Across the UK, girls face verbal, physical and psychological harassment daily. Two sisters – Gemma (16 years old) and Maya (22 years old) Tutton – want that to stop.
They founded Our Streets Now (OSN) to end Public Sexual Harassment (PSH) by creating cultural awareness and fighting for legislative change.
Originally started as a petition against PSH, their campaign has grown into a UK-wide movement by bringing together young people to take action in their schools and universities.
Launched in April 2019, the online petition has a single demand: making public sexual harassment illegal. Today they have gathered close to half a million signatures.
But their work hasn’t stopped there.
To eliminate public sexual harassment, it is necessary to change the culture that enables it. And this is precisely what these sisters, and their team of volunteers, are working on, developing many projects with OSN.
The seeds of Our Streets Now were planted when Gemma, who was 11, began experiencing PSH. “Maya had experienced PSH since she was a young teenager.
It was hugely normalised – and still is!
So when I started having bad experiences and she told me there wasn’t much I could do about it, it made us angry.
Then France passed a law to fight against criminalising PSH in late 2018 with on-the-spot fines to perpetrators, and we realised that there was something we could do about it.
So we jumped straight into making a petition and Instagram!” explains Gemma.
As a team, they found they could speak out on an issue that concerns nearly all women, girls, and non-binary people.
With 97% of women aged 18-24 having experienced PSH, they felt they had to take action towards the public threat.
“Maya and I are now the local feminists of our town,” Gemma recounts.
“Maya was the head of her college feminist society, and she inspired me to better my feminism and activism. We always joke that she brought me up. So although we fought a lot, we’ve been very close our whole lives, and OSN has only brought us closer!”
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Change only happens if we make it.
Their slogan is “change only happens if we make it,” and they are making change.
One of the ways that OSN affects change is through its work in education.
“Our Schools Now is the most impressive part of OSN so far.
Our Schools Now has workshops with young people and created lesson plans and resources for students and teachers.
They are also doing a summer Changemakers Programme to prepare young people to become more experienced activists.”
Starting in schools, they have also spread their campaign to higher education across the UK.
Our Streets Now ambassadors create groups within their universities. They educate and advocate for women and non-binary students inside and outside the university walls.
They have also created a book club bringing the community together and engaging in intersectional feminism.
Our Streets Now works on many fronts to tackle public street harassment, a symptom of more significant societal problems.
“Our Streets Now is going to keep expanding into every sector because sexual harassment is in every sector!” Gemma explains.
“I think education is the most important part of this campaign. We must reach young people before they experience this culture of shame and guilt and before they perpetuate PSH themselves!”
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Challenges and change
Being a young activist comes with its own sets of challenges.
Gemma is also a pole vault athlete and British record owner.
And balancing school, sports, and OSN activities demand discipline and solid mental strength.
“Athletic practice has definitely helped my activism in terms of dedication and work ethic.”
She confesses that “activist burnout and guilt are very real. You can be on fire for a week – working 5 hours a day. And then the next week, not manage to pick up your phone at all.
It has been a struggle making sure I stay in the middle of those two!”
But with their large team and the even larger community, Our Streets Now’s impact makes the efforts worthwhile.
In November 2020, they collaborated with the international humanitarian organisation Plan International UK on the Crime Not Compliment campaign.
In summing up, Gemma told us, “one of the most rewarding parts of OSN is all the young women and femmes who reach out telling us their stories.
They tell us how we have inspired them to make changes locally. It’s a constant reminder of why we started, and they fuel the fire of OSN!”
Feature image: Shutterstock – Elena Vagengeim