The city of Brussels has too many areas which are unsafe for women and for gays, according to Bianca Debaets, regional minister for equal opportunities. Debaets, also an opposition member of the Brussels-City local council, was speaking in an interview with La Libre.
“Sadly, harassment in public, a particular problem in large cities, is still a big problem,” she said, with reference to a study published in January by the University of Ghent which showed that 80% of women had suffered harassment in a public place.
“There are too many areas where it’s difficult for women to go, as well as for gays. If two men want to walk hand in hand, or if a woman wants to wear a pretty summer dress, they shouldn’t have to adapt their behaviour. It’s not up to the victims to change!”
One of the solutions – outside of legal measures such as the new Brussels rule which makes sexual harassment on the street a criminal offence – is solidarity, Debaets suggested.
“When a person is being harassed, people on the spot need to intervene,” she suggested. “I can understand the fear of the individual, but you can always find people around you to form a majority in the face of an unacceptable situation.”
Without singling it out as one of the no-go areas in question, Debaets reserved particular criticism for the pedestrian area on the central avenues of the city – the prize project of disgraced former mayor Yvan Mayeur and his predecessor and mentor Freddy Thielemans.
“Yvan Mayeur had the ambition to create the largest pedestrian zone in Europe,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the largest, but it’s the ugliest. The idea of giving oxygen to the city is a good one, but the management has been catastrophic. I fear that the years during which this zone has remained a blot on the landscape may have killed off businesses. It will take a long time to bring the area back to life.”