Hollywood actress Eva Longoria has called for men around the world to play their part in stopping street harassment during a powerful event in Dubai.
The L'Oreal Paris ambassador took to the stage at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Club By Emaar last night as part of a Stand Up Against Street Harassment training session, teaching 50 women how to defend themselves and others from unwanted and intimidating behaviour.
But for Longoria, men too need to stop turning a blind eye to the issue.
“It’s important for me to be involved because I’m a woman and this issue affects women everywhere," Longoria said, speaking exclusively to The National after the event.
“But it’s our responsibility not only to train women on how to react in these situations but to train men as well. Men need to play their part in helping to eradicate this issue for us.”
The women in attendance formed a mixed crowd of cultures, ages and backgrounds, but they stood united in one belief – that women should be able to walk the streets freely without fear.
“Every woman I know has experienced street harassment and every woman I know has witnessed it,” said Longoria. “It’s something that can really chip away at your self-worth.
“It’s amazing that we have the power to come together with this initiative and tell women every day that they are worth it. No matter what your nationality, the fact that we’ve all experienced this connects us in a sisterhood.”
The training programme is a joint project between beauty company L'Oreal and non-profit Hollaback!.
Last night’s empowering session was the finale of three major events L'Oreal hosted for Stand Up this year. The first, on September 29, featured a projection on Burj Khalifa, which invited everyone to attend Stand Up Against Street Harassment events.
The invite was followed by the first training session in October at Expo 2020's Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre hosted by Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Saudi singer Aseel Omran, Egyptian actress Mona Zaki and How to Get Away with Murder star Aja Naomi King.
Last night, Longoria was joined by Hollaback! co-founder and executive director, Emily May, with both women flying in from the US to appear before the Dubai crowd.
The pair educated the audience about the 5Ds: distract the perpetrator; delegate by asking for some help; document the harassment; direct by speaking up; and delay by comforting.
“Ultimately, we’re looking to build a world where people can be who they are, wherever they are,” said May. “I started Hollaback! when I was 24 years old because I was sick and tired of being harassed. It happened to me everywhere I went, three or four times a day.”
Longoria, too, spoke about her experiences as a young woman. “I remember in college walking home and having so much anxiety because I had to walk through this dark alley and I don’t think men experience that,” she revealed. “That anxiety every day is compounding to our mental health.”
In 2019, L'Oreal carried out a study across eight countries that found street harassment was the No 1 issue that women face globally. The beauty brand launched the Stand Up initiative the following year and has so far trained more than 500,000 women on how to safely intervene and defend themselves during street harassment.
“I found the study astounding,” said Longoria. “The fact that L'Oreal wanted to do something about that was really important, especially as they have such a global influence. “I’ve been with L'Oreal for 16 years and this is one of the things that has made me most proud.”
For Longoria, the world stage at Expo 2020 Dubai was the perfect place to host such a universally relevant event.
“I think this was a really unique opportunity to share this particular training and bring awareness to a global problem on a global stage,” she said. “Women make up half of the population so we should be doing more to address the issues that we face, whether it be gender inequality, gender parody or street harassment.”
For Longoria, who has been a strong supporter of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, Stand Up Against Street Harassment is just another step in the fight towards equality.
Speaking about the effect of MeToo, Longoria said: “The global conversation we’ve started and the women coming forward and telling their stories has been inspiring and empowering for other women.
“We’ve created this sisterhood of women who now feel heard and justified and like they’re not alone and that can really decrease stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression.
“There’s so much shame associated with these issues and that shame should never be put upon the woman.”
Longoria and May are aiming to train a million people and say events like the one at Expo 2020 are key to promoting real progress.
“This training can become a multiplier in change,” said Longoria. “These 50 women will now take this and share it with girlfriends and their mother and their sister, so it has a multiplying effect.
“It’s the simplest solutions that can make a huge difference.”
Scroll through the gallery for L'Oreal's Stand up Against Street Harassment-themed show at Paris Fashion week: