Photo courtesy of Stop Street Harassment via Facebook

From whistles, to lip-smacking, to lewd comments – according to a survey from 2016, 100% of women living in Buenos Aires at the time had experienced some form of street harassment. Last year Argentina began to legislate against such behavior, and in December of 2016 a proposal was passed by the City of Buenos Aires’ legislature. A precedent for this kind of bill was set in March 2015, when catcalling became illegal in Peru.  In May 2017, the first ever street sexual harassment case in Argentina began. And now there is newer, more rigorous, national, legislation in the pipeline.

The proposed legislation – which has already been approved by a special committee in the Chamber of Deputies – seeks to treat street sexual harassment as a ‘crime against sexual integrity,’ and include it in the Criminal Code. If approved by all 257 members of the Lower House, and then by the senate, the bill will become a law. This legislation would mean that those found guilty of street harassment could incur fines of at least AR$ 3,000 and up to AR$ 25,000. The money collected through these fines would be allocated to the National Women’s Institute, with the intention of using it to fund policies which prevent such behavior from occurring in the first place.

The project has been brought about with the work of national deputies Olga Rista, Victoria Donda and Gabriela Troiano. The Bubble talked to Troiano about the legislation.

Troiano began by recalling that she joined the Socialist Party at the age of 18, and worked on issues surrounding gender. She has now taken that work to the Lower House.

What motivates Troiana to continue with this work? There are multiple reasons, she says. She has a teenage daughter, and she herself has been the victim, ‘like any woman in the world, of street harassment’. When there are ‘no people on the street or where there is no shelter […] it is a very violent situation […] that generates a lot of anguish in the victim,’ she explains.

Her ongoing awareness of this problem in the streets made its way into her working life, and ‘when occupying this space in the chamber of deputies, [she] understood that [she] had to legislate, or make legislative proposals which would address the real situations that citizens live on a daily basis, aimed at supporting the most vulnerable people’. In this case, the vulnerable people being supported are predominantly ‘women, and fundamentally girls and adolescents’.

I ask her about the policy of fining street harassers brought in in 2016 in Buenos Aires, and whether this policy influenced her. She is hesitant, and reminds me of Macri’s blunder which was much-discussed at the time, when he stated that ‘every woman likes to be told that she had, in his words, a nice ass”. She tells me that her own legislative proposal was in fact in the works before this one. The initiative promoted by  Pablo Ferreyra, the legislator of Frente para la Victoria (FPV), and bythe CNLM Gabriel Fuks, did go through the City legislature in December 2016. But Macri’s comments tell of an ongoing problem in official attitudes towards cat-calling.

When the law did come out in 2016, it gave Troiana ‘hope’. However, her inspiration came from long before this and is centered on ‘ideals of the socialist party and the needs of citizens’. The idea came from ‘being in constant contact with women and listening to their complaints about street harassment that often ended in sexual abuse’. Her continuing inspiration, she adds, ‘comes from the outrage that arises from knowing that people, usually older men, verbally harass and in many cases sexually abuse adolescents who could be their daughters.’

The project is, Troiana tells me, much broader than simply penalising street harassment. ‘The project actually proposes to deepen debate and education from the lowest levels of pre-school, primary and secondary education to promote respect between men and women, as well as [respect for] trans people and the rest of the LGBT collective.’

‘Cultural change is fundamental […] especially in a society as macho as argentina’

‘The idea’, she adds, ‘is that relationships are based on mutual respect’. This kind of ‘cultural change is fundamental,’ she adds, ‘especially in a society as sexist as Argentina, where men believe that women have to feel recognized or flattered by such attention’. Her ‘central objective’ is to draw attention to the current situation, and ‘to show that women and some men who are harassed verbally and sexually disagree with this [idea that it is flattering to be catcalled]’. But, she continues, ‘because some people only understand the cause when it is made clear with a penalty, we have established a penalty’.

As a citizen, a woman, and a legislator, Troiana realises the important intersections between these parts of her life. The impact of her legislation will be people’s ‘confidence in knowing that the State is attending to the situation [of ongoing street-harrasment] and does not agree [with it].’ This is just one way in which she believes that this will have a ‘substantial’ impact. She also stresses the importance of confronting abusers; and of training citizens and organisations, such as workplaces, on how to deal with harassment.

And so Troiana, along with fellow deputies Olga Rista and Victoria Donda, await the decision of Congress. They are just three of the many women that this legislature will affect if it goes through.