100 Women 2016: A weekend of street harassment, mapped

By Georgina Rannard & Will Dahlgreen
BBC News

Media caption,
Women sent tweets, posts and emails from all over the world.

As part of its 100 Women season, the BBC launched an online campaign to map global street harassment over one weekend in December.

Women from more than 43 cities in 29 countries reported their experiences of verbal and physical abuse via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and email.

Whether in nightclubs, out shopping, in buses and taxis, or while running, walking or even swimming, many women found inappropriate male attention inescapable.

The problem extends beyond one weekend, and sadly many will not have spoken out. But over just three days the BBC received reports of harassment from places as far afield as Irbil and Istanbul, Belfast and Barbados, giving a glimpse of the scale of harassment.

This animated video, above, gives a snapshot of the posts we received as part of the campaign.

'I couldn't even protest'

The reports covered a range of experiences from taunts about physical appearance to physical assault.

One woman was called a "slut" and another in Bogota, Colombia, saw a man masturbating while he commented on her breasts. A woman in Edinburgh said she was bruised and grazed after being assaulted by a drunk man.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Women were harassed and physically assaulted in many strands of daily life over the weekend

A woman from Tehran recounted an experience on public transport.

"I was travelling in a women's section of a bus," she said. "The bus was full and I was standing by the barrier.

"A man in the men's section stood facing towards the women's section. From the moment I got in the bus, he molested me. I couldn't move and I couldn't even protest, because I was ashamed of other people."


According to research by Cornell University and street harassment campaign HollaBack! 84% of women around the world have experienced street harassment by the time they are 17 years old.

The 2014 survey of 16,600 women in 42 cities worldwide also found that over 50% of women reported having been fondled or groped.

It is a problem that shows no sign of easing. In fact, thanks to the spread of the internet and the rise of social media, harassment is more real than ever.

According to Sian Lewis, a sexual harassment researcher at the University of Loughborough, in the UK, women are often reluctant to report cases for fear that they will not be taken seriously.

When the BBC posted the campaign on Facebook, one user wrote: "I only want to take part if good-looking women are going, where do I go to harass them?" Others said that commenting on a woman's appearance was a compliment.

Lewis researches harassment of women on the London Underground transport network and says that men and women can perceive harassment very differently. "When it happens constantly, it builds up over time and it can make women very fearful," she says.

But some women are challenging harassment.

In the Caribbean hundreds of women are tweeting their experiences of harassment with the hashtag #lifeinleggings, launched in November.

Image caption,
Allyson Benn launched social media campaign #lifeinleggings in Barbados

Allyson Benn, a 32-year old blogger and former adult entertainer, started the campaign in Barbados after a friend was forced to change her route to work to avoid street harassment.

Benn says that as an exotic dancer she was used to male attention but catcalling and unwanted advances are different. "As an entertainer I was protected, I chose who I wanted to dance for. But as a woman on the street, I'm meat," she says.

"The reason [the campaign] has garnered so intense a response is because women are tired, from the meek to the maverick, and social media is giving us a different type of defence," Benn adds.

'Small step'

In 2014 a lawyer in the US city of Minneapolis named Lindsey started handing out printed messages called 'Cards Against Harassment' to men who provoked her.

The messages range from light-hearted, to serious or sarcastic.

Lindsey, now 30, says that some men think the card has her phone number, only to later read the message.

Other recipients said that the card made them realise that harassment makes many women uncomfortable.

There is a risk that men will take offence, but Lindsey says "the cards make me feel better walking through the city".

"I don't get home feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I feel like I did something," she says.