THE campaign to make public sexual harassment (PSH) illegal in Scotland is now in full swing, fuelled by the personal experiences of its co-founders.

The project, launched by co-founders Sally Donald and Alice Jackson, is sponsored by SNP MSP Paul McLennan.

Sally Donald, women’s officer for Edinburgh Central SNP constituency branch, and Alice Jackson, co-founder of safety helpline Strut Safe, shared their inspiration and the motivations that led to the Make Sexual Harassment Illegal campaign.

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Explaining who this campaign is for, Jackson told of her hopes that the safeguarding of those who experience public sexual harassment will be prioritised: “This is for everyone who faces PSH. Principally that is women, but not exclusively.

“It is important to me that legislation like this looks to protect everybody because that is how we create a safer society and bring an end to sexual violence in all its forms.

“There is, of course, a personal involvement in this campaign. I began experiencing sexual harassment from a very young age, when I was still a child. What part of a child in a school uniform is sexual?

“I’m doing it for that little girl and I’m doing it for all the girls who still feel unsafe and who still experience this, from my work I know they do. I still experience PSH to this day, I have hardened myself to it, I have equipped myself with the tools to deal with it now, as I know many have. Perhaps I just wish that I hadn’t had to learn so young.”

Jackson recalled being shouted at, objectified, lurched at and chased down a street in Edinburgh by a man wielding a glass bottle.

The severity of the issue of public sexual harassment cannot be overstated, she went on to explain: “PSH is a massive issue and is absolutely not taken as seriously as it should be.

“For people who don’t experience it, I don’t think they consider it to be more than a compliment or a greeting but often PSH includes sexual actions, threats or degrading and offensive comments. This kind of behaviour can have an enormous impact on the victim but it also platforms and reinforces many of the most severe misogynistic problems in our society.”

A UN Women study found that 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, including catcalling, requests for sexual favours, indecent exposure, being physically followed and having images being taken and/or shared without consent.

On International Women’s Day this year, Holyrood hosted the parliamentary reception for the campaign, during which Sally Donald delivered a poignant and powerful speech to an audience of women’s charities, politicians and activists.

Donald presented a photograph of herself as a young girl, and revealed that it was at this age, as a schoolchild, that she first experienced public sexual harassment. The room audibly gasped as she held up the picture.

She explained that the initial feelings she remembers are fear, humiliation and anger, followed by disgust and repulsion.

She shared that she has no shortage of stories of being wolf-whistled at, catcalled or being told to smile by passersby.

Donald outlined their intentions for the campaign, to create an education-based approach to misogyny: “We are here to share our dreams for this campaign, and our vision for a Scotland that is inclusive, fair and most importantly feminist.

“Let’s teach men and boys why these behaviours are unacceptable. Let’s start from the belief that they have the capabilities and the desire to treat women as equals but that somewhere along the way society taught them that it was okay to treat us as less than.”

Paul McLennan, SNP MSP for East Lothian and a member of the ScottishGovernment’s social justice and social security committee, told of his amazement and pride at the strength of the women standing beside him, and re-iterated that “so many women have so many stories”.

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The event was wrapped up with the signing of an open letter addressed to the Scottish Government, to formally request legislation to help combat the issue of public sexual harassment in Scotland.

Jackson, when asked how her 16-year-old self would feel if she could see all that she has achieved, said: “I hope she would be proud. She spoke out against misogyny in far less sympathetic spaces, sometimes I think she fought the tide more than I do now. I have so much love for that little girl.”

“She would be sad that things haven’t changed much and I’m still experiencing these things but hopefully proud that I’m trying to do something about it and tell me to keep going. And full of hope, just as I was then and just as I am now. Full of hope for the future.”