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Stalked, abused in 1 minute, 27 seconds


STREET SMART: A still from the film and (right) Sofie Peeters, the director

When her short film was recently released in Belgium, Sofie Peeters had no idea it would evoke the kind of furore it did. Femme de la rue (Woman of the street) documents the shocking verbal abuse women suffer in Brussels.

The documentary, initially a university project, has now gone viral on the internet and has been shown across Europe where it raises issues that are rarely discussed.

Women have been inspired in the past to speak up on social networking websites such as Twitter where a new hashtag has been created: #harcelementderue (Street harassment). This is in response to a French column writer who stated that Miss Peeters's cases must be isolated as he'd never heard such complaints from French women.

The Belgian student is shown walking in the streets of the city centre. She is often insulted without any provocation, asked how much she 'costs', invited to a hotel room and so on, all in broad daylight. The camera witnesses a discussion in which an older man tells Miss Peeters that she should be thankful for the attention as it makes her feel like a woman and she certainly wouldn't want to walk in the streets unnoticed. "Men haven't done you any wrong, " he adds. But on too many occasions, the abuse isn't just verbal;some wandering hands find their own way too.

Often this kind of behaviour comes with excuses - it is flattery, is what you hear most often. When women refuse to respond favourably they are called "whore" or "bitch".

Back in Delhi, things are no better. An international panel of 370 gender specialists selected India as the worst G20 country to be a woman in. And while some measures have been taken to tackle some issues, numbers show that the situation is not getting better. "If you take the metro in Delhi, make sure you go to the first two carriages reserved for women, I don't like to do this but it is safer, " Nira, a teacher, says. Does it make public spaces safer for women? Not really. "I'm against the separate coach for women. It is the most ridiculous solution the government came up with to ensure safety. Segregating men and women will never help develop tolerance and respect for other's personal space. " a recent victim says on a blog post.

"If women travel in women-only compartments and it makes them feel safe then it is fine, " argues Prabhleen who works for the JAGORI Safe Delhi campaign.

The campaign works with students from the Delhi University and other colleges to raise awareness for street harassment. Since 2005 it has done three surveys to show that women feel less safe in the city's public transport system.

The internet offers victims to speak up anonymously. In recent years, activists around the world have organised maps and blogs on which women can expose molesters or at least account for their experiences.

In 2005 in the USA, activists created Hollaback !, an online map on which to report incidents. Since then, the website has grown worldwide and includes four bloggers in India: as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Chandigarh. The bloggers receive the messages, publish them and put them on the map. One reads: "I told him no and rang my doorbell, hoping for the door to open as soon as possible. He tried to grab my face and kiss me, but when I pushed him away and hit him the door began to open and he ran away. He now knows where I am staying and I am terrified. "

Activists and feminists say the solution to end street harassment is the education of both men and women. "Society needs to create equal opportunities for men and women and realise women have the right to dignity, " says Prabhleen, "There needs to be access to education because education is very important. "

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