Another Week Beyond – 2043

Dear friends, 

It was not an English lesson but together with a group of girls, we looked up the dictionary definition of the word “slut.”   Upon confirming that it is most often used to describe women who are sexually promiscuous, they were incensed when they recalled the numerous occasions they were called so.  “Sometimes people don’t use the word on us but by criticising how we dress, I think they also believe that we are bad girls,” one of the participants expressed during a recent Girls’ Night.

Girls’ Night  provides a safe space to discuss sexuality, relationships, and other topics that youth find difficult to raise with others. This has been an ongoing initiative resulting from a community conference last year that highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment in a neighbourhood.  For most part of this year, the girls involved did not meet as virtual meetings did not sit well with them. However, now that we can come together in small groups, these girls are making full use of the opportunity to talk, learn and to comfort each other.

A common sentiment among the girls is feeling constantly intruded.  Many a time, they experienced being leered at while taking public transport and having someone make an inappropriate invitation. They remember being frozen with fear and angry that other passengers around them were oblivious to their predicament.  After hearing each other out, they concluded that the next time it happens, they should move to another part of the bus or the train or just get off.  However, if they choose to get off, they need to ensure that they are not being followed by the person who bothered them.

These girls were logical, but it is worrying that their problem-solving skills were honed from upsetting experiences of being accosted for sexual services or being followed by men from a distance when they are walking alone. They lamented that the advice they received frequently was to dress modestly but they cannot help feeling blamed whenever they hear it. “So, it is ok for men and boys to call us names and disturb us? That type of behaviour is not wrong, but our dressing is?” were questions that probed the culture that tolerated if not perpetuated sexual harassment.

As we sat with the girls, we come to appreciate that they were not recklessly defiant when it came to their safety. However, they had a determination within them to do something to disrupt a culture that diminishes women and glorifies toxic masculinity. They have now started discussing the possibility of organising a campaign in their neighbourhood to engage their peers on the issue of sexual harassment. We will journey with them and link them to appropriate resources where needed.

Wishing you health, and peace of mind.

Gerard

We need a world where women don’t get sexually harassed. Full stop. Period. – Sheryl Sandberg

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