so­cial net­works to reach what the pres­i­dent of the Chilean chap­ter, Maria Fran­cisca Valen­zuela, calls “the most vul­ner­a­ble group” — young women.

To­day, a new gen­er­a­tion of tech­no­log­i­cally con­nected women are less tol­er­ant of ha­rass­ment than their moth­ers, said Fabian Sanabria, an an­thro­pol­o­gist at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Colom­bia.

“Cat­calls are a typ­i­cally sex­ist and Latin Amer­i­can form of flirt­ing,” Sanabria told AFP.

“That machismo is de­clin­ing as the world be­comes more glob­al­ized, more vir­tual, more cos­mopoli­tan.”

‘Whis­tle at your mama’

The online move­ment in­cludes cre­ative cam­paigns like “Whis­tle at Your Mama” in Peru, where Olympic medal-win­ning vol­ley­ball player Natalia Malaga threat­ened cat­callers by send­ing their moth­ers to con­front them — com­plete with a hu­mor­ous video that went vi­ral.

As an in­creas­ing num­ber of women en­ter the work­force in Latin Amer­ica — more than 70 mil­lion in the last two decades — they are be­gin­ning to de­mand equal treat­ment in the street, as well, in­sist­ing that so-called com­pli­ments re­ally aren’t flat­ter­ing.

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