Hissing and making lewd remarks to women is considered a form of violence and in some cases these actions escalate to attacks. Well today, a group of students—particularly females from the University of Belize, Belize City Campus—along with their Counselor Renee Wentz organized an anti-street harassment initiative. Just before midday, they paraded from the Social Sciences campus in West Landivar on to Princess Margaret to send a message to men that they will no longer accept this form of abuse.
Renee Wentz, Counselor, University of Belize
“For the students that were able to attend today, we had asked them to make some t-shirts or wear orange or wear white t-shirts with messages about street harassment. It’s because most women experience it, particularly women, and it usually starts in primary schools. It’s something that starts very young and when you speak to a lot of women, they’ll tell you it’s happened to them. A lot of people like to say, oh it’s just wi culture; that’s just how we go. But there are a lot of things that we have in different cultures that are not, even if they have become part of our culture, it has to be changed. Street harassment actually causes women to feel fear. It’s a first step sometimes towards a very violent act and so women don’t know when what some people may consider a minor incident of harassment can turn into a major one. Many times it depends on how you as a woman respond. If you don’t respond, sometimes they will take it to another level and if you do respond, sometimes it makes it worst. So it is hard to even know what kinda response to give.”
“Don’t Call Me Baby!”
If you were wondering what a bunch of women in orange shirts were doing on University Drive today, they were marching against street harassment. It's called the "Don't call me baby" movement and it addresses the constant pestering that women and even school girls have to deal every day from men. Counselor at the University of Belize Renee Wentz told us this evening that this is a form gender based violence and that men need to be more aware of the effect their words and actions have on a woman's everyday life.
Renee Wentz, Cunselor - UB Belize
"Street harassment, all women experienced it. In fact most of the women I've spoken to started to experience when they were little girls in primary school and if people don't know what street harassment is, its basically "psst" and the rude comments and the "hey sexy" and the "hey baby" kinds of comments that women get on the street every day. It could just be a comment, but depending on the reaction of the women, sometimes if she ignores it, it becomes more violent. Sometimes if she responds to it it becomes more violent. So it's also very hard to teach people what they can do, Part of it is also me giving some ideas and teaching women and girls what they can do in the event that they experience this. But even more so is to educate men that it's a problem. It's not a compliment. We don't feel good about it. There are no women that are going to marry you after you yelled something disgusting to them on the street. It's just not realistic. It is an act of power and it is a controlling mechanism when somebody on the street tell you smile for me, I don't know you, I don't really feel I have to smile for you. But women tend to live under that kind of thing every day and sometimes we say oh that's just our culture. But there are things in all cultures that need to change and need to adapt."
"My message to men is that I think you need to remember that every single woman that is out there is somebody's mother. She is somebody's sister and she is somebody's daughter and I don't think any men would want the kinds of comments that they hear or that they even make to women to happen to those people in their family that they love. They would feel bad about it and stand up for that person. But also remember that those people need you to stand up for them too. You as a bystander don't just have to listen to other men say those things, you can tell him "hey, stop being a jerk" or "leave her alone." Those kinds of comments and there are also really fine things that you can say. If you see us on the street you can say "good morning, have a great day." there are beautiful things you can say to us that don't make us feel bad and we enjoy it."
This event is part of the annual 16 Days of activism campaign.