The latest podcast episode of Activist Lawyer features Kristen Wallace and Hannah Campbell from Stop Street Harassment NI, in conversation with Activist Lawyer podcast hosts, immigration solicitor, Sarah Henry, and paralegal, Jack McClelland, from Granite Immigration Law.
Available to listen to across all major streaming platforms or via www.ActivistLawyer.com, here we ask Kristen and Hannah to tell us a little more about their purpose and their campaign.
Hannah Campbell and Kristen Wallace are former Queens University law students who run the anti-street harassment campaign, Stop Street Harassment NI. Their purpose is to raise consciousness on street harassment in Northern Ireland through education and lobbying, to bring about educational, cultural and legal change.
How important is activism?
H: Activism is crucial for change and comes in many different forms. For instance, challenging an inappropriate action when you see it is just as important as marching on the streets for change. It is all activism and we can all practice it in our daily lives.
K: I don’t think there is a scale that could measure just how important grassroot activism really is. It embodies ‘power to the people’ in every sense of the word by giving a voice to those who are passionate about fighting injustices and advocating for change. Activism seeks to bridge gaps in the law, challenges conventional norms but most importantly, calls on others to demand change for the greater good.
Can we use the law effectively as a tool for activism?
H: In a symbolic way, the law really guides society in telling us what is right and what is wrong. In this sense, putting laws in place to tackle unwanted behaviours is effective as it tells society that these actions are wrong and perpetrators will face repercussions. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that there are barriers to the participation of marginalised communities in the legal system. The laws must be in place but they also must serve those who need them the most and there is certainly work to be done to ensure that this is the case.
K: In any civil society, the law offers discipline which is an effective tool for activism as it holds those to account in cases of injustice. As the law is ever changing, this brings hope and drive to activists who want to lobby for changes in the law as well as to ensure the law benefits every member of society, not just the majority. However, in most cases the law is only one strand of solving social injustices and is by no means the solution. It is one opinion that real change requires a holistic approach: legal, educational and cultural.
Tell us about a career milestone / case that will stay with you forever
H & K: Having the opportunity to meet such amazing women who fight tirelessly for change in Northern Ireland has definitely been a milestone in campaigning for the both of us.
Does your current practice specialise in campaigning / representing clients in a specific area, and if so, how did you get involved in this area?
H&K: Our work focuses on Violence Against Women and Girls but specifically, street harassment. Interestingly, our journey into activism was a combination of both personal experiences, and also education on ways in which other countries are tackling street harassment. Seeing other countries make such efforts to tackle street harassment in their own societies encouraged us to campaign for Northern Ireland to do the same.
In addition to this, our work involves myth busting behaviours that have so often been accepted in our society such as the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality or ‘it is just a compliment’. Any form of harassment has no place in society and so we hope to encourage everyone to address these behaviours directly, particularly males. We can’t fix the issues relating to violence against women and girls if males are not part of the solution.
What is the most important change to the law that you feel needs to be addressed now?
H & K: Most will agree that Violence Against Women and Girls is a massive issue in Ireland that needs to be addressed now. Statistics show that Northern Ireland is the most dangerous place in Europe for women, with more domestic violence killings than anywhere else, only Romania matches here. That is shocking. We have come a long way in tackling this issue but there is still so much work to be done.
Subscribe to Activist Lawyer and download the latest episodes on your chosen podcasting platform. See www.activistlawyer.com for episodes and more information.
Instagram: @stopstreetharassmentni | Twitter: @Harassment_NI