The Belgian (or at least the Flemish) media has lately been full of coverage on street harassment in Brussels. It was triggered by a film that a 25-year-old film student made as her graduate thesis. Sofie Peeters lives in the southern part of Brussels (close to the South Railway Station), in an area heavily populated by “Belgians of foreign origin” (this local euphemism primarily means immigrants of Moroccon and Turkish descent).
Peeters is apparently carrying a hidden camera (and is sometimes accompanied by a male camerman) as she walks along certain streets in Brussels where she lives. She experiences regular verbal harassment by men, mostly “of foreign origin,” who propose her drinks, ask for her phone number and shout insults. The film premiered in a cinema in July, then the story was quickly picked up by the media, namely a current affairs show called Terzake.
The show and the following debate stirred things up. Peeters insisted that she came out with the story because this was a huge problem for women in the area where she lived, and she wanted “someone to do something about it.” She did fear however that she will be accused of racism, as 99% of the harassers that are featured are of foreign origin, so she tried to present her story as much in a balanced manner as possible: she interviewed friends and acquaintances of all descent, even teenage Moroccon boys and Muslim women. So can she be accused of racism? She argues that she is not trying to portray the Moroccon and Turkish community (men in particular) as overall bad, she calls this phenomenon “a few bad apples on the tree.” In any case, this will definitely not help easing the tensions between the various communities in Brussels and in Belgium in general.
Interestingly (and on a more positive note), the city of Brussels plans to introduce fines for sexist comments on the streets from September, as it was announced last week (250 EUR!). Peeters herself commented that she is not sure in what ways can such a law be implemented (who will recite the sexist comments once taken into the police station), nevertheless, I find it a significant step that city officials and authorities realize how this unwanted, aggressive and disrespectful attention is hurting women and are not afraid to act.
So I give you: Femme de la Rue (Woman of the Street). The movie was shot in French and Dutch but there are English subtitles (unfortunately obviously of “Google translate origin”). This piece contains a teaser trailer at the beginning, then the Terzake interview with Sofie Peeters, then the whole documentary she had made. Worth to watch.