When I go to the shop every morning, our gate man and his friends will not let a lady pass by the gate without uttering words like “mrembo leo hunisalimii?”- “Beautiful come and say hi”. You can imagine how you look in the morning – baggy t-shirt or hoodie, sweatpants or tights, and they still catcall us which is very irritating. Most of the times I just pass by without saying anything or when am in a good mood I just wave and move along.
I am sure millions of women and girls around the world will have heard phrases like that. “Hey Sexy!” “Hey Beautiful!” “Ouh your body this or that!” or something like it. Some might say that it’s harmless, just a joke, or perhaps even a compliment.
But to be honest catcalling is none of those things. It’s an explicit demonstration of power, one that is intended to frighten or intimidate the person it’s addressed to. It is based in deep-rooted gender inequality, which sees women’s bodies as not their own.
In my opinion, in the context of gender, harassment often ends up being a way for men to exert control over women and their bodies. Shouting a crude comment about a woman’s appearance suggests entitlement to her body. Groping or stalking or simply standing too close without a woman’s permission shows entitlement to her space. Expecting a woman to talk to you while or after you harass her displays entitlement to her time. Do You Agree?
What is Catcalling?
Catcalling is when an individual whistles, shouts, or makes sexual comments toward another individual as they are walking by. Women are often the ones faced with having to deal with this ridiculous issue. The fact that I get a little nervous when I decide to get dressed up because I don’t feel like getting harassed, is a problem. You shouldn’t have to feel self-conscious or nervous every time you get dressed to head out the door or every time you pass by men on the street.
What is Street Harassment?
Street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of violence against women and girls. It’s a type of sexual harassment and includes catcalling, unwanted comments, gestures, honking and uninvited sexual advances from strangers in a public place.
When you face harassment as part of your daily life, whether it’s while going for a run or getting the bus to see friends, what does that do? It holds you back right?
You are compelled to change your clothes, or routes to work just to try to avoid it. It can even prevent you from working, from socialising, from learning, and from living with freedom and dignity.
This is not acceptable. No woman or girl should feel afraid in the streets of her own city.
Did you Know Poverty makes girls more vulnerable to harassment??
We help and interact with many women and girls in the rural areas we operate and they have stories to tell about street harassment. One would think thank living in the rural areas is a bit safer than urban areas but we were wrong.
Women and girls living in poverty are even more vulnerable to this sort of street harassment. For example, Rose Wanjiru attends a local school in Kangai village, Kenya. She is only 12 years old, but she and her friends are often harassed by men as they walk to and from school. Rose says:
“On my way home, we often get catcalls from the farm workers and boda boda [motorcycle taxi] riders. My biggest wish is that we get an education, the men should leave us alone.”
RELATED CONTENT: See How we are Raising Funds to help our Beneficiaries like Rose to stay in school.
How Protect a Girls Image is helping girls who are experiencing street harassment.
Jackline Wamwitha, Our eldest girl belongs to the Protect a Girls Image-supported girls’ club at her school. The club is a safe spacewhere the girls learn about their rights and gain the confidence to report harassment and abuse. Jackline looks out for other girls at school. She says: “I tell my friends: don’t pay attention to those men.”
In addition to girls’ clubs, Protect a Girls Image is working with women’s groups and training government officials, police, health workers and legal advisers in Kenya on how to best to tackle violence against women and girls.
By working closely with local commuities, PGIO is tackling gender-based street harassment at its root, by challenging the behaviours and gender inequalities that cause it.
How Should You Deal with Street Harassment?
Sometimes, no response is the best response (especially if you’re concerned about escalating the situation). Some harassers might enjoy any sort of attention, so ignoring the foolishness is the best bet. Hopefully, they will eventually get a clue and stop catcalling completely.
If you’re a quick thinker with a strong voice, then responding may be a good choice. If you feel safe enough to do so, assertively respond to the harassers calmly, firmly and without insults or personal attacks to let them know that their actions are unwelcome, unacceptable and wrong. It’s one way to turn the situation around.
Sometimes kindness is the most unexpected, confusing, and wonderful response of all. So if some guy is saying garbage about your appearance, you can respond with quiet sympathy. “You must be in a bad place to comment on stranger’s bodies like that. I hope life gets better for you.” You can say, with full sincerity. Then sashay away!
Report to Employer
If you are being harassed at work you can air your views and let Human Resources know that their employees are harassing people on the job and why that is unacceptable. I know you might be thinking “what will my colleagues think and what if I lose my job” If we don’t start standing up for ourselves now then when?
If you see a lady being harassed, please help them out of the situation and let the harasser know that their actions are not condoned by others. Ask her if she wants help and what she’d like you to do or simply check in to see if she is OK. Majority of street harassers look to other men for approval so they might gang up on you.
What will you Do to Help Girls facing Street Harassment??
If you Donate to Protect A Girls’ Image Education Funding>>>HERE, you can help us support more Girls in School, so that they can be educated on preventing and responding to harassment and violence. Here’s what your money could do:
- $80 could help educate girls and ensure they are aware of their rights
- $5 could help girls carry their books to school.
- $10 could help get a Dozen of Books for each girl, to write down everything they learn.
- $3 could help buy a Dozen of Pens for them to write with.
The most common defense that men have against this issue is that catcalls are their way of “complimenting” a woman’s looks. Going up to a woman and telling her she’s beautiful is one thing, but shouting “damn!” “hey sexy!” or whistling and honking the car horn as a woman walks by is a different story.
Catcalling can even get to the point of being dangerous if women decide defend themselves or ignore the cat-callers, because often they will get offended causing them to act in an aggressive or intimidating manner by name calling or going as far as assaulting women. It’s important that you assess your situation and ensure your safety before responding.
What men need to understand is that catcalling is not cute, funny, or complimenting. It’s harassment, degrading, and disgusting. It lets women know they are being objectified and looked at as nothing more than a piece of meat. It makes women feel as though they have no rights or values. Women are not dogs to be whistled at and they are not sexual objects. Women are more than their looks. Women have the right to be treated with as much respect and dignity when walking down the street as any man. Women deserve to feel safe!!