By Camille Cusset
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Centre d’éducation et d’action des femmes de Montréal (CÉAF) (the Montreal Women’s Education and Action Centre) organized a demonstration against street harassment.
About 20 women of all ages got together on March 8th to denounce harassment in the Hochelaga district. They assembled near the overpass at the corner of Ontario and l’Esperance streets. A banner stating “Le harcèlement de rue, CHAT CHUFFIT!!!” was deployed to underscore the exasperation demonstrators feel over this problem.
Audrey Simard and Geneviève Guernier, who created the banner, took it down after being threatened by passers-by.
CÉAF reports that at least 3 women have been assaulted by unknown persons around the Frontenac metro station. “They were verbally harassed, followed, threatened at knifepoint or sexually assaulted,” says Simard, a community organizer and militant at CÉAF.
Harassment of Minors
According to the organization’s research, young girls are subject to street harassment from their earliest years. Cecile Murray remembers the first time she was assaulted: she was on the bus and a man tried to put his hand under her skirt. She was in secondary 2 at the time.
To resolve this societal issue Audrey Simard thinks that there has to be action in the educational sphere. “We need to equip teachers and social workers so that young girls are accompanied,” she explained during the demonstration.
The organization demands political action so that sex ed programs can be offered by sex therapists and specialist teachers, “to talk about consent and gender equality.”
In terms of solutions, the group is unanimous: social sanctions will prevent harassers from harassing. Moreover, the reaction of witnesses will serve to delegitimize acts committed against victims.
“What shocked me the most when this man assaulted me was that nobody reacted,” Murray recounts. Social sanctions seem to be most appropriate; police sanctions usually lead nowhere in cases of street harassment.
CÉAF is a non-profit organization founded in 1972. Its goal is to fight against the isolation of women and to allow them – in collaboration with other women – to achieve financial and emotional autonomy.