25-31 December 2015 #788

They call me Eve… because they think it is ok to tease

The acceptable culture of sexually harassing women in South Asia
Anjana Rajbhandary

Our country is used to the male species making supposedly innocent comments to obscene gestures, and whistling at women in public. Most women pretend like it never happened.

What may seem like a harmless act marks the beginning of a potentially dangerous series of harassment towards women.

There are countless stories of girls and women who are horrified at the idea of passing by a certain street corner because of being gawked at by a group of men. “When I was younger, I used to wear the tightest t-shirt underneath my baggy sweaters so people did not stare at my chest,” says Rima.

Eve-teasing (or street harassment) is a term commonly used in South Asia for public harassment or molestation of women by men. It is a form of sexual aggression that ranges from catcalls, to suggestive sexual remarks to touching and groping in public.

A disturbing aspect of the term ‘eve-teasing’ is that it puts the blame on the women who are called ‘eve’ as the temptress. Some men might as well say, if women did not exist, this would not happen therefore it is women’s fault. These violations are very hard to prove and are difficult for most women to vocalise.

“When I was 15, my best friend and I were on our way to the movies when this well-dressed middle aged man passed by us and pinched her chest,” recalls 23-year-old Rita. “She looked at my face, then looked down on the ground and shut her eyes as she squeezed my hand. We did not talk.”

This is the truth that many women in South Asia live every day. Many cultures and societies believe that eve-teasing happens because of the women who tease and tempt men, because clearly men have no control over their desires.

Bollywood movies show eve teasing as a harmless beginning of a courtship or the moment before the woman gets raped. We all know of ‘India’s Daughter’- one incident that highlighted the extremes of sexual harassment women have to experience that may result in death.

This can be the story of any young girl or woman in South Asia, and perhaps anywhere in the world. Sheetal, 24, was embarrassed of her growing body, “My shoulders started to hunch to hide my chest. My eyes did not have the strength to look at other people. My arms started to press against my stomach to protect my pride and my shame.”

How many men who participate in these twisted and sick behaviour ask- would my son do the same to another woman and make them cry? Would my daughter be the victim of someone’s unwanted touch?

I ask every man before they think of calling or touching a female stranger on the street- would you want another man to grope your mother or your girlfriend? Would you want a smirking guy to touch your sister or your daughter inappropriately?

Women learn to live in fear of being touched. Women avoid going to school, or walking down the streets- afraid of what await them. The silence must not be mistaken for weakness, it shows their strength and perseverance, and it is time women raised their voice to stop the injustice towards them.

I say this as a woman: “This is my body and I allow myself to wear what I want. What I wear, how I walk, what I say does not give you the right to treat me any way you want, call me any name or touch me as you please.”

I repeat this as a woman: “This is my body and no one is allowed to touch it without my consent. My body is not here to please and entertain others without my permission. My body is to be respected- my body is to be honored. My body gave you life- do not dishonor your essence. My body has gone through months and years of pain to create your existence. Learn to respect the body you came from. Respect the body that gave you life. But first learn to respect yourself so you know how to respect women.”

Read Also

Was that a blink or a wink?, Ramyata Limbu

We shall overcome, Rubeena D Shrestha

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