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USA: Traveling While Female: Five Things India is Doing Better

correspondents, street harassment | on September, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Angie Evans, Washington, DC, SSH Blog Correspondent

Photo provided by Angie

You can’t emotionally prepare yourself for sexual harassment or assault. It’s 11:15 a.m. and I am sitting on the rooftop of a guesthouse in Udaipur, India. My teeth are covered in purple chalk. From my fingertips to my elbow there is a splash of bright pink dye, later I will have to accept that my arm is going to be fuchsia for weeks. In the street I can hear kids laughing as they toss colors into the air. Two Grandfathers sit on a stoop below, chuckling with each other. I slump into a chair and breath for the first time in hours. Two other women sit with me. One had her shirt nearly ripped off by a group of teenagers and the other had to slap someone in the street for trying to run his hand across her chest. I’d had chalk smeared into my eyes by a man while his friend came up from behind me and grabbed by breasts.

Although Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, tops the bucket list for tourists all over the world, it isn’t the same experience for for all genders. The playful celebration that was traditionally held with family and friends relaxes many social norms between men and women, allowing some to use it as an excuse for groping, fondling, and grabbing women in the streets. In a culture so deeply rooted in spiritual practice and values, what is bubbling beneath the surface?

Reports of sexual assault in India have increased over the years, resulting in a continuous decline in the foreign tourism sector. In 2013, female travelers decreased by over a third in just 3 months. Hotel operators, travel agents, and others in the industry were undone by such a steep decline.  The international community was enraged by story after story of sexual assault. The first female chief justice was assigned to the the Delhi high court, immediately taking notice of some negative gender dynamics. An urgency prompted governmental investigations in national, state, and local Indian agencies.

Change is hard in a country with 1.2 billion people, but it’s an inevitable part of growth. A number of new policy measures have made female residents and travelers more safe in India. So what lessons can we learn from the policy changes and movement building in India around sexual harassment and assault?

1. Female Participation

When the Indian state of Gugarat decided to make a strong statement on sexual harassment, they set up a council to educate, mediate, and set policy framework within the high court. They made sure to prescribe exactly what kind of position in the system each member should have, and set a minimum quota for female participants. This isn’t the only governing body that set up a review board or fixed the number on the board, but it set a strong precedence for local communities.

2. Police Consent and Government Engagement

It is hard to know the true impact of sexual harassment in communities because it continues to be underreported for many reasons. In Delhi, they recognized that many victims felt uncomfortable calling the police so they set up a separate hotline just for sexual harassment and assault victims. They also started an on-going series of free self defense courses to female residents. In Ahmedabad, the police posted billboards in high traffic areas, offering a free ride home to any women who feel unsafe. The court systems are undeniably slow, and until this is changed, law enforcement officials need to play a strong role.

3. Education

India is slowly working on implementing one of their new laws, which protects women from workplace sexual harassment. A key part of that has become educating staff. This is important because the onus cannot be on women to stop the harassment, it must be on how men treat their female counterparts. Like all sexual harassment interventions in India, it must be about the perpetrator and not the victim in order to see fundamental change.

4. Make Streets Safe

Delhi is known worldwide for it’s confusing streets, lack of addresses, and chaotic traffic. Following the UN Safe Cities Global Initiative, the municipal government set up an audit for urban planning, identifying key ways that they could improve the safety of their city. Things as simple as street lights and better designed public restrooms can vastly improve safety records in a city. There are a number of Indian cities reviewing this checklist to find areas of improvement.

5. Support Survivors

Setting up sexual harassment and assault hotlines is the first step in a community response. Some organizations in India are making this the focus of their intervention because for many victims, it is a silent daily battle. In equipping these women with an emotional outlet, as well as the tools to respond to future experiences, you build an intervention that empowers each woman.

Organizations all over India are continuing to bring up problems with sexual harassment and assault, and will continue to fight for systemic and societal changes, because they haven’t reached a point where the laws represent the real values of the country. For a nation to truly grow and thrive, the equality of women must be central. And with women and children representing 70% of the population, this isn’t just the right thing to do in India, it’s good economic sense.

