Note: This piece was first published on Setopati.
“I have gotten used to verbal and sexual harassment. How terrible of a sentence is that?! Nobody should ever, ever get ‘used’ to things like that.”
Nothing brings more clarity to the grim reality of the normalcy with which girls and women are harassed on the streets of Nepal than this excerpt from a participant story from our #IWalkFreely online survey. Indeed, no one should be exposed to harassment to such a degree that they start getting used to it, but it’s hardly surprising that we are seeing this resigned acceptance of the misogynistic norm among our youth.
The #IWalkFreely survey amassed over 1000 responses and an overwhelming 92% of the participants reported they had been harassed on the streets in one form or another. More bleak still, 98% of all women participants stated they had been harassed making this an indisputably gender based issue.
Besides the streets, 71% of the participants also reported getting harassed in public transportations. 63% of the participants reported physical harassment of some form, 63% also reported being exposed to verbal harassment, and 20% reported sexual harassment.
One of the most insidious ways in which harassment thrives in our society is through the collective dismissal of its gravity. The problem is woven into the very fabric of our society, yet people are unwilling to acknowledge it. Instead, there is constant and casual deflection of the issue spurred by an internalized toxicity which has allowed this kind of heinous behavior to go unchecked for so long.
49% of the participants who said they had faced harassment were between 20 and 29 years old. Similarly, over 41% of the participants who answered in the affirmative when asked if they’d ever experienced harassment were between the ages of 13 and 19. This means a disturbing majority of the people who are harassed in our country are girls and young women.
Participant stories illustrated that victims were very often too embarrassed to talk about what had happened with their parents or authorities, fearful that the shame of the act would fall upon them, not the perpetrators. Boys will be boys. They won’t say anything if you cover up. Just pretend you didn’t hear them. They’ll stop if you don’t pay attention to them.
Being a young girl in Nepal, one is likely to hear this sort of dismissive rhetoric if she does try to talk about harassment with her mother or a female teacher. This is primarily why victims are more inclined to endure silently instead of trying to report the culprits. Girls are being conditioned to think their pain is not important, their bodies not their own to command but for boys and men to ogle and objectify.
In a society that has done the utmost to all but erase the female sexuality, adolescent girls are forced to deal with their changing physiques while simultaneously made to feel compelled to hide their development and growth, because being obvious might attract unwanted attention on the streets or their classroom or the micro bus. This poisonous socio-cultural trend will never change unless we, collectively as Nepali citizens, acknowledge that objectification of girls and women and the consequent harassment that they are subjected to is a national epidemic.
It’s easy to discern from the data that harassment is ubiquitous—one would have to stay home at all times, with their doors padlocked if they wish to dodge harassment in Nepal.
What we need to take away from these startling numbers is not the idea of urging our girls to become shut-ins, but the intent to spread awareness about this toxic epidemic and start conversations on all social and educational levels to teach our boys that girls are just as much human as they are, girls warrant just as much respect as boys do, girls deserve to walk freely on the streets without having to worry about being dehumanized through objectification.
Source: Survey data