A demonstration marking International Women’s Day in Mexico City.

Street harassment is a public health problem: The case of Mexico City

Street harassment is a public health problem: The case of Mexico City

According to a multi-country poll by YouGov, Mexico City ranks first among 16 international cities surveyed for physical and verbal harassment on public transportation.

A demonstration marking International Women’s Day in Mexico City.
A demonstration marking International Women’s Day in Mexico City.

Lauren Ferreira Cardoso, University of Pennsylvania

“I actually don’t remember when I was first harassed on the street, but I do remember when I first experienced it as an abusive act: I was an adolescent traveling with my mom in a crowded underground wagon, where men could easily touch women without anyone noticing and with little possibility to prevent it.”

This was the experience of Lucía Vázquez, a researcher in Mexico City, Mexico. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.

According to a multi-country poll by YouGov, Mexico City ranks first among 16 international cities surveyed for physical and verbal harassment on public transportation. Street harassment, a form of gender-based violence against women, can include any act or comment perpetrated in a public space that is unwanted and threatening, and is motivated by a person’s perceived sex or gender.

Violence against women in public spaces is not exclusive to Mexico City, of course. Experiences of street harassment – from being whistled at to being touched without consent – are reported each day on crowd-sourced websites like Hollaback and Safecity in dozens of other locations from New York and New Delhi, to Lawrence, Kansas and Lubbock, Texas.

There is still much to be learned about how harassment and feeling unsafe in public spaces affects the well-being of women and girls – a topic I focus on in my doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice – but the global scale of these experiences is concerning. Studies documenting the prevalence of street harassment in more than 35 countries show it could have widespread health effects across the globe.


Street harassment in Mexico City

One of the latest studies on this issue aimed to understand the extent of street harassment and its impacts on women, girls and communities in Mexico City. All of the women in this study had previously screened positive for intimate partner violence, a prerequisite for inclusion in the parent study.

Paola Abril Campos, a doctoral student at the Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is a native of Mexico City. She said in an interview for this article:

“Growing up, I learned to fake a phone call to my parents to feel safer and avoid harassment. I learned to wear not the clothes I wanted, but the clothes that made me feel ‘safe.’ I learned to take quick detours during my daily commute. And I learned to put up with the impotence I felt when harassed.”

Her experiences motivated her to conduct a study on street harassment that was published in January in Salud Pública de México, a journal published by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health.

In this study, Campos and colleagues surveyed 952 women who were seeking health care in Mexico City’s community health clinics. More than 60 percent of the women, 62.8 percent, reported experiencing at least one form of street harassment in the past month alone. For one in four women, 26.8 percent, the abuse was physical.

The study found that the harassment, or fear of harassment, had negative impacts on the daily routines of these women. Nearly 70 percent reported some type of disruptions in their mobility, including missing, being late to or having to change jobs or schools. And yet, Campos said, “The costs and consequences of street harassment to women’s lives have remained invisible.”

The study also found that street harassment may diminish women’s sense of connectedness and trust in their community. Social isolation from one’s community can have long-term implications for well-being and can lead to chronic disease and poor mental health. Therefore, street harassment may contribute to these other public health concerns.

For the women in this study who were also victims of intimate partner violence, violence is a threat in both public and private. Jhumka Gupta, a global and community health professor at George Mason University and senior author of the study, stated: “Comprehensive interventions are needed to ensure women and girls’ safety both in public settings and in private spaces.”

Emerging solutions

There is some political will to address the issue in Mexico City. In conjunction with local authorities, UN Women has launched the program “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls,” which is promoting women’s safety through, among other mechanisms, providing women-only buses throughout the city.

The city’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa, is also supporting an initiative that distributes whistles to women that they can use when someone harasses them. The idea is to “break the silence” and bring attention to harassers.

Activists have been vocal too. Las Morras, a group of four young Mexican women, have been using hidden cameras to record harassment, which they post on their YouTube channel. Las Hijas De Violencia, another activist group, has a more unconventional approach. Whenever they are harassed they turn on loud punk music and shoot a confetti cannon at the perpetrator. Their intention is to take back their power in a nonviolent way.


