Meet the campaigners fighting to make a difference for women being street harassed

Forward-thinking campaigners from the University of Sheffield are lobbying for practical solutions to make women feel safer in public

Our Bodies Our Streets is a campaign group that was set up in Sheffield in 2020 - and is striding towards making differences in the lives of women and marginalised genders across the city.

Between their 15 student activists they are lobbying councillors for brighter, safer routes across parks.

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Despite Sheffield having the most green spaces in Europe - increasingly more women are feeling as though they can’t use them when the night time draws in as they live in fear they will be harassed.

Our Bodies Our Streets members Kerry Lindeque and Evie Hairsine (pictured l-r) are among the campaigners who have detailed a victim survey map where women say they've been street harrassed in Sheffield.

Sheffield City Council first responded by telling the women to modify their own behaviours and ‘walk in pairs’, as lighting is costly.

Council bosses have since been in contact with Our Bodies Our Streets to discuss their 5,000-strong petition for warm lighting in the city’s 800 green spaces.

Campaigner Kerry Lindeque told NationalWorld: “Street harassment - a lot of people think it’s an isolated thing but it’s not.

“It’s part of a big web of misogyny.”

Alison Romaine and Evie Hairshine are campaigners as part of the Our Bodies Our Streets group - urging for practical measures to be taken in Sheffield for women's safety.

The campaign group is set to debate their petition at a full council meeting to discuss ‘Safer Parks After Dark’ - with a view for the parks to feel welcoming and inclusive after 4pm in the winter.

Founding member, Evie Hairshine, set up the campaign group as a platform for women to share their experiences of catcalling - so women feel as though there is strength in numbers.

The group thinks the government’s Safer Streets Fund hasn’t done enough to help street harassment.

They argue increased CCTV and flood-lighting measures make no odds when street harassment is not yet a crime - and claims are made that brighter lights only make women more of a target.

It led to the campaigners conducting a ‘victim survey’ where more than 100 women have detailed the hotspots in the city where they have been street harassed.

“What we did think we could do was visualise this problem,” campaigner Alison Romaine said.

“You can see the locations where street harassment has happened and we have shown this map to the council and they suddenly see a very different city and world - and they suddenly think ‘this is not a very familiar Sheffield to me’.

“Visualising different lived experiences is quite powerful.”

The group thinks there should be more research done and safety audits around street harassment.

“We don’t want there to be this knee-jerk ‘fix-things-onto-lamppost’ response,” Alison added.

“We have to have education about cultural misogyny, masculinity and systemic culture that needs to change.

“I think council’s need to listen to women and people of marginalised genders and truly consult them instead of defaulting to police responses - because the data they have is not gendered.

“It would be great if the government could fund surveys of women's experiences.”

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‘There’s solidarity in not feeling alone’

According to UN Women, over 70% of women in the UK say they have experienced sexual harassment in public.

Fellow campaigner, Caitlin Knowles, said: “Everyone knows a woman who this has happened to - it’s not uncommon. It’s everyday.

“The kind of low level, everyday street harassment goes untackled then the culture of misogyny will develop into horrific acts.

“It’s not for a woman to sit there and think, ‘did I handle that well?’, they shouldn’t have handled it at all in the first place.

“This is why women, and people of marginalised genders, are hard-wired to think it’s our problem to solve it but it’s society’s problems.”

Just this month Labour’s Harriet Harman and Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chair of the women and equalities select committee, have formed a cross-party alliance to push the government to criminalise sexual and street harassment.

Currently street harassment is not classed as a standalone offence - it is categorised as a public order or a harassment offence, depending on the nature of the incident.

This makes it hard to pinpoint whether the crime is misogyny-fuelled.

Knowles added: “Speaking to a community can make you feel like you’re not alone.

“For me I always felt like this was a ‘me problem’ but seeing the scale of it makes you feel like this isn’t my fault - and that you’re part of a community - which is actually quite sad but there’s solidarity in it.”

The council has said if funding becomes available the authority would be keen to add more lighting to parks but a wider rollout needs consultation to establish why and where lights would be most needed.