Legislation being planned over street harassment of women

A coalition of women’s groups plan to present a proposed law to the legislature within three months to make illegal such street activities as whistling, flattering comments, obscene gestures, statements about the human figure or even clothing.

The goal is to define what is being called street harassment as violence against women.

The coalition includes Acción Respeto, Proyecto Lyra, Piropos o Acoso CR, Colectivo Furia Rosa, Este es mi cuerpo-CR, independent female activists and other organizations such as El Tío Hugo, the coalition said in an announcement.

The proposal for a law came on the same day that the Defensoría de los Habitantes, the governmental Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres and other organizations relaunched a campaign called El Acoso Callejero no es cosa de hombre. That phrase in Spanish also is the name of a non-profit organization involved in the campaign.

That announcement said that the simple act of going into the streets is a nightmare for thousands of women. It blamed this on a patriarchal society. It cited a statistic from 2011 that said there were 7,321 complaints of harassment that year.

The Defensoría announcement described violence as whistling, piropos or flattering comments, obscene gestures, sexual comments, photos, capturing images of women’s bodies, entrapment and exhibitionism and other actions exercised in the public space.

The definition goes far beyond that contained in a 1994 hemispheric treaty, the Interamerican convention to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women. The treaty, which has been approved by most of the countries in the Americas, including Costa Rica, is also known after the town where it was approved, Belem do Pará in Brazil.

Article 1 of the treaty says violence against women shall be understood as any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere.

Psychological harm generally is considered as some chronic abuse or traumatic event.

The local definition also goes beyond what the World Health Organization considers violence:  The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.

The treaty further defines violence as rape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking in persons, forced prostitution, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in educational institutions, health facilities or any other place.

Eventually the Inter-American Court of Human Rights may be called upon to establish firm definitions, as provided in the treaty.

The feminist coalition contends that any form of street harassment is violence and socially unacceptable. Piropos, the flattering comments uttered by males toward attractive

The image is the logo of Colectivo Furia Rosa, which says it has as members lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and other persons who might be called queer. But heterosexuals also are welcome, it says.

The image is the logo of Colectivo Furia Rosa, which says it has as members lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and other persons who might be called queer. But heterosexuals also are welcome, it says.

women, are a long Latin tradition, and attempts elsewhere to curb that behavior have been unsuccessful.

The renewed interest in campaign against street harassment followed the stabbing Wednesday of a young man who had taken a photo of a second man also taking a photo but of the legs and rear of a woman walking on the downtown pedestrian mall. The stabbing took place after the young man went public with an account of how he confronted the other man which was posted along with the photo to the social sites.

As an example of how legislation in this area will be difficult, Canal 6, Repretel, aired Monday nearly the identical video of women’s legs and backsides from a low angle to illustrate an unrelated story. The local television stations also make candidate videos of overweight Costa Ricans for use with news stories on that subject.

The proposals for the legislation and the campaign make no mention of women making comments to or harassing men on the street.

The Organization of American States said Tuesday that  Alejandra Mora Mora, the executive president of the women’s institute, would be involved in a discussion of political violence and harassment in the Americas Thursday and Friday in Lima, Perú. The event is organized by the Inter-American Commission of Women of which Ms. Mora is chairwoman.

The groups making proposals Tuesday generally agreed that enforcement of street harassment has been lax. The women’s coalition noted that such activity does not even rise to the level of what would be considered a felony under Costa Rican law. The proposal to submit a law includes changes to the criminal code, the group said without giving more details.

The Defensoría announcement urged the changing of cultural patterns and promoting street violence into the political agenda.

The Acoso Callejero organization has prepared two campaign videos that describe those participating in street harassment as cowards. They are HERE and HERE.

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