Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sexual Harassment, An Epidemic That Needs Control...

“Sexual harassment is complex, subtle and highly subjective” Katherine Lee Gifford

Sexual harassment represents a hot topic nowadays and a fertile field for discussion among activists, authors and media celebrities. It is debatable why this issue gained much popularity recently, but the sure thing that it represents a significant dilemma that different societies face today. The problem stems from the far past but used to be concealed, may be the fear of the stigma and retaliation from harasser suffered by women kept their lips tight long ago. Negligence of the problem; however, failed to bring it to remission.

Statistics are scary! Recent study conducted by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women stated that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Similar studies in USA, Croatia, Poland, and Korea yielded high percentages as well. A study stated that roughly 70% of female graduates of Nigerian tertiary institutions suffered some form of sexual harassment. The numbers don’t lie and they highlight the magnitude of what women suffer every day.

What can one imagine from a society whose women are being harassed in streets and offices? The impacts are evident: harassed women are susceptible to depressive disorders, anxiety and stress. Women tend to avoid attending their work where they used to be harassed and this contributes to increased absenteeism. Women may adopt a more restrictive life with being overly cautious about their clothes and appearance to avoid defamation from people. Even veiled women in the Muslim societies were subjects of sexual harassment in streets!

Sexual harassment reflects the culture of “male predominance” and the inherent tradition of disrespectful treatment of women like “properties”. Nigerian men working in a myriad of positions as teachers, bankers or in authoritative position tend to intimidate women and even exploit them sexually in return to a service (quid pro quo harassment). One of the causes of such attitude may be attributed to women themselves who used to behave passively most of the time. I’ve read about the ESPN production coordinator Joya Caskey who said to her colleague Brooke Hundley “Get used to it, kid. If I had a dollar for every time I was sexually harassed at ESPN, I would be a millionaire”. I believe the problem of harassment wouldn’t resolve if women accepted the fact that there is no way to prevent that behavior. This point of view was discussed by Leora Tanenbaum in her book - Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation “If I had been armed with a feminist understanding that no girl deserves to be called a slut, perhaps I would have fought back by reporting the harassment to my school's headmistress or another school authority, or at least I might have had the strength to tell of the name-callers on my own. But at the time, all I knew was that if I avoided eye contact, it was a hell of a lot easier to get through my days.”

“Don’t be passive”, a drawing by Carlos Latuff which depicts harasser as a pig, and encourages men in streets to participate actively in preventing this attitude. This picture was used in a campaign to combat sexual harassment in Assiut, Egypt.
"Until there's a public commitment, and action to back that commitment, a policy is only words on paper." Tim Field

Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy Poster sold at CalChamber Store. It can be placed in work places to limit sexual harassment among employees.
Eradication of sexual harassment needs dedicated activist groups all over the world: London Anti-Street Harassment Campaign was founded to reduce harassment incidents by promoting education of the perpetrators. Operation Antisexual Harassment was launched in Cairo in the wake of The 25th January Revolution to combat harassment by arranging street squads that intervene with any offenders against women in streets. Strict laws must be put to limit sexual harassment in work or streets. Nurturing the culture of the new generation about the ill-conduct of sexual harassment through media is perhaps an effective way to tame that practice. Governments have to incorporate anti-sexual harassment education for students. Finally, women themselves need to confide in themselves and fight for their righteous position in their society.

Written by Ahmed Magdi Youssef

Basil El-Dabh. 99.3% of Egyptian women experience sexual harassment: report. Daily News Egypt, April 2013.
Owoaje ET, Olusola-Taiwo. O. Sexual harassment experiences of female graduates of Nigerian tertiary institutions. Int Q Community Health Educ. 2009-2010;30(4):337-48.
Leora Tanenbaum. Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation. Excerpt from
Effects of Sexual Harassment. The Northwestern University Women's Center.
Statistics – Academic and Community Studies. Stop Street Harassment.
Rosie Swash. The end of street harassment. The Guardian, Friday 20 August 2010

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