These efforts are a step toward acknowledging that street harassment is pervasive and pernicious. However, these approaches share a critical shortcoming: The onus of action remains with women. They are asked to ride different buses, carry noisemakers, expose their abuse and confront their attackers. Still lacking are interventions that change the behavior of perpetrators, and challenge the prevailing social norms that deem street harassment, as at best, an inconsequential part of city living.

Street harassment is a common problem in the United States too. A recent nationally representative survey found that 65 percent of U.S. women have faced street harassment at some point in their lifetimes. These numbers may be rising.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there has been a post-election uptick of harassment and intimidation of many marginalized groups, including women. However, in February a new bill aimed at preventing street harassment in Washington, D.C. was introduced to its city council. It seeks to “eradicate street harassment in the District of Columbia through education, awareness, data collection and culture change.” The bill is broad and inclusive in its definition of street harassment and comprehensive in its approach. Will other cities follow its lead?

Lauren Ferreira Cardoso, Ph.D. Candidate in Social Welfare, University of Pennsylvania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

The Colombian soldier Mauricio Calvo shares his experience as part of a burgeoning industry of men who travel the world to fight in other people's wars.
They grew up in Chicago and their husbands, the Flores twins (aka ‘Los Mellizos’), worked for the Sinaloa cartel. The twins later became DEA informants in Mexico who helped bring down El Chapo Guzman. They have written a book, Cartel Wives, telling their story as a lesson to others not to fall for the narco life, and they regret what they put their families through. "Our fathers put on their suit of armor and their badge, and they are going out there on the streets of Chicago,” Mia confesses. “It’s the very same streets that our husbands were flooding with drugs.”
Nelson Denis, author of 'War Against All Puerto Ricans,' details how the commonwealth's 119-year-long association with the U.S. has produced total economic and governing dependence. With over $70 billion in crushing debt, Puerto Rico's governor turned to the courts on Wednesday to put certain debts before a federal bankruptcy court.
We traveled to Ciudad Juárez to see if hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Mexican maquiladora industry would return to the United States if Trump were to modify or abandon the NAFTA free trade agreement, as his government is considering. A border tax would have serious consequences in Mexican cities.
A wave of demonstrations in Venezuela has left several dead and hundreds more detained in the last two weeks. Univision reporter Tamoa Calzadilla explains how a democratic crisis, inflation and shortages of food and medicine have sent Venezuelans into the streets.
As the legend goes, a UFO landed in Capilla del Monte in 1986, leaving a mark on the side of the Pajarillo mountains. Since then, this Argentinian village has lived off UFO tourism. It's currently hosting its annual Alien Festival.
The announcement to scrap the benefits came as a bucket of cold water for the Cuban migrants who just arrived in the United States. As this group waits for their papers, the uncertainty grows on whether they will ever be reunited with the relatives they left on the island.
It is estimated that the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and its rival Barrio 18 gang together have about 40,000 members in the United States. And at least another 100,000 in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Italy. How did the gangs come to be among the world's best known criminal organizations?
A group of Argentines diagnosed with mental illness set up a radio station from where they broadcast their experiences
How Fidel Castro's plan to save Cuban baseball unraveled. The once mighty amateur baseball champions have lost much of their talent in recent years to U.S. Major League Baseball. Now the Cuban government is in discussions with MLB to stop the desertions. But will a Trump presidency make that more difficult?
A half-century of armed conflict has left behind 8 million victims in Colombia. It has also affected the country's unique natural resources. We explore the war’s impact on Colombia’s environment.
