Various activities were held to mark International Women’s Day yesterday. The most striking and thought-provoking one was by the NGO Passerelle which works with homeless women. Passerelle invited fourteen female personalities to dress up as rough sleepers and to spend a couple of hours on the streets of Port Louis yesterday morning.
Aurore Perraud, Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD) MP and former minister of gender equality, participated in the social experiment next to the Supreme Court. “What really shocked me was people’s indifference. [...] I saw several people from the legal profession whom I had met before but who barely looked at me. It hurt me. I realise how people who sit here everyday feel,” said Perraud.
Tania Diolle, the Mouvement Patriotique (MP) candidate for the No. 18 by-election, was on the other hand at the southern underpass of the Caudan Waterfront. “Even though the phenomenon [of female rough sleepers] is not that obvious since those women hide, it’s a fact that there are women who don’t have the means to have a home,” said Diolle. “The loneliness they feel moved me, but also the kindness [of some] which means we can still believe in the Mauritian society. The fact that some people stopped and watched [me] means that some people don’t find it normal,” she reflects.
Martine Lutchmun, journalist at Essentielle, declared that “if we journalists don’t lobby for women’s causes, who will? “Going on the ground is a good way to draw attention to these causes,” she argues. Lutchmun, who sat outside Shoprite, explains that only about six out of the 200 people or so who passed by actually took an interest in her. “I was an invisible woman,” she told Weekly. The journalist hopes that this campaign will help change society’s take on homeless women. “You don’t necessarily have to give them money.”
The other women involved included Shamima Patel, president of Breast Cancer Care; Djemilla Mourade-Peerbux, journalist at the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC); Najette Tourab, journalist at the Défi Media Group; Megha Venketasamy, life coach; Joëlle Hannelas, president of Pedostop; and Isabelle David, from LEAD, amongst others.
Mélanie Valère-Cicéron, president of Passerelle, explains that the aim of this campaign, titled And If It Were You? is to raise awareness regarding the situation of rough sleepers. Passerelle currently operates three emergency shelters in Saint Pierre, Highlands and Roches Brunes for women in need and their kids.