These Streets Are Made For Walking, Not Catcalling

For years and years women have had to endure endless sexual harassment, whether it be unwanted looks, inappropriate physical contact with strangers or even mere cat-calling. Street harassment in particular has become an epidemic in countries all over the world.

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

It comprises actions and comments between strangers in public that are disrespectful, threatening and unwanted. Such harassment can range from whistling and sexist or sexual comments to flashing, stalking, groping and assault. More importantly, it primarily impacts women, including more than 80% of women worldwide, and it directly limits their access to public spaces.

Studies have shown that more than 90% of women in countries like Egypt, India, Yemen, and the USA experience it. More than 80% do in Canada. A recent study in France found that 25% of women between the ages 18-29 feel scared when they walk down the streets. In London, 43% of women ages 18-34 had experienced street harassment just during the prior year.

Moreover, in a 2013 global review of available data, between 40 and 50% of women in the European Union experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. In the United States, 83% of girls aged 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

As you can see, street harassment as such is extremely pervasive and the fact that it has gotten very little attention is rather puzzling. I believe that not everyone understands the severity of this issue and this is primarily why it has not received a great amount of coverage. We tend to accept things like sexual harassment, that happen every day as the norm, without questioning it.

The most common excuse given for street harassment is that “boys will be boys”. This not only dismisses the entire concept of sexual harassment but provides the attacker, perpetrator or harasser with a convenient pretext to justify his behaviour. Just because there exists a stereotype that men are predisposed to objectifying and harassing women is not reason enough to look the other way.

In fact, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “everyone must acknowledge that street harassment is not a compliment, a minor annoyance, or a woman’s fault. It’s a bullying behaviour”. Majority of the harassment is more often than not directed at teenage girls and young women because it’s assumed that they are too young and naive to know what to do or how to respond. As such, it is important to acknowledge this deviant behaviour and condone it.

Image Courtesy: thefeministgriote.com

Image Courtesy: thefeministgriote.com

In a recent project  which was part of Project Guardian, the British Transport police, Metropolitan police, City of London police and Transport for London collaboratively came together to make public transport in London a safer place for women. This involved 120 officers in a mixture of civilian clothing and uniforms carrying out daily patrols. In the first week itself, approximately 15 arrests were made for sexual harassment. This movement is an extraordinary example proactive action taken by local police departments after acknowledging that street harassment is indeed a serious problem.

It is easy to say that countries around the world should exemplify this model put forth by the UK. However, it takes a greater understanding to see that every country is different and that it will take a diagnostic study to render a response that is truly local and that will truly match the needs of the people in that specific country. Cities that have taken steps to improving the lighting and design of streets and buildings, training and sensitizing police, and hiring more women police officers, have seen these changes make a world of difference and rightfully so. But, they all started at the same place, where they acknowledged sexual harassment as not something that occurs every day but instead, as a serious epidemic that needed a specific remedy to cure society.

To end this post, I will leave you with something that resonated with me from the same Christian Science Monitor article mentioned above,

“No country has achieved equality and no country will until women can navigate public places without experiencing or fearing street harassment.”

What do you think? Can women ever be expected to have the luxury of moving around freely in public spaces? What steps can be taken to ensure a woman’s safety on public transport or in public streets? Can a woman ever feel truly safe in public?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Predator Priests, A Growing Phenomenon?

Almost every day when I type ‘child abuse’ into the Google search engine, scores of stories crop up. However, it was only recently that a very familiar word started cropping up alongside ‘child abuse’. That word was ‘priest’.

Image Courtesy: theage.com.au

Image Courtesy: theage.com.au

According to an article by The Guardian, the clergy child abuse scandals in many countries have drained morale and finances from the church, driving numerous Catholics away, especially in western Europe. Some dioceses have had to close parishes and take other severe actions after paying out millions for counseling and other compensation to victims in cases settled in and out of court.

In Australia, the situation became unbearable with the suicide of 43-year-old, John Pirona last year, who was routinely sexually abused as a child by the notorious priest, John Denham. His tragic death, which was a result of severe psychological trauma after being abused for so long, was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission and prompted Julia Gillard’s sanctioning of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

While steps are being taking to make the accused and guilty pay for their actions, most of the abuses date back to the 1970s. So what has the Catholic Church been doing up until now, you may ask? The answer to that question is simple – covering up.

