For the last few days women have been openly sharing stories of sexual assault and harassment, and being encouraged to speak up on social media platforms like FaceBook, Twitter etc. Thanks to many brave women, we’re hearing about the horrifyingly common instances of sexual harassment and abuse around us. We’ve also realized that we’re not facing this alone.
Decided to join the #MeToo bandwagon and write my bit on it, albeit a bit late. I’ve been encouraged by seeing all the women speak up………and even more encouraged by hearing a few men courageously speaking up……
Now that it’s clear that no one is being spared – not women, not children, not even men……. it’s time to move on to the next step, and look for solutions. Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Have always been amazed that I never faced even a single incident of eve-teasing or public harassment in all the six years I spent in the US. Many of my girlfriends would agree that the problem is much smaller there (though harassment in private is rampant even there, in the form of sexual harassment at the work-place and domestic violence). This is so shameful considering the fact that public sexual harassment in the form of eve-teasing, lewd comments and groping, flashing etc. is a day to day mundane affair in India. Sometime ago a female student visiting India from a top US university also talked and wrote about the dismal situation in our country, and how violated, upset and shocked she was in India: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/20/world/american-student-india-sexual-harassment-irpt/index.html
Therefore, there seems to be a very strong “cultural” component to this problem. Gender attitudes in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka etc.), the Arab world and the Middle East seem to be more biased against women. The blame is always laid on the female – her character, dress or behavior, but not on the perpetrators. That’s why most women remain silent and the problem continues….
2. Have gained a lot of insights in the last one year after dabbling with social media quite a bit. When I initially started my Twitter account and FaceBook page – got harassed online a lot – even though my content was decent and intellectual. It was quite intimidating to regularly get lewd comments and messages.
However soon learnt about the “ban” and “block” features and “banned” quite a few people indiscriminately. After a few days of this action, lewd comments automatically stopped and most people seem to have got the “message”. Nowadays, hardly have to block – maybe just one person/month. This proves that if effective and immediate punishment is meted out, the problem can be solved. One reason things are so bad in India is because punishment takes years and years, and hardly happens. It’s also very tortuous for the victims to seek justice. Heard that our neighbor China is a much better place for women, because there’s much swifter punishment there and assaults are not tolerated.
3. Lastly would like to share an experience from many years ago, that I had in Singapore. Was an MBA student there and was renting an apartment in a pretty decent neighborhood. However, though Singaporean men are mostly well-behaved, some immigrants there are just like Indians 🙁 🙁
A lot of women in the apartments were being harassed – mainly by clothes being stolen and no one had any idea who was doing it. However, there were a group of Bangladeshi students whom I suspected – because their behavior was abominable (South Asians again).
My suspicions were confirmed when I saw one of them lurking around and peeping into our laundry room. So I followed this guy secretly and found out in which apartment he lived, and next day took the Singapore police there. He was such a coward, totally taken aback, and didn’t even deny anything and immediately confessed. Of course, there was ample evidence in the apartment.
Another interesting thing is the “brotherhood” men show in such affairs – one of the policemen told me not to go ahead with the complaint because it would spoil the guy’s future since he would be deported, and wouldn’t be able to complete his degree!! Some men (even policemen!!) don’t even believe that such things are a “crime”! (Imagine the kind of embarrassment and shock that so many women went through, when they found that their lingerie was regularly disappearing). Of course, I refused to take the complaint back and he was deported 🙂 🙂
That’s all I have to say – we desperately need to progress to #WhatDoWeDo from #MeToo. Need to change deeply ingrained cultural biases against women in India, and improve the justice system and make it quick. Swift and just punishment plays a very important role in curbing the problem. Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue……..
PS: Don’t intend to stereotype or say that all males from South Asia, Arab world or the Middle East display insensitive behavior and biased gender attitudes. But wanted to highlight the faulty cultural mindset and obvious bias against women in these areas.