Forty three students in Mexico were abducted two years ago, and to this day, none have ever been found. When his son Jorge disappeared, New York City plumber Antonio Tizapa began to run marathons, not to win, but to send a message at the end of each race: he won’t stop until he finds his son or the truth about what really happened on that shameful day. On Sunday, Antonio and 20 friends will be running the New York City Marathon.
The evidence against El Chapo: undercover recordings, intercepted communications, protected witnesses’ declarations, drug seizures, and a confession. As U.S. prosecutors prepare their case against the world's most feared drug trafficker, this is what the government's case is built around.
Six months after the U.S. president visited the island, Cubans are divided over his impact. A government reform program is on hold as anxious residents pray for a tourist invasion.
Cubans seeking to flee the island are taking to rustic, homemade boats in increasing numbers since the U.S. and Cuba agreed to normalize relations 18 months ago.
La Tropical beer was popular in Cuba before the 1959 Revolution, but the factory was nationalized and the brewery later closed.
Emoción a flor de piel: así fue el estreno de Duelo de Reinas con Clarissa Molina y Francisca Lachapel
Las dos conductoras dominicanas de Univision fueron las grandes protagonistas de la premiere de Duelo de Reinas este martes en Miami, donde no pudieron esconder su sorpresa y entusiamo al ver por primera vez terminado su gran reto de baile para homenajear a Celia Cruz.
Los jueces no se tentarán el corazón para calificar a los Pequeños Gigantes
Galilea Montijo, el productor Rubén Galindo y los jueces del show ofrecieron una conferencia de prensa para dar detalles de lo que veremos a lo largo de la nueva temporada.
El secreto tras las mejores fotos de Clarissa y Francisca: lo que no has visto de Duelo de Reinas
El fotógrafo Harry Castiblanco reveló en exclusiva para Univision Entretenimiento Digital algunos de los detalles más íntimos del rodaje de Duelo de Reinas: "Traté de contar la otra historia, esos momentos tan frágiles de amor y amistad" de Clarissa Molina y Francisca Lachapel.
Cómo reaccionar si agentes de ICE llegan por sorpresa a sus lugares de empleo
Según reportes, 212 personas han sido arrestadas en 122 auditorias de ICE a negocios en Los Ángeles. Sin embargo, los dueños de los negocios y empleados deben saber que los agentes no pueden llegar sin previo aviso.
Ventana al Tiempo: ¿Qué temperaturas se esperan para este miércoles durante la madrugada en Dallas?
Nuestra meteoróloga Nelly Carreño nos presenta el pronóstico para la ciudad y sus alrededores. Se espera que durante el día la temperatura máxima será de 45 grados y la mínima de 39 grados.
La reacción de los jóvenes de Parkland ante la negativa a limitar las armas de asalto
Justo antes de que estudiantes supervivientes del tiroteo de Parkland llegaran a Tallahassee, la Cámara de Representantes de Florida votó en contra de una propuesta para limitar la venta de armas de asalto. "Están votando que sigamos yendo a las escuelas con miedo a sufrir otro tiroteo", afirmó la estudiante Lorena Sanabria.
Hijos de pareja que perdió la vida hace un año en accidente de tránsito piden que se haga justicia
Julio César e Hilda Torres murieron el 5 de septiembre de 2016 a causa de un accidente que involucra a una joven de 17 años de edad. La mujer manejaba a 87 millas por hora en una zona donde la velocidad máxima es de 40 millas. La presunta responsable se encuentra libre bajo fianza y podría nunca ir a la cárcel si se declara culpable este viernes 23 de febrero en una audiencia que tiene en el Tribunal.
Copa MX
Donovan estuvo muy cerca de anotar un golazo en la victoria de León 4-1 sobre Cafetaleros
El equipo de Landon Donovan, que entró al minuto 58, se impuso en el juego de Copa MX con goles de Hernández, Boselli, Piris y Cerato. Para la visita descontó Bárcenas.
Copa MX
Cauteruccio y Allison mostraron su disgusto, tras quedar con pie y medio afuera de la Copa MX
Los futbolistas de Cruz Azul hablaron con tono de resignación, luego del empate 1-1 contra Alebrijes de Oaxaca. El resultado los deja prácticamente eliminados del torneo copero. Aquí las declaraciones.
Miguel Herrera respeta a Saprissa, pero no le teme
El DT de América reconoció el crecimiento del fútbol costarricense en los últimos años y enfatizó en el hambre de triunfo que tiene su equipo para el duelo por la Liga de Campeones de Concacaf.
Johan Venegas quiere aprovechar la localía para quitarle el invicto al América
El volante del Saprissa pretende ponerle fin a la buena racha que llevan las Águilas en la Liga MX con un triunfo en Costa Rica. "El primer partido marca la serie", advirtió.