By Jacklin Kwan
OLDHAM Council has become the first local authority in the country to sign up to support the Our Streets Now campaign to combat public sexual harassment by making it a specific crime, and to introduce education in schools to combat the problem.
A motion calling for the council to support the movement was put forward by Councillor Sam Al-Hamdani and Councillor Hazel Gloster.
Both councillors believed the move would combat the normalisation of harassment against women by driving efforts in schools, workplaces and public spaces to punish perpetrators and support victims.
Cllr Al-Hamdani, who is also a Saddleworth Parish Councillor, opened his speech by citing statistics that more than two-thirds of women in the UK have experienced public sexual harassment since the age of 15, making it the most common form of violence against women and girls.
But surveys have shown that nearly half of girls harassed would not report it to their school because they did not know how to or feared that they would not be taken seriously.
“I’m proud that Oldham has been the first council in the country to step up on this, and that all the political parties and independents backed this motion,” Cllr Al-Hamdani said.
“I brought this forward because it’s important that people in positions of authority start these conversations to help people know that this is should not be a taboo subject, and that they can reach out for help and be supported.
“If one person feels safer, feels more confident to go out and not scared of being harassed, then this is obviously the right thing to do.
“And if we can get more education in schools and a law passed then this can be a major step forward in changing our culture and making young women and girls – indeed anyone who has suffered from public sexual harassment – feel safer and free to be themselves.”
Cllr Gloster spoke about her personal experiences of being the target of catcalls, wolf whistles and lewd comments, and how it can be part of girls’ lives from a very early age.
She added: “It is time to change our attitudes to this kind of behaviour and drive it out of our daily lives.”
The motion commits Oldham Council to writing to the home secretary and the local MPs, asking them to back the campaign, and to provide local schools with more information on public sexual harassment so they can have an informed discussion with children in PSHE classes.
The campaign to criminalise street harassment is strongly championed by activist movement Our Streets Now, whose petition now has more than 200,000 signatures.
Maya Tutton, Co-founder of Our Streets Now, said: “Our Streets Now are delighted that Oldham Borough Council have passed a motion against public sexual harassment.
“Women and girls deserve to feel safe, and be safe, in public space.
“The motion is a positive step in this direction and we hope it will lead to tangible actions being taken to tackle this issue, whether by working with local transport providers or teaching about public sexual harassment in nearby schools.”
Cllr Al-Hamdani added: “I’ve been a supporter of Our Streets Now for some time, and I realised that I was in a position to make a difference.
“I’m now working with Our Streets Now to try and turn this into a national strategy for their campaign and get councils up and down the country to sign up to it.”
Currently, the street harassment of women and girls is outlawed in Portugal, Belgium and France where it can result in an on-the-spot fine of up to €750.
• More information on Our Streets Now and their campaign is available at www.ourstreetsnow.org