Anti-Street Harassment Week brings awareness to catcalling in Montreal

There's a thin line between what could be considered a friendly comment and street harassment. That line is crossed when the comment is unwanted.

Montreal-based organization hit the streets to gather comments and start conversations

Noémie Bourbonnais interviews a person on the street as part of a project for Women in Cities International.

There's a thin line between what could be considered a friendly comment and street harassment.

That line is crossed when the comment is unwanted, according to Kathleen Ellis, an intern with the Montreal-based not-for-profit organization Women in Cities International. 

Ellis has had her own experience with street harassment. A man followed her home after a night out with friends.

"It's late at night, I'm a little bit scared, and he asks me if I want to give him a massage. He's like, 'You know, I have money,'" she said. 

These incidents occur between strangers, without consent, and are usually based on someone's perceived sexual orientation or gender, she said. 

As part of International Anti-Street Harassment Week, Montrealers are gathering to raise awareness and collect information on unwanted comments, actions and gestures that happen in public spaces.

People in more than 30 countries are participating in this year's event.

Here in Montreal, groups like Women in Cities International are mobilizing to get people to join the conversation.

Efforts in Montreal 

Writing in chalk that reads 'My name is not baby' drawn on a sidewalk as part of Anti-Street Harassment Week in Montreal. (Maïte Nicolas)

Ellis has teamed up with University of Quebec in Montreal master's student Lucie Pagés and teacher Noémie Bourbonnais to interview women and men about street harassment.

"A lot of people in Montreal, when we've approached them, have ...said 'What is street harassment?'" Ellis said. "So we're giving them the information— what it is, how they can overcome it, how they can become a responsible bystander."

Videos of the interviews will be posted to the Women in Cities International Facebook and Instagram pages.

While conducting the interviews, Ellis noticed some patterns in the responses.

"What stood out to me is the difference of men and women," Ellis said. 

"The men didn't know about it — none of them saw it happen or thought it was a problem. A few said so, but all the women said, 'Yes, it's a problem. Yes, it happens. Yes, it makes me feel scared.'"

As part of Anti-Street Harassment Week, members of Women in Cities International spread their message with sidewalk chalk. Here, chalk on a stop sign reads "stop street harassment!" (Maïte Nicolas)

'No catcalling zone'

On Sunday, the group also wrote messages in sidewalk chalk around Montreal, including phrases like "No catcalling zone" and "This space is against street harassment."

"We want to make our message reach a larger audience," Ellis said. "To spread the messages even further, and hopefully get people involved in global conversation happening this week."

Anti-Street Harassment Week was founded in 2012 by Holly Kearl, the woman who also founded the organization Stop Street Harassment. It runs until Sunday.