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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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

‘No’ Should Mean No

In a new survey, almost a quarter of the men in  the Asia-Pacific region have admitted to committing the heinous of rape at some stage in their life.

 The study covering six countries – Bangladesh,China, Cambodia,  Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka – found that 10% of men admitted to raping at least once a woman who was not their partner. The figure rose to nearly 25% when rape of a partner was included.

Image Courtesy: weheartit.com

Image Courtesy: weheartit.com

What struck me as particularly odd was the fact that the men willingly admitted to raping women as they felt they were sexually entitled to such activity.  Almost 75% of the men surveyed admitted to this reasoning while the remainder cited entertainment as their main motive for rape.

Unsure of exactly what the word ‘entitlement’ meant, I decided to look it up. The definition for those of you wondering is –

An entitlement is a guarantee of access to something, based on established rights or by legislation.

Now, I do agree that by virtue of being alive we are all entitled to certain things, food, water, shelter, education, heath care and so on. I do not believe however, that men are entitled to sex. The difference, I hope, is plainly obvious: the things on the former list are all necessary for survival  (if not always, then at some point), while sex is not.

I was speaking with a few of my girlfriends and the broad consensus on the issue of sexual entitlement was that it is a “load of crap”. To some the whole concept was almost laughable and rightfully so. It’s almost as good as saying I’m entitled to kick you in the crotch, as my dear friend explicitly put it. We all know that no one is entitled to kick anyone, and by likening kicking someone in the crotch to sexual entitlement, the hope is that one can see how ludicrous the entire argument is.

Furthermore, as far as I know sexual entitlement is not enshrined by any international organization or national constitution (thankfully) and neither is it enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As far as legislation goes, I could come up with nothing that guarantees it.

It can be argued that in some situations the story is not so black and white. However, by paying close attention to the countries surveyed in this report, it should be known that most, if not all, of them suffer from grave social inequalities. Women’s rights are barely noticed, let alone, guaranteed.

As such, 1 golden rule should always apply and be engrained into the mindsets of these people, so far removed form reality.

A person ALWAYS has the right to say ‘No’

What are your views? Do you guys believe there is an argument to be made for social entitlement?

We have a voice, use it.

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