Angie is a community organizer and social worker. Last year she quit her job to travel around the world with her husband. They have just returned and are continuing to write about travel and adventure at http://whereisseangie.com

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Middle-Aged Men Harassed Her When She was in Middle School

Stories, street harassment | on September, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I’ll never forget being in middle school and walking around my neighborhood and having these middle-aged men cat calling me. I was a 12-year-old girl, I wanted to dress pretty but the constant stares and whistles from older men made me feel insecure. It felt as if I wasn’t a person just a body with a vagina walking around.

At times I would yell and say you are disgusting but I was afraid that they might chase me down, so I didn’t do it as often. The majority of the time I would look down and walk away quickly. I was in middle school and these men were older and stronger than I was; all the news story scared me of what these men could do.

I hated my parents for telling me that if I was a boy things would be different, I would have more freedom and be able to be outside later than 6 p.m. These men made me want to destroy myself because I could not be a regular pre-teen/teen without having them make statements about my clothes and body. I really wanted to tell them “what if I was your daughter, the daughter you never had? Would you then be disgusted and change?”

To this day I’m too scared to say it. The fear that they could overpower me physically and no legal system will believe the victim is why I shut my mouth. The only difference is I do not look down, I look past them and continue with my day.

- K

Location: Queens, NY

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USA: Music, Urban Space, and Me

correspondents, Stories, street harassment | on September, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Pamela Segura, NY, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

Via Unique New York Tours

When I was younger, I delighted in music videos. I enjoyed how fantastical and formulaic they seemed. Pop music videos featured a series of dancers, many of whom were female and often displayed a great deal of coordination and agility. Hip-hop videos were equally as methodical: men delivered rhymes with fervent hand motions while women pranced about.

Many of these videos sent a complicated, deeply fraught message to me: girls were spectacles to be admired and assessed in a particular setting.

The hip-hop videos, however, engaged me because they frequently contained women in a decidedly urban space.

Of course, I didn’t understand the notion of “urban space” when I was eight. To me, every child knew the same images and sensations I did while growing up on East 198th Street and Grand Concourse in the Bronx: stairs leading to the B and D trains, fading streetlights, blaring music and shouts from passersby, greens trees sporadically playing with the grayness of concrete. I felt comfortable in this environment, in this home that would only later become an “urban space.”

I gravitated to hip-hop music and videos because they felt like an extension of that home. I heard rap tracks swimming through my building’s hallways, or down by the corner of the street during mixing with the ice cream truck’s refrain. And I saw those buildings in the same videos. My younger self was engaging in an affirmation of her identity: there’s me, there’s my home, and there’s my music.

This changed when I was eleven. My sister and I were making our way home from our school, a quaint parochial school that sat on the left side of Grand Concourse right before Bedford Park Blvd. We were in uniform: skirts, knee-high socks, heavy black shoes. I noticed a group of teenage boys walking towards us, one of whom carried a radio playing Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” One boy said something quite loudly to his friends: “I love Catholic school girls. They give the best head.”

Even now, at the age of 22, the vulgarity of that statement shocks and shames me. It strikes within me a strange mixture of anger and frustration, sadness and confusion. These teenagers perhaps didn’t possibly understand what they were indirectly doing: fetishizing girls and their Catholic school uniforms. These teenagers perhaps didn’t realize that they limited my ability to feel safe, to feel empowered and healthy in my own space. These teenagers perhaps didn’t realize how young my sister and I were.

As a young girl, however, I just knew that it was…not right. I obsessed about the comment—and the uniform and music that contextualized the comment—for several days. I wrote about it in my diary and slowly began to interpret Nelly’s lyrics and video. There isn’t much of an urban space in this video. Much of the video’s narrative consists of men and women packed tightly into a nightclub; the women eventually take off their clothing because it’s “hot in herre.” The lyrics dictate the visuals: Nelly eyes women in the club and clothes slide off bodies.

But I heard the song in my urban space.  And the specific attention to women’s clothing in Nelly’s song altered something in me. The connections were too vivid, too coincidental to ignore. My sister and I were walking, enjoying our time on Grand Concourse, chatting away the day and passing the train station. A comment from some other place, a far different and darkly mature place, penetrated that naïveté.

