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-Alefiya Anis Rangoonwala

Once in a lifetime, every woman would have experienced this, when she is coming back home from work at night walking down the road, there appears a car that crawls up next to her and then they have some guys shouting out of their windows, passing remarks about her legs, breasts, or objectifying her body as a whole. And they just don’t stop with that; they even scream out things that they would like to do with her. And as usual, every woman ignores them and carries on her way, and get on with it, like women would normally do. In another scenario, a woman is travelling alone in a public transport late at night, and then a guy sitting next to her, brushes his hand on her legs. You might ignore it initially thinking maybe it was by mistake and give them the benefit of doubt. But then you actually realize that, actually he was grabbing and groping and moving his hand up very inappropriately. And then when you move away and make a noise about this guy who just groped you, the co-passengers would either look out of the window, or into their phones or simply look down. Certainly, nobody steps in, as you feel embarrassed. They seem to say, “Why you are making a fuss about this guy, this is your issue and you must deal with it?” That immediately makes us feel ashamed. It makes us feel as if we had done something wrong, and we think to ourselves, “May be, I shouldn’t have been out so late, at this hour of the night.” Or “Perhaps, I shouldn’t have been wearing what I am wearing.”

They say women are equal now, but we all know the stats. There are women and men everywhere, people of all ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, religious and non-religious, disabled and non-disabled, employed and unemployed who have some kind of sexism in some way or the other. The people who speak out, they get trolled mercilessly, get called names, dirty messages and rape and death threats. WHY?

Why do people tend to shut down those who want to raise their voices for equality, and bash sexism? Why is it so scary to raise such issues and give it a platform?  Let us all stand up against sexism. When you encounter such an incident, stand up for others and support them. You will realize how much of a difference this gesture could make. When you observe someone catcalling at women, don’t just silently walk away.

Women and men have their own individual ways of standing up for themselves. Next time when you see a guy harassing a woman on the streets, tap him on a shoulder and just confront him, why did he do that? He will surely have no answer because he was never asked that question earlier. Perhaps that behaviour of his was considered normal in a world he grew up in. Perhaps all men known to him did that.

That’s the most important thing here, because sadly and frustratingly, we cannot point out one specific policy change or a particular piece of legislation that we need, to solve this problem. What we need, is a cultural and a social shift in our attitudes towards women, and towards violence against women. The same stereotypical ideas and attitudes towards women that underlie those so-called “minor incidents of sexism and harassment” where we are often told to brush off and not make a fuss about them, underlie more serious incidents of assaults and rapes.

What we need to do collectively, is to contribute in our own individual ways to bring in a cultural shift in our attitudes towards women in all professional and personal spheres of life. We need to re-think about how they should be treated and perceived. This essentially means that everyone can be a part of the change. It is not necessarily about targeting perpetrators, and it certainly is not about telling victims that they should be behaving in a certain way. It is all about people who make it difficult for the woman or man to be able to speak out.

Our voices are the loudest when we raise them together. Be the change.

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