Ottawa

Women calling out street harassment with chalk messages

Two Ottawa women are calling out street harassment by using sidewalk chalk to document incidents in the very spot where they happened, in the very words that were used.

Cat Calls of Ottawa aims to create 'a sense of solidarity'

Natasha, 22, is co-founder of Cat Calls of Ottawa. (Haneen Al-Hassoun/CBC)

Two Ottawa women are calling out street harassment by using sidewalk chalk to document incidents in the very spot where they happened, in the very words that were used.

Natasha, 22, started Cat Calls of Ottawa in April with her sister Maya,18. CBC has agreed to use only their first names because they've received threats through their Instagram account, where women are invited to submit their accounts of street harassment. 

Natasha then transcribes the insults word for word on the pavement and posts pictures online.

'It makes you feel unsafe in your own community. It's not a good feeling.' (Andrew Lee/CBC)

She said passers-by are often shocked when they see her messages because they're expecting something more light-hearted.

"Then you go up close to it and it can say something like, '[I wanna] eff you,' or something that makes you super uncomfortable. So it makes the person stop in their tracks and feel uncomfortable and maybe have the same [feeling] as the person who was catcalled." 

Other examples of catcalls Natasha has chalked onto the pavement include "How much?" and "Your body looks pretty good for a little girl." The messages are accompanied by the hashtag #StopStreetHarassment.

Reclaiming the space

Cat Calls of Ottawa is part of a global initiative called Chalk Back, started in New York by Sophie Sandberg.

Inspired by her example, Natasha and Maya started a local chapter, now one of about 150 worldwide. 

Natasha invites the women who have been harassed to tag along when she ventures out with her chalk.

"Our whole vision of Cat Calls of Ottawa is ... to create a sense of solidarity and ally-ship. So those who are street-harassed can come with us to get a sense they're reclaiming the space where they were street harassed," she said. 

Natasha said she has been harassed, and documented the catcall.

"It makes you feel unsafe in your own community. It's not a good feeling. So then when you're going out and actually chalking, it gives you a way to chalk back and kind of regain that power," she said.

This is one of the catcalls submitted by a woman in Ottawa. It happened in the ByWard Market. (Haneen Al-Hassoun/CBC)

Natasha said since she started the account, Cat Calls of Ottawa has received about two to three submissions per day. The street harassment isn't concentrated in any particular area of Ottawa, she said.

Her goal? To one day put away her chalk and "ensure that there is no more street harassment in Ottawa and globally."

About the Author

Haneen Al-Hassoun

CBC reporter

Haneen Al-Hassoun is a digital journalist at CBC Ottawa. You can email her at haneen.al-hassoun@cbc.ca or tweet at her at @haneenalhassoun.

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