Street harassment – Why you are a part of the problem!

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Did you know that today November 25 is the International Day Against Violence Against Women. With all the horrifying stuff happening in Kenya this year we as a country are really in focus

Yesterday I went to Westlands at lunchtime as I usually do with a colleague. In Westlands we met one of those glue sniffing big street boys who walk around with sacks. He asked for money for lunch. We told him we didn’t have. He asked again then started talking about how I looked good in my dress. We picked up our pace but not before for a moment or two he put his hand on my backside. Normally I would have told him off but because of what has been happening I kept quiet.

I was wearing a dress that is just above my knee with a modest slit at the back. I did not want this guy to get mad if I talked back and decide I would be the first casualty in Westlands to experience a stripping. In that moment I experienced fear. And I became conscious of what I was wearing. And I decided after we had walked off that I need to change the clothes I wear. When I came back in the same direction some guys (those guys that pack cars) said hi and I smiled and said hi back even though I didn’t feel like it.

This happens a lot to the women in Kenya, across Africa and in many parts of the world. You have to be pleasant to men by force because if you don’t you could get harassed and abused. And now if you decide to ignore a man’s advances and smile or acknowledge him you can get stripped in Kenya. It is horrifying to learn that the women who were stripped were violated because they refused a man’s advances and so the men and their friends decided to teach those women a lesson.

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The other incident from yesterday is that there was a video that was shared about a woman who was stripped and molested. I didn’t see it; I don’t want to see it. I am already heartbroken and afraid from the first 2 I watched. One I looked for, the other ended up on a whatsapp group and my curiosity made me click on it. I can’t watch this one. Anyway a friend, a lady said that she must watch the video to see what happened. The thing that scares me is that people want to see the videos of what happened and share and as they do they become desensitized to the situation. Wasn’t the first one enough or the second? Why do we need to keep seeing these videos and share them?

I raised this concern and one of my friends said it is so that others can know what is going on. I asked we know that rape happens; must we see a video for us to know that it happens? Then must we share it to others. We are justifying why we need to see these videos. What we are doing is validating the person who takes the videos and does nothing. They will be like my video is being shared. Others when faced with the same situation will also be quick to take out their phones and take videos so that others know what is happening instead of helping. What we are doing by sharing and resharing the videos is increasing the shame of the victims. We are also encouraging others who would want to do the same to try it, hoping that they will not get caught. Does it not strike you as odd that the strippings increased after the first video?

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If we are to change society we have to start with us. Other friend chipped in to ask if “you were taped being sexually violated for no other reason than the fact that a mob made themselves God over your life would you want me and the rest of Kenya seeing a video of people inserting fingers into your orifices?”

Another friend stated that harassment starts with small things yet we get riled up about the big things. People how many times have you stood up for somebody being insulted by a tout? That’s where it starts. They start to think they have all the power and there is nothing you can do to them. How many times do you stand up for that girl or woman being sexually harassed or insulted by a makanga or the man next to you or even your buddies? It just doesn’t happen at the bus stop. It happens in the club and at games like football and rugby. And men see nothing wrong with it because it has always been like that. And women get used to it, find ways to cope and hide themselves in the shadows. And we become puppets dancing to a man’s tune.

You see street harassment does not start on the streets. It starts in your office when your colleague says something sexually inappropriate to your workmate and you all just laugh even though you know it is wrong. It is when a man who is your friend or yourself go to the dance floor and start grinding on a woman who was just minding her own business and dancing. It starts when you are in the estate with your boys and you start making comments about a girl in her hearing about her ass or boobs or body and you don’t care if it makes her uncomfortable. You then take those mannerisms to the streets. Sexual harassment is not a class thing. It is done by men from all social classes and ages. It is done by the man walking, taking a mat or in a car who trails you and trash talks you because you refuse to enter into his car. It happens in the market, in restaurants where you are just minding your own business. It is done by that crude cop who thinks his badge allows him to do whatever he wants, or that lecturer who thinks he is god over your grades.

Until the so called good men start standing up for women whether they know you or not street harassment and sexual harassment will continue. Because it doesn’t start out on the street. It starts in homes, estates, bars, schools, buses, offices, social media etc. If you really want to stop street harassment it starts with you. You should never have to be told what if it was your sister or mother or girlfriend. Because then it makes treating women well to be conditional. Make sure women are treated well everywhere and then your sister, mother, daughter, and girlfriend will never have to worry about any kind of harassment.

How can we make the streets safer for women.

  • By being the type of man that makes streets safe for women.
  • By telling off your brother or friend who harasses women either by words or actions. This goes to women too. Sometimes we just sit and watch our friends and brothers do these things and say nothing.
  • By valuing every human being and by valuing that person giving them the dignity they deserve.
  • Men this is specifically for you. If you see a woman being stripped or harassed step in. don’t be that man that watches from the sidelines and says this is not my battle. Somebody will say that about that woman that you adore. It is very hard for a woman to step in because she will get the same treatment. That lady in Kayole only had her sister to stand up for her. She was stripped too. We would want to step in but it also places us in the same danger so please step in.
  • Let us make our society safer for our women and children by standing up when it counts in the small things.

Remember it doesn’t start on the streets. It starts with you making a stand to do what’s right. Let us stand up to be counted and discourage any kind of violence against women.

This article is a contribution to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. To find out more about this campaign go to the campaign profile.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. We are a country at war! The sooner we accept that make appropriate and necessary adjustments the better. As Kenyans its appalling when we reduce scandals and tragedies to memes, sound bytes and punch lines on social media.

    The attacks at a barracks in Mombasa, the stripping of women in town, the ‘chicken’ scandal, Kapedo, Mandera attacks, the reckless driving and road carnage are not disparate incidents. they are interlinked realities, they are symptoms of a culture laboring with advanced state of decadence and decay.

    It’s time as a nation we had difficult conversations, about religion, about values, about families, about our security, about what it means to be a Kenyan and on and on…It won’t help to single out genders or religions or the government, everybody is responsible….My $0.02

  2. I may not agree with every single thing here but you have a point. It starts with you and me, regardless of gender. We are responsible for our own actions. And don’t be pleasant because you are being forced to be. Be pleasant because it’s the right thing to be, even if the other party is not. You never know who are changing just by being polite.

  3. True, when we can’t speak against sexual harassment when we witness it in society we become part of the problem – either intentionally or by just being coward to speak for the “weaker” sex.

    We clearly should not see this as a “class problem” we all ought to start doing something about it. Sorry for your experience and it is my hope that this moves people to act next time they see someone being harassed.

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