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A woman walking through a bus station in Buenos Aires
A woman walking through a bus station in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES — Lucía Cabrera was as frightened as she was annoyed. The 25-year-old physical education student had dealt with catcalling before. But in this case, the taxi driver hollering comments also followed her — for more than a block.

Luckily she ran into a police officer and decided, for the first time in her life, to register a complaint. "I just wanted to report the situation," Cabrera told the Argentine daily Clarín.

"At first, I thought it wouldn't amount to much," Cabrera said. Mostly she just wanted to send the taxi driver a message; let him know that something he probably does on a regular basis, without ever getting called on it, is actually quite hurtful.

What she didn't know at the time is that the catcalling taxista had actually broken the law — a city ordinance, to be precise — that was approved last December and went into effect in late January, just weeks before the incident took place. The police officer who intervened and questioned the driver didn't know about the law either.

With the help of a lawyer, Cabrera decided to pursue the matter. And on May 16, she was able to address the taxi driver directly and share her complaints before an arbitration panel. Clarín described it as the city's first official sexual-harassment hearing.

Many women have to deal with catcalling and harassment — Photo: Hernán Piñera

Women's rights advocates call it long overdue. An undated poll compiled in Buenos Aires by the MuMaLá, a local NGO, found that 100% of its female respondents had been harassed or received unwelcome attention at some point in public.

The new city ordinance makes all public harassment liable to fines of up to 1,000 Argentine pesos (approximately 55 euros). Offenders can also be ordered to take sensitivity classes. That is precisely what the driver in Cabrera's case will have to do based on an agreement the two parties reached on Tuesday. The class will focus on issues related to coexistence, diversity and human rights, the Spanish news agency EFE reported.

"I don't think he'll go back to harassing women," Cabrera told reporters after the arbitration hearing. "What I told him is that beyond all that, I'd like him to raise awareness among his friends and acquaintances, to let them know that sexual harassment is bad."

Raquel Vivanco, a spokesperson for MuMaLá, described the arbitration hearing as a good first step in tackling what she says is "the most commonplace violence affecting the integrity of women." What the organization would like to see next is a national law. "We want to have cities where we women can circulate freely and safely," she said.

Alidad Vassigh contributed to this report

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