Monday, October 4, 2010

In the news: What girls experience

In India, sexual harassment on the street, through mobile phones and SMSes are often pushed under the carpet as "minor irritants". With the increase in mobile phone usage all around the country, the rising cases are predictable offshoots in a society where women are already vulnerable in public spaces. The results of surveys like these must definitely be taken up by concerned governmental bodies and acted upon. Stronger legislation for instance, and public education on the same are good places to start.

A recent survey by Plan India, a non-government body working to promote the cause of child rights, has come up with disturbing findings. It shows teen girls in non-metropolitan cities get a far higher rate of obscene calls and text messages on their cellphones than their counterparts in places such as Delhi or Mumbai. It is, expectedly, a general problem; a third of the 10,000 girls surveyed across 10 of our cities (across classes and income levels) reported having got obscene calls or messages. But the proportion was as much as 75 per cent in Bhubaneswar, for instance, and 65 per cent in Hyderabad (it was 28 per cent in Bangalore). Our Andhra Pradesh editions have been reporting a spate of incidents where young men or male students seem to think it their right to harm or even kill girls who spurn them or have turned away after once being friends; not one seems to believe it was a wrong thing to do. It would be an all-India problem; our boys seem to be growing up with some funny ideas of what the other sex is about. The Plan India survey reported 77 per cent of the girls saying eve-teasing, the quaintly Indian phrase for what is known as sexual harassment elsewhere, was the biggest challenge they faced in urban spaces. And, that 74 per cent felt most vulnerable in public areas.

Close to half said they coped with harassment by ignoring it, a response which says a lot on our systems of involvement and redress. All these and related findings should raise questions in every family; preferably, these should be discussed with teenagers in the home. It is clear that the high proportion of harassment via the cellphone is due to ease and anonymity; apart from equipping our daughters to cope with these, we do need to consider the attitudes in question and where these would lead. It is certainly clear that both families and schools need to do a far better job in instilling the need to respect other human beings and their feelings, in public and private. Assuming the problem will go if ignored won’t do; it, clearly, is the response of many adults. Families apart, there is room for much action by others. Civic agencies, for instance, need to sit down with experts and women’s groups to address that high proportion of vulnerability in public spaces. Surveys like this need to be acted on, not archived.

1 comment:

  1. I think the only way out of this situation is to convince women that they are in power of deciding how much or how less they want to be affected by the crap that happens to them. And by that, I don't mean ignore sexual harassment. I mean empowering themselves mentally and emotionally to cope with it and make themselves feel in control rather than feel vulnerable. For instance, I heard this story about a girl who died in the Tsunami because she was bathing naked in her bathroom and she couldn't bring herself to run out naked. I believe real empowerment can happen only if you free yourself of all these society-imposed constraints that you've taken in. Because we can go on and on talking but the other side is barely listening. We need laws, yes...but we also need to be convinced of our own power. The power to decide how much of the outside world you're going to let dictate your life.

    I seriously doubt that we're ever going to be a civil society that has men who behave....everything we see around us only proves that. There are probably more perverts around than ever before and it's not likely to change. I'd say we should put ourselves in the driving seat...because unless another World War starts and all the men go away to kill each other, women are going to be classified 'to be protected' and that is the problem.