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Just Smile

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Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadah. Photo by Carla C. Waldron via tlynnfaz.com

For the last five years I’ve been a transit-dependent person. What this means is that I spend a lot of time on foot, a lot of time standing waiting for buses, waiting for trains, and it may or may not surprise you to know that I experience at least one form of street harassment nearly ever day.

There is a spectrum of severity to these experiences but their regularity does not make them easier to endure and their consistency has resulted in a vulnerability that can sometimes feel overwhelming. I’ve never gone unaffected by someone who yells to try and get my attention, intentionally standing back to look at me up and down, walking up to me and putting their faces inches from my own, or honking their horn or making suggestive faces from their car.

I often try to brush these experiences off but I know they’ve affected me. When I’m getting dressed in the morning and purposefully choose to wear clothes that hide my body, when I avoid eye contact on the sidewalk, when I rush to get home before the sun goes down, when I choose not to participate in activities that require long trips, when I hold my breath as I see someone walking towards me at night. I know it affects me.

I experienced the worst form of street harassment in my previous neighborhood. Sometimes I would walk past groups of men seated on the sidewalk who would feel the need to comment on what I was wearing, talk about my body, or inform me that I’d be prettier if I just smiled. Sometimes these men would have the audacity to become outraged when I would ignore them and they would stand up and yell profanities at me as I walked away.

It can be difficult to talk about experiences of harassment but sharing experiences is an important step in raising awareness about the issue. Not only to let those who are being harassed know that they are not alone, but to educate the public about this important issue and reiterate publicly that this  is not something that we should just accept as a society.

Artist Tatana Fazlalizadeh has attempted to raise awareness about this issue in a very creative and public way by creating posters that reflect women’s stories and struggles with harassment. Ms. Fazlalizadeh says that her work “attempts to address gender based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of women, composed with captions that speak directly to offenders, outside in public spaces.”

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Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo via stoptellingwomentosmile.com

She goes on to say that “Street harassment is a serious issue that affects women world wide. This project attempts to take women’s voices, and faces, and put them in the street – creating a presence for women in an environment where women are a lot of times made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”

By bringing this work in to the public realm, Ms. Fazlalizadeh creates the opportunity to simultaneously speak to those being harassed, those doing the harassing and those who may not have the issue on their radar.  She is empowering those who may feel victimized by giving them a voice and by allowing visitors on her site to obtain her posters for FREE!, she is strategically given those who want to raise awareness about this issue, the opportunity to do so in their neighborhood.

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Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo via stoptellingwomentosmile.com

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Yemen Women Create Safer Streets with Technology

Last May, I read about a woman from Yemen named Ghaidaa al Absi, whose organization Kefaiaa was training over 200 women to become cyber-activists and work with other cyber-activist to fight against street harassment in their country. Street harassment is a serious problem in Yemen and the country does not have any legislation protecting women from sexual harassment. While police had indicated they would step up efforts to stop harassment, those charged for harassment have received little to no punishment for their crimes.

A challenge many Yemen women face in becoming cyber-activists is access to mobile devices and inconsistent internet connection in their neighborhoods. Tactical Technology Collective, an online resource which provides open source toolkits and resources to cyber-activists gave Absi’s group a micro-grant to develop the Safe Streets website which allows women to report real-time incidences of street harassment. Absi’s organization continues to grow and expand and she recently launched an art exhibition which addressed the issue of street harassment in Yemen (check out the some of the artwork below).

For many countries across the world (and certainly for neighborhoods, and regions here in the US), lacking access to technology can be an incredible deterrent to connecting with online tools that help connect you to basic services and give you a voice. Companies like Tactical Technology Collective can help make an incredible difference in erasing these barriers and giving representation to those who most often need it the most.

Art addressing street harassment in Yemen by local artists. Via Kefaiaa

Art addressing street harassment in Yemen by local artists. Via Kefaiaa

Art addressing street harassment in Yemen by local artists. Via Kefaiaa

Art addressing street harassment in Yemen by local artists. Via Kefaiaa

Hurricane Sandy Brings Environmental Concerns to Light

Oil sheen in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance.

Oil sheen in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance.