In fact, the Royal Commission in Australia found that the Pope’s representative in Australia knew of the serious accusations  against the notorious priest Denis McAlinden from at least 1995. This is just one example of how the entire religious institution would routinely turn a blind eye as a means of avoiding scandal. This is not to say that priests condoned such sexual abuse. Instead, an argument can be made that they were afraid of the negative repercussions if such news got out. After all, what would their congregation say when the news of ‘men of god’ abusing young children for the fun of it, got out?

According to a prolific article, Catholic Priests Unmasked: ‘God Doesn’t Like Boys Who Cry’, the behaviour of the church can be understood based on two principles.

Image Courtesy: Phillip Coorey, www.smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: Phillip Coorey, http://www.smh.com.au

The first is ‘scandalizing the faithful’. Traditionally, the hierarchy believed the greatest sin was shaking the faith of Catholic congregations. Protecting them meant concealing scandal. Adopting that as your moral standpoint means anything goes. You can cover up sexual misconduct from those you demand sexual morality from. You can conceal financial corruption from those who put their pounds in the collection plate. You can silence the abused and protect the abuser. Guilt about sacrificing individuals is soothed by protecting something bigger and more significant – the institution.

The second concept is “clericalism”, a word used to describe priests’ sense of entitlement, their demand for deference and their apparent conformity to rules and regulations in public, while privately behaving in a way that suggests the rules don’t apply to them personally. The Vatican is an independent state; the Holy See a sovereign entity recognized in international law and governed by the Pope. The Nunciature operates like government embassies in different countries worldwide. It is even governed by its own rules: Canon Law. All this contributes to the notion that the church can conduct its own affairs without interference or outside scrutiny. It demands a voice in society without being fully accountable to it.

However, the fact that the church can conduct its affairs as a sovereign state, does not give it the permission to conduct its affairs however it pleases. When Syria uses chemical weapons against its own people, the international community reacts in outrage. As such, sovereignty is not reason enough for the international community to turn a blind eye.

While the church is a religious institution, it is not exempt from the law and cover ups should not be tolerated. Speaking as a Catholic, the news of such abuse horrified me. I go to church every Sunday not out of obligation but belief in it’s teachings. The church has taught me to help others and to not be silent when gross atrocities are being carried out in front of your eyes. In my opinion, they should heed their own teaching.

What do you guys think? How can we ensure justice if the institution turns a blind eye?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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UN’s New Sexual Violence Declaration – A Step Forward? Maybe Not.

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

With the Syrian conflict raging, the world awaits the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York next week. What’s on their agenda? A new declaration to end sexual violence.

In a joint report, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague and Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Angelina Jolie claim that a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict will be presented to the United Nations on September 24th.

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

According to the report, the Declaration will give every country in the world an opportunity to show where it stands on this issue. It’s main components include a pledge not to allow amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements, so that the perpetrators of these crimes can be held accountable, a new International Protocol by the middle of 2014 to help ensure that evidence produced can stand up in court and more survivors can see justice, and to place the safety and dignity of victims at the heart of investigations into rape and other sexual crimes in conflict zones. Lastly, its signatories will promise to put protection from sexual violence at the forefront of all their conflict and humanitarian work, and to help strengthen the capacity of countries most at risk of this violence.

For the first time, the countries endorsing this declaration will agree that sexual violence is indeed a war crime and is also in complete violation of the Geneva Conventions and their first protocol, established in 1977 which relates to the protection of victims in international armed conflicts.

In fact, in June 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, highlighted the importance of collective action against crimes of sexual violence.

“Preventing sexual violence in conflict is our joint responsibility.  It must be part of our work in many areas, from peacekeeping and political missions, to mediation, ceasefire agreements, security-sector reform, justice-sector reform and the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

“Those who hold power and influence have a special duty to step forward and be part of a global coalition of champions determined to break this evil,” he added.

Now let me pose a question, how many of you think this plan will actually be effective?

Firstly, the inclusion of a pledge to stop amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements is almost laughable. A pledge by definition means, a solemn promise or undertaking. It is not a signed contract, it is basically a verbal commitment to something. How can victims of sexual violence place their faith in a mechanism that lacks any basic foundation? This declaration is basing its success on the good faith of the member states of the UN. What it fails to recognize, and naively at that, is that nation states act in terms of their own vital national interests. Good faith is rarely a consideration.

