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Dossier d'information Zero sexism in my city

Sexism and harassment in public areas

While most violence against women occurs in private, gender-based harassment in public areas also has a major impact on their freedom and their ability to exercise their citizenship. But how do we define this harassment and what forms can it take?

For a number of years, ground-breaking media coverage of violence against women has highlighted the fact that women everywhere, including in Switzerland and Geneva, are the target of sexist and degrading behaviour, profanities, physical attacks or sexual violence in numerous areas of their life. One manifestation of this gender-based violence is harassment in public areas.

Sexism and harassment in public areas are part of the ongoing issue of violence against women. While most cases of violence against women are committed by the men in their entourage and in the domestic sphere, sexism in public areas also has a strong impact on women’s lives, freedom and citizenship.

What is gender-based harassment?

Gender-based harassment is defined as “the act of imposing any comments or behaviour based on the gender, orientation or sexual identity, either real or assumed, of a person with the aim or impact of creating an intimidating, humiliating, degrading or offensive situation which thereby violates the dignity of that person” (definition of the Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, an independent French advisory body which reports to the Prime Minister).

Ongoing forms and areas of violence

In public areas, the notion of gender-based harassment refers to numerous types of sexist behaviour or comments from a range of “sources” targeting women in the different areas they frequent during the course of a day. Ranging from often trivialised “micro-attacks” to verbal or physical attacks punishable by the law (profanities, threats, molestation, constraints, etc.), these events contribute to making public areas a hostile environment for the people targeted by these types of behaviour.

To combat such unacceptable behaviour effectively, it must be incorporated into the context of the gender-based violence and power relationships which remain in society. It is also necessary to bear in mind the fact that harassment in public areas is not limited to the streets, but also occurs in public transport, festive venues, sports or training events, the workplace, the political sphere and the digital world. While the contexts are changing, the power relationships at play remain the same.

Gender-based harassment and intersectionality

Finally, gender-based harassment in public areas does not only affect women; it also concerns the LGBTIQ+ community. In certain cases, the forms of discrimination intersect and the violence is not only gender-based but also racistlesbophobic or transphobic. The social sciences refer to this phenomenon as “intersectionality”, reflecting the fact that certain people are the target of several types of discrimination simultaneously and may therefore be exposed to more violence. 

Article modifié le 15.06.2020 à 16:39