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Interview with Farah Benis

Farah is the owner of popular Instagram account @catcallsofldn, where she posts chalk drawings of catcalls.

 

1. What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

I think I still have so many more thing to accomplish but I’m pretty proud of my career so far. I have always been entrepreneurial. From founding a shot-girl agency in university, running a coffee factory and then a business development consultancy in Uganda, I have sought out autonomy in my career. As a consultant, I have worked across numerous sectors in the UK and across Africa, and I have always believed in pushing my boundaries. This year, I am launching an eco-glitter company and am involved in a project that is designed to teach emotional intelligence to children.

 2. Why did you start this account?

Having worked in male-dominated industries and faced harassment everywhere from the boardroom to the streets I got to a point where I was fed up, and wanted to see change. Often, people are unaware of the extent of daily harassment and how added up it really affects women and how they hold themselves in society. I started campaigning against street harassment as Catcalls of London, which is an Instagram based campaign, inspired by Catcalls of NYC. Women and girls share their experiences and I chalk the words that have been said in the places that they happened. The aim of this is to highlight the extent and severity of gender-based street harassment faced by women. This has grown into mentoring youth campaigns and speaking in schools educating young people about harassment. We have recently just launched Chalk Back. Our goal is to empower other women to question the status quo, raise awareness, and ultimately instigate change, allowing us all to feel safer in our streets.

 3. Do you get a lot of hate?

I do get a lot of online harassment because of the account, which really only really serves to underline how much more work there is to be done in this space.

4. How do you deal with negativity?

It’s easy to get caught up in social media negativity but I’m very clear with myself that my self-worth is not attached to random strangers on the internet, rather in the work that I am doing and the tangible impact that it has.

5. What advice do you have for your younger self?

Ask for help when you need it. Put yourself before others. Energy is limited, save some for yourself.

6. How do you stay connected with your culture?

That’s a difficult one as I feel I’m currently at a stage of feeling very disconnected. As my family is all in Uganda and I’m in London I feel the distance has served to reinforce that disconnect and I am trying to find ways to bridge that gap.

7. What is a book that you think everyone should read?

I’m currently reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Grey which is a series of essays that explores being a feminist while loving things that could seem at odds with feminist ideology.

8. What is your go-to coffee order?

Americano with a splash of coconut milk. Without fail.

9. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Asian women today?

We have a massive issue with our patriarchal culture and the way women who step out of that are perceived and treated. The attitude that there’s something wrong with you if you are different and outspoken. I struggled a lot with that growing up and saw many of my friends prefer to conform rather than rock the proverbial boat. We are expected to fit these specific ideas and when we don’t we are ostracised for it. There needs to be a change in that sort of thinking. It’s ok to be different, to be a changemaker, and to be yourself, however that may look.

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