As I got older, the streets that shaped my childhood perspective became an “urban space,” a locale to be probed, theorized, considered, and written about. I developed a fear of the train when I was entering my teenage years. The train system in New York City seemed the ultimate irony. It gets you everywhere, opens up your world to the most famed and most hidden corners of the city, grants you that liberty with limited economic commitment. Yet, it’s all about cramped spaces; it removes the idea of privacy. Certain stops, moreover, had—and still, unfortunately, have—no lighting.

While my awareness of the “urban space” grew, my experiences with street harassment increased. And so did those of my other female friends.

Now that I’ve graduated from college, the Bronx still seems like a geographical puzzle, one that is shaped and reshaped by so many different factors. Hip-hop is a culture that sprang from there, and its nuances—musical sampling, lyrical realism and sensationalism, awareness of social ills—highlight just how beautiful and complex the Bronx will always be. But this music also reveals the strangeness “urban space” and, most important, how that space makes the body seem open, public, ready to be expressed.

Pam recently graduated from Manhattan College and she writes for SciArt in America. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @pamlivinlovin.

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USA: “Men harassing women represents a loss for everyone “

correspondents, male perspective, street harassment | on September, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Daniel Burdick, CA, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

I’m truly honored to be a correspondent for the Stop Street Harassment blog.  As you have probably noted by my photo, I could actually be one of the perpetrators of sordid public-performance graffiti.  The intention of Stop Street Harassment is to include men in this discussion; and this has to be duly appreciated; as it seems to happen far too often that men’s paltry contributions to various gender issues tend to be defensive, apologist, arrogant, offering irrelevant advice, neurotic, hostile, or otherwise opportunistic efforts at presenting themselves as feminists; when in fact, they are actually more analogous to wolves trying to conceal themselves in sheep-suits.  I’m fastening the shoulder harness for this hot seat.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride…

I hope you are truly interested in solving this issue and are reading this because you understand that street harassment is a serious problem for men as well as women…   and not that, heaven forbid, men might get harassed as well; but that men harassing women is not only embarrassing for the men who aren’t into it, but represents a considerable loss for everyone in our society.  I’m also really hopeful that males of all ages and stages are reading this, because this is the group for whom I’m pitching.  You may have seen the title of the recent effort expressed by the executive branch of the U.S. government to end sexual assault on college campuses: “It’s On Us.”  Yes, it truly is.

Avoid blaming – This is not really anyone’s “fault,” per se – for harassment is only one of the more visible tips of a larger iceberg representing a fatal flaw institutionalized into our society.   Even though many of us may have unsubscribed to the western religions that brought us this and other sublime forms of enslavement and control of masses, this philosophical heritage of systematically demeaning females may prove a rather difficult cancer to eliminate.  Therefore, I propose a top-down approach.  I will elaborate more about the strategy later. For now, it remains up to us men to fix this problem, even if the “nice guys” are uncomfortable with accepting responsibility for actions of “those other jerks.” I urge you to visit the website HeForShe.org and accept the challenge of addressing the human rights issue of preventing violence and discrimination against women and girls worldwide.

An exceptionally thorny obstacle in the way of addressing this subject is while gender-based street harassment is mainly a little tour-de-force favoring continued entrenchment of male power, it also contains the component of human sexuality; a realm where every adult has a diverse opinion; usually based on their personal experiences, tendencies, preferences, hang-ups, and self-valuation.   A funny thing I’ve noticed about this hot button (pardon the pun) issue is that our differences of opinion regarding sex tend to mimic our political polarizations… there exist sexual conservatives, sexual liberals, libertarians, radicals, and so on.  There are sometimes alternative labels for these divisions; for example, self-described “sex-positive” women represent a libertarian faction of feminism.

Street harassment has no positive side.  It cannot be considered a form of release for its perpetrators; in fact, it would appear to instead promote the opposite effect – exciting and inspiring the perpetrator or perpetrators to continue.  By definition, it can never be accepted as complimentary by the recipients.  Why?  In cases when the recipient truly doesn’t mind being shouted at, then the incident is simply no longer considered as “harassment.”

