Cleaning Up The Streets

Do you want to live in a Sri Lanka where your sisters and mothers or you as a woman can walk home alone at 9pm without hesitation?
Where a woman can take the bus without fear of being rubbed up against by some stranger?
Where a girl can walk down the lane to her house without being the recipient of explicit remarks made by a group of boys about the size of her skirt?

Many people say it’s not really a problem. So some women get touched in public transport, so what? Don’t take the bus.
So there are thugs who will make perverse comments about you when you walk on the street, so what? Don’t walk on the street after 6pm.

News flash: it isn’t ‘normal’ for a woman to have to change her schedule or the street on which she walks purely because there is a good chance she will get harassed by men in that place or at that time, especially when it’s only because of her gender. Sure it feels normal to be told by your parent not to go shopping alone at the mall at night, or to be told not to use the bus because of perverts – but that’s our fault as a society. We’ve made these things social norms. By avoiding confrontation with men who harass women, we as a society are helping them thrive.

Action needs to be taken, if you ever want to see a time when a woman can wear what she wants and walk to where she wants at whatever time, without fear or hesitation.

Umara, 22, narrates to us her experience, “I had an interview at 5pm, and I dressed up for it, I wore a pencil skirt and a loose blouse and heels and took the bus – from the time I walked up the lane from my house, through my commute in the bus, through walking on the pavement to the office, I must have had at least a dozen different very rude and intimidating comments or looks thrown at me by total strangers. I know better now than to ever wear a skirt again unless I’m going in my own car!”

The problem about addressing something like street harassment and harassment in buses, is that it isn’t a tangible issue, it’s more to do with the mindset of society, of both men and women who live here and through silence consent to these negative norms. And it’s difficult to describe thoroughly as well for the same reason and because it has rarely ever been openly discussed.

Why is it a serious problem?

Although the idea of a woman being groped by a stranger obviously strikes a chord of disgust and disapproval in any sane minded person in Sri Lanka – the overall idea of fighting street harassment against women, to many, seems trivial. Why is it not trivial?
For this very simple reason: men and women according to the book and all sound minded individuals, have equal human rights in our society; and yet, a woman may wear a skirt at the beach and have a group of young men making lewd comments and gestures at her, a woman may get into a public vehicle to travel to her workplace and get touched in a way that is in no way excusable to anybody by a complete stranger, a woman has to think of precautions when she has to walk to her car in a dimly lit parking lot at 7pm. Can somebody say, breaching of fundamental rights because she’s a woman? Gender based intimidation is still a form of oppression, however relatively small it seems to rape or domestic violence.

Why does the problem thrive?

Because men and women, both, are complacent about the problem. Many women do not fight back, and tolerate harassment, and thus attackers feel it’s okay to do what they do; many men think they do no harm by their little acts of explicit teasing or rubbing up against women; most are oblivious to the fact that these social norms of ours are totally abnormal and someone in a more socially developed country would go to jail immediately for trying half the things perverts do and get away with in Sri Lanka.

I want to be able to go the beach, alone if I want to, in the evening, without thinking some guy will harass me, I want to be able to go shopping at Majestic City without boys following me for the fun of it, I want to take the bus without having to think of maneuvering my bag between me and the man next to me just in case he’s a perv.

If you want the same, for yourself, and for your female friends and family, regardless of whether you’re a man or woman – do something about it. Our current project with Beyond Borders addresses this very issue. Talk to us, tell us what you think, talk to us about your experiences, your ideas for solutions that will produce results.

Volunteer meetings for our latest project happen every Tuesday at 6pm.
Be a part of the movement to make the streets cleaner and safer for the women of our society. Call 0773786505 for more information.

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