IT IS often dismissed as wolf-whistling, cat-calling or so-called "banter" - but now there are growing efforts to tackle the problem of women being sexually harassed in the street in Scotland.

A group has been set up in Glasgow as part of the worldwide Hollaback movement, which encourages women to share their experiences online of unwelcome jokes, jeers and obscenities.

Hollaback, which is also established in Edinburgh, campaigns against sexual harassment by encouraging venues like pubs and clubs to pledge to have a zero-tolerance policy against harassment.

As part of the groundswell against harassment, a new poster campaign has also been launched by a charity which supports Muslim women, after a snapshot poll found 94 per cent of respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment - most commonly in the street.

The issue is back in the spotlight following the case of Poppy Smart, a 23-year-old from Worcester who, it emerged last week, went to the police after being plagued by wolf-whistling and sexist comments from builders she passed every day.

However, her action triggered heated debate and a torrent of online abuse - with comments such as "ugly bitch" and that she should be charged for wasting police time.

Sandra Kinahan, co-founder of Hollaback Glasgow, said: "It is terrible that this happened (to Smart) in the first place, but it is even more disappointing how society is still reacting to these incidents.

"We have carried out some work with local nightclubs on responses to sexual harassment within their own walls. In a lot of cases, it is emphasised to us that many people who are aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment still don't see it as a problem."

A builder who was questioned by police following the complaint by Smart said he was paying her a "compliment" and his behaviour was "part and parcel" of working on a building site. Ian Merrett, 28, added: "It's not worth getting into trouble over some silly little girl. I don't know why she complained, she must be thinking things above her station."

But Kinahan added: "The difficult thing as always is making people take it seriously - it might be 'just' wolf-whistling, but it is about the kind of environment that this creates.

"And there is the impact that the whistling itself has on women - it is degrading."

Smart said she had tried to ignore the cat-calls from the builders and also had to deal with them blocking the pavement so she had to walk round them. In one interview she said: "I started wearing sunglasses so I didn't have to look at them. I started putting headphones on so I didn't have to hear them. Eventually it got to the day where I had enough."

Her experience echoes a recent survey carried out by the Hollaback Edinburgh group which found 80 per cent of young people surveyed had experienced some sort of street harassment. Nearly half said they had changed how they behaved in the wake of incidents - such as altering the way they dress or avoiding certain places or forms of transport.

Lena Wanggren of Hollaback Edinburgh said: "With the Poppy Smart case, some people said it is just a joke or compliment - but what happens is that it makes people change their behaviour. So it really does impact on their everyday lives.

"We want to see a cultural change - so it is not just about sexist comments but also about street harassment which is homophobic or because of someone's race or disability.

"We are hoping to see a change - 10 years ago we didn't even have the term street harassment, it was just something that happened."

A poster campaign has also recently been launched by Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre, a Glasgow-based charity which supports Muslim women. It shows a woman dressed in a hijab saying: "I may choose to wear this ..." next to a woman in a short dress saying: "I may choose to wear this ..." with the message: "I do not choose to be harassed."

A poll carried out last year by

Amina found 94 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment - with 79 per cent of incidents happening on the street, 59 per cent on public transport and 42 per cent at work.

The most common types of sexual harassment were suggestive remarks, unwanted physical contact and unwanted comments on dress and appearance. Respondents said this triggered feelings such as being uncomfortable, angry and intimidated.

Ghizala Avan, violence against women project co-ordinator at Amina, said: "The campaign is specifically targeted at black and minority ethnic and Muslim communities.

"But the message could be two-fold, as in the poster there is a contrast between a woman wearing a hijab and the other woman whose arms and legs are exposed.

"The message is that it doesn't matter what a woman is wearing, it is not acceptable to harass her."