Secondly, the fact that this declaration like all UN-proposed declarations are non-binding, allows countries where rape is rampant to still escape prosecution. If they simply do not ratify the declaration, isn’t amnesty in some sense granted to them anyway? How can the UN esure enforcement? How can the UN ensure that countries comply with the proposed declaration? These are questions that need to be answered.

I do not discredit the nobility involved in putting forth such a declaration in the first place. However, states need to take responsibility first. States need to be made to comply with international law. Rules do not matter if states are always breaking them.

What do you guys think? Is this declaration a step forward? How can the UN ensure that states comply with this newly proposed declaration? What else needs to be done?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Update: 113 Countries Sign Pledge Against Sexual Violence

Yes, in Burma It’s Legal For Soldiers to Rape!

For the past 2 years, Burma has been undergoing a series of dramatic political, economic and administrative reforms, in an attempt to democratize. These reforms have gained so much international recognition, with even President Obama praising the Burmese President, Thein Sen for his leadership in moving his country toward democracy.

However, while Burma attempts to move forward, sexual violence against the ethnic minorities is more rampant than ever. It is no secret that the Burmese army has raped innocent ethnic minorities for years. However, it seems a little hypocritical to sell an image of democratization to the world while at the same time violating a woman’s basic right to life and security.

In fact, according to the organisation, Burma Campaign UK, Thein Sen while seen as a reformer spent 14 years on the ruling council of the previous dictatorship, and was one of its most senior members. More so, after the 2010 elections – if they can even be called that – the Burmese army broke its long-standing ceasefires in Shan state and Kachin state. Ever since, the Burma Campaign UK, started receiving a big increase in reports of rape by Burmese army soldiers.

In one of the worst cases according to the Burma Campaign UK, in May 2012, Burmese Army soldiers found Ngwa Mi, a grandmother with 12 children, sheltering alone in a church in Kachin State. About ten troops beat her with rifle butts, stabbed her with knives, and gang-raped her over a period of three days in the church.

What is even more horrifying is that the military is exempt from the law and as such, has a license to rape without any fear of prosecution. According to the 2008 Burmese Consitution “places the military outside the purview of the civilian courts and includes an amnesty provision which precludes the prosecution of military perpetrators of crimes, including sexualized violence”.

According to a brilliant blog post written by Phyu Phyu Sann and Akila Radhakrishnan jointly, “recognizing this barrier to combating impunity domestically, if the new Burmese government is sincerely committed to transitioning to democracy, as they say they are, they should ratify the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and grant the court retroactive jurisdiction over crimes in Burma going back to July 1, 2002, the date of the entry into force of the statute”.

The international political community as well has to bear some responsibility. The United Nations, as we all know, does not have the capacity to act alone, and therefore no matter how many reports and investigations it carries out, the situation will unequivocally remain the same. As such, it is the duty of the international community to demand consistent accountability from the Burmese government. No army should have a license to rape, no matter what the circumstance and if a country’s own government is too foolish or stubborn to realize this, it is up to the international community to enforce.

What do you think? What options are civilians left with if their own state allows soldiers to rape? What can save them?

We have a voice, use it.

The Downside of Marriage: An Insight Into Marital Rape

Marital rape is taken lightly by governments all over the world, from first world states to the worst of the third world. In an attempt to wrap my head around this controversial topic I decided to do a little research of my own  and something in a blog post  I read caught my attention particularly.

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Image Courtesty: bubblews.com

“Criminalizing marital rape is a no brainer. There’s no need for even the phrase “marital rape” to exist. We don’t have “marital murder” after all. It’s just murder. The relationship of the victim to the perpetrator is completely irrelevant”.

While I do understand the concern with trying to accuse a husband of raping his wife, I do have to agree with the sentiment above, that rape is rape no matter who the perpetrator may be. It’s easy for people to dismiss this issue. Often, people and even women I’ve spoken with cite that there’s nothing wrong with a husband wanting to sleep with his wife, while the wife may be unwilling to for reasons revolving around laziness and pure lethargy. This is true and I agree fully. However, what these people fail to recognize is an implicit notion of consent despite the woman being tired.

Therefore, under any circumstance the above-mentioned example wouldn’t amount to rape anyway. Why? Because in order for someone to be raped or sexually assaulted, there cannot have been consent from the victim in the first place. Of course, consent is not considered real consent if it is obtained by force, intimidation or by deception. Women often choose not to resist a rape in order to survive. This does not mean however that she consented to what happened.

