As part of the gender talk series, I wanted to start with something around how we have been stereotyping gender roles and behavior, however a post on Instagram caught my attention. It was basically a post of a girl who had faced street harassment and she was asking if there was anything that can be done against it.
This is something that I faced when traveling in public transport as a teen. I instantly went back in time and remembered each time I felt horrible and angry but somehow my voice failed me. Eventually, we made a girl gang that went together in public transport and came up with our own set of ideas to help each other out in case we face street harassment. But this was not before having suffered in silence on multiple occasions.
This is the one thing I fear for my daughter. I don’t want her to face it. At least not till I have helped her with the tools to fight it. I could feel the pain of the woman in the insta post and I had to write about it.
This is when I started researching about street harassment and ways to tackle it. I wanted to bust some common myths and some simple ways in which we can fight street harassment without losing our self-worth. No person has the power to make us feel helpless and weak.
Common Myths around Street Harassment and how can you make spaces equally accessible to all.
Myth – Street Harassment is faced by women only
When I started researching for this topic, I somehow couldn’t accept that this harassment was faced only by girls. Sure the number must be huge, but this cannot be something that is faced by one gender and I was damn right about it.
Fact – 81 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime. This is based on a global survey done by an NGO Stop Street Harassment
The moment I read this I realized men who are at the short end of the deal are worse off than women. We can at least voice our grievances but these men who are torn between the macho men world view and a vulnerable human side must have suffered silently.
As a parent to a daughter and a son, my first task seems to be to explain my children that voicing your anguish and pain is being brave. There is nothing worse than a broken self-esteem and there is never a bigger coward than the one who is living a life of pretenses.
Myth – Street Harassment is a part of life if you are stepping out of the house
This is what most women have come to expect. The “accidental” brush, unwanted touching, sexist remarks, public humiliation all seem to be accepted by women as a way of life. I had come to believe it. But it shouldn’t be and it has to stop. The more we object and declare that it is unacceptable; the smaller this group of harassers will be. We can teach our children to respect every human being, but can I expect the same from the whole society – if I do I am living in a utopian world.
But we can grow the number of those raising a voice against it. Teach our girls and boys useful and handy tips to safely intervene and avert street harassment.
Fact – It is not a part of our lives and we certainly shouldn’t let this mentality precipitate in the young minds of our children. If you are a victim, know that this is wrong. The perpetrator is feeding off your fear. There are a lot of groups and NGO’s that are working towards making public spaces safe and accessible to everyone equally. One of the sites is Stand-Up International.
The next thing to tell my children is – Harassment of any kind is WRONG.
Myth – As a victim, if I fail to raise my voice or am scared for my safety, then it is my fault
You are a victim; it is never your fault. You might freeze because it was uncomfortable, awkward or even sudden and unexpected. Don’t blame yourself, nor do let others make you feel that it was in some way linked to your behavior. It is common for the victim to not speak up, but sadly as long as street harassment stays hidden it will continue to exist.
Train yourself in simple techniques to safely extract yourself from such situations.
- Ask for help – Ask someone who is near you or a person in authority for help. Tell them what the person is doing and ask them if you can stay with them till the person leaves.
- Record it – With phones being ever present on our person, record the person and talk about what they are doing.
- Speak Up – Do this only if you are in a public place with a lot of people and you do not think the harasser is violent.
These are the things that I am teaching my children to help them feel safe and in control. The better we empower them with such tools, the faster they can react.
Myth – Street Harassment is mostly harmless and does not have any long term effect on the victim
This is a big myth that needs to be shattered. Street harassment leaves long term effect on the victim with many questioning the way they live and dress up. It makes them lose their self-esteem. But apart from this, there are some serious consequences that the victims face with anxiety and depression being the single largest problem.
Street Harassment is not limited to a certain geography or socio-economic standard. This problem is deep rooted and it needs some effective solutions. One of the important things as we need to realize and practice is empathy towards the victim. Tell them you understand and are with them. Help out in case you see something or teach them some effective methods to combat the issue.
Myth – As a bystander, I can’t do anything
In fact, 86% of us don’t know what to do in a street harassment situation while 87% of us find it risky to intervene. Train yourself in 5D’s and help others when you see street harassment. 5D’s are an expert approved methodology by Hollaback. Depending on the situation and the location, use any of the 5D’s to intervene safely.
Distract –Distract the harasser by maybe asking for directions, or asking them for time. Accidentally spill something or push them to get them to lose their footing.
Delegate – Ask someone in authority to check up on the victim. Tell them that you feel things aren’t right and believe an authority intervention is needed.
Document – Record the harassment and speak up. Threaten the harasser about passing the evidence to authorities however be mindful about the victim’s situation. Do not share or spread the evidence without their consent.
Direct – Speak up and call the harasser out. Tell them you know what they are doing that it needs to stop right away.
Delay – Ask the victim to join you. Talk to them and make them feel safe.
Myth – You might face Street Harassment when you are in your teens
Street harassment sees no age. It can happen to anyone, anytime. Being trained is the only way to fight back collectively. The number’s below will tell you that all age-groups face street harassment. It thrives because we aren’t talking about it – most of the times not even to our friends and family.
Just like good touch and bad touch, we need to talk about street harassment and equip children with effective strategies. We need to assure them that they can talk about it and we would understand.
I am adding a few links below that are working in this area and encourage you to read about it and join the movement. It is important that we make spaces safe for ourselves and our children.
I am writing this post as part of BlogChatter’s Cause a Chatter campaign and I hope to open channels of discussion around gender biases and things that can be done to remedy them.