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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Is the Death Penalty the Answer?

no-death-penalty-button-blog-13Image Courtesy: paxchristiusa.org

The death penalty has been raised around the world as a sufficient and much needed punishment for the crime of rape. The underlying belief is that such a tough punishment or national stance on rape will lead to diminishing incidences of rape and act as an effective deterrent.

Major human rights organizations, like Amnesty International have campaigned for years against the death penalty which violates one’s fundamental right to life. While I do agree that no court should have the capacity to take away one’s life, I believe the issue is more complex than that alone.

Let us look at China for example. According to a study conducted by US-China Today entitled: Rape in China, only 1 out of 10 cases of rape is likely to be reported. Furthermore, the study concluded that while the majority of us would like to believe that the perpetrators of such assault were strangers, the majority of these crimes were actually committed by someone the victim knew.

In fact, if the death penalty were the punishment for rape, wouldn’t it deter the victim from coming forward especially so if the perpetrator was one of their own family members. The entire system is based on the reporting of the case and who will report a case if the conviction would lead to the death of a father or brother or son?

Also, if you look at the actual laws in place in China, like India, the death penalty is actually the severest of penalties one can receive for rape. While, logically this should deter rapists, crimes against women haven’t gone down. Therefore, the correlation between invoking the death penalty and the consequent result of lower crime rate seems to be ill founded.

Tougher laws alone are not the answer. The problem in China and India is largely a cultural one. Violence against women is rooted in patriarchal gender relations where women are assigned roles based not on their capacity but norms and values that perpetuate male dominance and superiority. The gender inequality is embedded in all levels of the society such as employment, education and social status.

It is easy to look at the death penalty as a plausible solution to years of crimes against women. It seems almost justified in places India and China where rape is so rampant. However, rape has not stopped and it is almost foolish to think it will just because of the imposition of the death penalty.

Firstly, in order to be convicted, crimes of rape have to be reported. In patriarchal societies like India and China scores of rapes go unreported. In fact, the woman is often pressured by the authorities, her family or the attacker himself to recant her statement even if she does have the courage to go forward. Secondly, if no one is willing to listen, how can any rapist be convicted and sentenced to death?

The problem is not the law alone. The real problem lies in the systematic failure to recognize rape as an actual crisis or epidemic as I have put it many times before. It is not considered a serious enough issue and therefore, even asking for the death penalty seems foolish. While it may bring justice for one victim, hundreds of others are still left in the dark.

According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, what should be focused on is whether the police are serious about such crimes, how quickly the matter is tried in a court and whether there is a system that punishment will be given to those responsible. Every case should not be treated as different but be given the due diligence that it truly deserves.

What do you guys think? Is the death penalty the answer?

We have a voice, use it.