Having said that, let me just put it plainly: marital rape is wrong and there should be legal repercussions for the perpetrator. Not only can marital rape occur in relationships but, the scars left on marital rape victims are often more traumatizing than other rape victims, not that I’m keeping score, because any situation involving rape is devastating. However, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest & National Network’s research, women who are victims of marital rape are more likely to experience repeated assaults than other rape victims. In fact, among battered women, sexual assault may be a routine part of the pattern of the abuse.

For example, a Nigerian lady named Temilade Temisan was a victim of routine physical, verbal and sexual abuse – that is too brutal to even put into writing – by her husband for years, all because she exerted her right to say no.

There is also an underlying pressure to stay with the perpetrator. A victim with children who lacks outside employment may be financially dependent on her spouse and feel there is no way to leave the situation.

Lastly, and most significantly, a victim may have difficulty identifying what has happened to them as ‘rape’ or as a crime for that matter. For many cultures, defining the other spouse’s conduct as rape or identifying someone she married and loves as a “rapist” can have negative repercussions that the victim may not have the capacity to deal with. This has resulted in cases of marital rape being one of the most rarely reported crimes, even today.

Having said that, I hope I have convinced you that marital rape is a serious issue and crime. The fact that countries like Singapore, marital rape is not a legal offense is rather disheartening to me. Not only does it send the message that women’s rights are not valued but it sends the more offensive message that women’s rights are valued less than a man’s rights.

What are your views? Do you guys believe that marital rape is a crime? If so, how can we change mindsets of governments to  ensure proper legislation for women around the world?

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Does It Matter What Clothes I Wear?

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The way a woman dresses is often seen as an incitement to rape.

The basic premise of this argument is deeply flawed. It places a disproportionate blame on the victim. It simply means, if you are sexually assaulted, the way you were dressed at the time of the attack, makes it understandable and in some sense, justified. How many of you have a problem with this skewed logic? I do.

Firstly, rapists look for easy, vulnerable targets. Thinking that women provoke attacks against them by the way they dress transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim. In India, the statistic is something like a female is raped every 20 minutes. Anyone who has visited India will see that other than the metropolitan cities like Mumbai, females are very seldom seen wearing anything other than the traditional Indian kurta or sari. In contrast, in more modern countries like Singapore, where often women are seen strolling around in shorts that barely cover their bottoms, the rape rate is much lower.

Secondly, if clothing were truly the main motive for rape then what explains the rampant rape of infants in India. 53% of children in the country have faced sexual abuse of some form and almost 50% of the abuses are carried out by persons known to the child or by people who are in a position of trust and responsibility.

In my opinion, clothes definitely do not cause rape, rapists do. This argument simply creates a social stigma – which badly needs to be crushed – that rape is OK as long as the victim was “asking for it” by the way she was dressed. It instigates that men cannot be held accountable for the ways in which women tempt them- nor should they be forced to.

It should be understood that I do not advocate that women wear provocative clothing. However, I do believe that no woman asks to be raped or deserves it. The main issue or rather the bigger problem is a social one. If society themselves believe that the victim bears responsibility in their own sexual assault, how can justice ever be achieved?

Society shouldn’t only teach us to not get raped, society should more importantly teach us not to rape.

What are your views? Should the victim assume some responsibility? Or should men learn to control their animalistic urges?

We have a voice, use it.

Ariel Castro’s Death: Good or Bad?

I was browsing through twitter and was stunned to see several posts on my news feed confirming the death of Ariel Castro. For those who do not know, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment plus a 1000 years for holding captive three young women and raping them.

AP_ariel_castro_court_jef_130703_16x9_992Image Courtesy: abcnews.go.com

At first, I thought good riddance. A convicted rapist is off the streets, for good this time. Then I thought, I wonder how the victims feel. Their ordeal lasted 10 years and his only a couple of months. In fact, the statement that Michelle Knight, one of the women he captured made in court echoed this sentiment completely. It said:

You said, at least I didn’t kill you. For you took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.

The death penalty would be so much easier. You don’t deserve that. You deserve to spend life in prison.

It made me wonder, did he not just take the easy way out? How can these three innocent victims ever get the justice they deserve now?

What are your views? Was Ariel Castro’s death good or bad?