After Hurricane Sandy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted information on its website about taking safety precautions when cleaning up after floods but many community advocates in New York and New Jersey are increasingly concerned about the levels of contamination caused by Sandy and their impact on clean up efforts as well as the environmental threat of future storm surges and rising seal levels near current and former industrial waterfront areas.

In Brooklyn, New York, two Superfund (hazardous waste) sites, the Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal breached their banks and flowed in to nearby city streets. In New Jersey, the Raritan Bay Slag Superfund Site (containing large amounts of lead, arsenic and copper) flooded an adjacent public playground and beach and in the Arthur Kill (a channel between New Jersey and Staten Island), clean up crews working in cooperation with the Coast Guard had to use oil skimmers, vacuum trucks and a contamination boom to remove 378,000 gallons of fuel released from the Motiva oil tank during the storm.

Greenpoint Avenue (near a sewage treatment plant) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Greenpoint Avenue (near a sewage treatment plant) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Environmental justice (advocating for communities unfairly burdened by environmental pollution and contamination) advocates are requesting to meet with local city officials and waterfront businesses to inventory existing chemicals and help keep businesses up to date on floodproofing their chemical storage facilities. Kate Zidar, Executive Director of the Newtown Creek Alliance says “Learning from Sandy, we need environmental health and safety information for flooding that is specific for Superfund and relevant to the industrial business community,” and suggests potential efforts that could help prevent further contamination in the future like installing tide gates and shoreline bulkheads and the restoration of our wetland areas.

Communities who live near businesses like chemical plants, paper mills, and ports or infrastructure like highways are unfairly burdened by negative health outcomes and advocating for regulation of these facilities, progressive environmental planning and affordable housing in healthier communities are key to saving millions of our fellow citizens from undue suffering.

Ash Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

Ash Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Newtown Creek Alliance

The Skateboarding Girls of Kabul

 Tamima, Fatima, Gulmina, and Suhaila. Photo via Skateistan

Skateistan students Tamima, Fatima, Gulmina, and Suhaila. Photo via Skateistan

Get ready. A skateboarding revolution is happening amongst young girls… in Afghanistan.

In 2009, Skateistan (an NGO and Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school) opened the doors to it’s 5428 square meter facility in Kabul, providing recreational sports and education and creative arts classes to boys and girls ages 5-17. According to Skateistan, 60% of Afghanistan’s population is under 25 and 50% is under the age of 17. Children without education (an especially girls – only 12% of Afghan women are literate) have few opportunities open to them. Skateistan aims to provide children with a safe place for education and recreation and hopes to instill each one of their students with confidence, team work and leadership skills, to help them become empowered individuals who affect change in their community.

Each week, Skateistan welcomes over 400 children, half of who are children streetworking children, some are refugees, some are disabled and 40% of all the children are girls. To help make the facility more accessible, Skateistan provides transportation to and from the facility (women and girls are usually not allowed to travel alone and getting around Kabul can be difficult with traffic congestion, limited public transportation and street harassment) as well as skateboards, other sports equipment, safety gear and educational materials.

Afghanistan’s Girl Skaters – Kabul 2012 from Skateistan on Vimeo.

Kabul is made up of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic neighborhoods and Skateistan welcomes children from across the city, hoping to give students the tools to transcend social barriers and work together o become future leaders in their community. Since 2009, 28 students have become employed by Skateistan providing a safe employment opportunity and 13 girls have become youth leaders with the organization. The success of their program in Kabul has resulted in another facility opening in Cambodia and an additional facility under construction in Northern Afghanistan.
Tamana, 11 wins 1st place in the girl's skateboarding contest. Photo via Skateistan

Tamana, 11 wins 1st place in the girl’s skateboarding contest. Photo via Skateistan

Crosswalk Performance Art in Paris

Pop Up Crosswalk by X/TNT in Paris, France. Photo via Pop Up City

Pop Up Crosswalk by X/TNT in Paris, France. Photo via Pop Up City

French theater group X/TNT wanted to raise awareness about the dangerous conditions that exist for pedestrians at La Place de L’Etoile (the roundabout under the Arc de Triomphe) in Paris. Check out their performance, creating a temporary street level crossing (the city prefers pedestrians access the Arc via an underground pedestrian tunnel) to get from one side of the street to another.

STRESS FREE – La prise de l’étoile – Pedestrian crosswalk from Xtnt – Urban Theater on Vimeo.