My second column for the International Herald Tribune’s Female Factor series is up. This one’s on women fighting back against street harassment and other kinds of violence against women.
“Something familiar emerges in the stories the women share, regardless of their ages or class backgrounds. All have experienced fear on the streets, fear when traveling alone. Few use the term “eve teasing” when discussing their own experiences; nothing about sexual harassment has ever felt like “teasing” to them.”
It doesn’t show in the story (and it probably shouldn’t), but writing this piece was a surprisingly personal exercise. I spoke to many women, aside from the women quoted in this story, and every conversation turned into something like an analytical catharsis. Gauri Gill and I spoke about how the quality of one’s anger changes; the militant, fierce anger of our twenties has given way to a more practical and dispassionate emotion as we approach forty.
There were debates: has the situation improved over the last 15 years (yes), is it anywhere near ideal (hell, no), how much of a role did class play in street harassment, how much difference could better urban architectural planning make in cutting down violence against women in public spaces. There were confessions and sharings; every one of the women (and many of the men) I spoke to had their own scars, stories of assaults weathered and not reported (one of my personal demons), of terrifying train or bus journeys, of anger at being blamed (for one’s “carelessness”, for one’s “looseness”, for one’s appearance), of helplessness, especially among the men I spoke to, at not being able to change the ground-level situation. The story couldn’t capture the complexity of the debate; as more women enter the workforce, public spaces have had to accommodate their presence, but the underlying causes of the violence against women haven’t changed or been addressed.
If you’re interested in further reading/ action on this subject, here are some links:
The Blank Noise Project blog: Consistently creative in its approach, the BNP has run successful campaigns, from the We Didn’t Ask For It campaign to their more recent Action Hero campaign. Many of the debates mentioned are covered in detail by Jasmeen Patheja and other contributors.
The Gulabi Gang: Run by Sampath Pal Devi, the Gulabi Gang now also runs centres for vocational training for young women, and could use your support.
Jagori: In addition to its Safe Delhi campaign and its mapping of safe/ unsafe spaces in the city, Jagori researches many other areas of feminist concern, from the rights of domestic workers to other forms of violence against women.
And please consider sending in an entry–a photograph, a story–for Transportraits, an exhibition curated by Gauri Gill, on your experience of safety in your city. Contributions from women and men welcome, and details here.