This question of acceptability is where the dark gray area of public relations is haunted by the specter of ambiguity.  Admittedly, there are circumstances under which it is entirely possible to communicate unsolicited via a shout to another stranger in a manner that is not a problem.  On the other hand, it is also possible that an identical exchange, yet under slightly different and unforeseen circumstances, can be rightfully perceived by the recipient as annoying, undesired, and thus as harassment.  It’s not always possible to recognize all the contributing circumstances in advance.  Therefore, it is a more prudent course of action to avoid initiating an unsolicited exchange; unless it is quite obvious the potential recipient or recipients are open to public communication and will be agreeable with its message.

Even though the true intent of the message may be purely harmless or even complementary by the perpetrator; intent cannot be considered a factor in determining whether an exchange is harassment or not.  It is often said that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It’s the recipient’s call.

This outlines the basic theories I must try to communicate to my fellow men to actualize.  Now my bro’s tend to be a bunch that do not ask for, nor read, directions; they are also being bombarded with fantasy-sex advertising, when too often they feel like they get the short end of the stick with their real relationships. I don’t expect this quest to be easy…   so please keep your seat belts fastened, and your emotional shields up.

Daniel is a longtime activist for peace, the environment, and social equality. He currently works as a design engineer and is an avid bicyclist.

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Anna’s Letter to Police in Scotland

Stories, street harassment | on September, 29, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: Anna gave permission for her story to be shared here.

@anna_e_fisk [I've] written a letter to Chief Constable about yesterday’s experience of street harassment and #EverydaySexism

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“I encourage every one not to turn a blind eye when someone needs your help”

Stories, street harassment | on September, 28, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I’ve been commuting to and from my house since I reached high school. I’ve had my fair share of catcalls and whistles. I did not mind those men because in my mind I am above them.

When I graduated high school, I went to a college that is far from our home but still I commute everyday. I ride a bus going to college and going back home.

One morning, I rode the bus like I always do. I chose a seat that’s far from the driver’s seat, though it is not all the way at the back of the bus. If you have been in Manila, you’ll know that the buses will be full of people. At one point, a man dressed appropriately like he is going to his office sat beside me. At first, he just sat there not minding me. But as the ride went on, he started feeling me. He was trying to touch my breast. My instinct was to scoot farther from him, closer to the window. I was very afraid because he was also making sounds that I thought he was pleasuring himself under his jacket that was strategically placed on his lap. The bus was full and even the aisle have people standing. I know someone could hear him because he was not quiet but they did not do anything. They turned a blind eye. After a while, the man alighted from the bus. That’s when I realized that my phone was missing.

I was not only harassed, I was also robbed. I did not reported it to the police because no one helped me. When I screamed that I was robbed, the people looked at me like I was disturbing them. All I felt that time was their apathetic stares.

That is why I am very vocal about my stand on any form of harassment. And I encourage every one not to turn a blind eye when someone needs your help especially in the streets because no one should feel alone.

- L.

Location: Bus. Manila, Philippines

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“Once it hurts their pocketbook they may think twice about it”

Stories, street harassment | on September, 27, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I stopped at the store on my way to the gym yesterday. From the time I got out of my car to the time I got back (less than 5 minutes) I got 1 underhanded “WOW”, 1 “You got nice figure (sic)” and numerous disrobing stares. For crying out loud, can I get my power bar in peace, gym clothes or not? I feel like I have to bow my head and stare at the ground, because if I don’t the harassment gets even worse. Or maybe it’s the same, I just don’t see it with my head down.

On another occasion I was with my 7-year-old daughter at Home Depot when she said: “Mom, that man was staring at your butt.” They don’t even have the decency to control themselves when I’m with my daughter?

Optional: What’s one way you think we can make public places safer for everyone?

Pass city ordinances making it a misdemeanor for honking at someone without cause. Same for catcalls. Fine the idiots. Once it hurts their pocketbook they may think twice about it, although that still wouldn’t stop the stares.

- Regina

Location: Publix, Pembroke Pines, FL

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SSH will not publish any comment that is offensive or hateful and does not add to a thoughtful discussion of street harassment. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, disabalism, classism, and sexism will not be tolerated. Disclaimer: SSH may use any stories submitted to the blog in future scholarly publications on street harassment.