Buenos Aires has taken legal action in changing a culture that normalizes sexual harassment.
A law passed by the Argentine capital’s legislative body on Wednesday forbids catcalling and other forms of harassment in public, with perpetrators facing up to a $1,000 peso fine (around $60 USD), according La Nación.
The lawmaker behind the bill, Pablo Ferreryra, told the Argentine newspaper the objective is “to prevent and punish sexual harassment that occurs in public spaces or places accessible to the public in which harassment, ill-treatment or intimidation affects the general dignity, freedom of transit and the right of a person’s physical or moral integrity based on their gender, identity or sexual orientation.”
The law stipulates that harassment goes beyond catcalling, including indirect or direct references to a person’s body, photographing or filming private parts without consent, improper or unwelcome physical contact, persecution or cornering of a victim; masturbation and indecent exposure.
“Street harassment is deeply violent because it is an unwanted and undesired practice that has negative psychological impact,” Ferreryra told La Nación.
It’s an important move for Buenos Aires, whose former mayor Mauricio Macri was criticized in 2014 for saying on radio he didn’t believe women who said they didn’t like being catcalled, even when comments were accompanied by crude language like “what a nice ass you have.” Macri became president of Argentina in 2015.
The need to change sexist or misogynist attitudes has become an important topic in the country, particularly after the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Argentina’s coast sparked protests and outrage across Latin America in October. The powerful #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneMore) movement was also evoked after a 7-year-old indigenous girl in Colombia’s capital was kidnapped, raped and murdered on Dec. 4.
The new Buenos Aires law could also force offenders to do community service, according to the BBC, and it plans to go beyond punishing transgressors by also facilitating public education campaigns aimed at changing cultural attitudes that normalize sexual harassment.
Ferreryra even responded to those who defended catcalling as a cultural norm.
“Some manifestations of sexual harassment are accepted as folkloric or traditional, and that should not be an argument to tolerate this transgression,” he said. “No form of violence should be sponsored with pride by any society.”