Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Eve-teasing/Day 2.5/16 days Gender Activism VAW

Day 2 Theme: Occupy All Spaces

Around the world, women have to reclaim their spaces and rights on the streets, public spaces, schools, transportation, cyber cafes (w/o other customers viewing disturbing images in the next seat), and and google searches on the internet. Many women face restrictions on their access to education, streets, and finding a secure space in a cyber cafe and internet.

They even have a hard time using their mobiles in a safe and secure way. As I noted in my earlier post, missed calls and/or phishing phone calls can also harass women users. Mobile cameras have been used to take and distribute graphic images of women (see Hana's post).

At the same time, mobile or cell phones can be life lines for battered-abused women; many shelters in USA and elsewhere seek donations of older & unregistered mobiles so that abused women can communicate easily with the shelter or authorities if the abuser blocks her phone usage or to have a safe-secure line. More recently, mobile phones enabled Bangladeshis to communicate with their near and dear ones during Cyclone Sidr.

Another issue on for women to occupy all spaces is eve-teasing--or men's street sexual harassment or molestation of young (any) women who travel their own streets to and from work, school, or their assorted tasks. For an excellent analysis, see Shoma Chatterji's post on eve-teasing in Kolkata and elsewhere in Fighting eve-teasing: rights and remedy.

Eve-teasing occurs in urban areas as well as in rural areas in South Asia and elsewhere although its name varies from country to region. In 2004-5 the Bangladeshi women's group, Mahila Parishad distributed a poster and conducted a campaign against eve-teasing because several young women, students, and even young girls committed suicide owing to social pressures-shame-daily harassment. In 2007, Advocate Habibun Nessa of Naripokkho, reported 29 suicide deaths in the last four years. In some cases the police colluded with the eve-teasers and blamed the women for their own problems. Bangladesh has no laws against eve-teasing, much less respect for women who dare to venture alone or even in groups in the streets.

These pressures also affect women's travels to Nari Jibon, which usually occurs with one or more friends. We've found that if a friend or travel companion stops coming to Nari Jibon , then the other student drops out unless she can find another friend to come to Nari Jibon.

Or two young women students who went out on the streets for a photo assignment and to ride a bus to and from Nari Jibon had to deal with young men who pushed ahead of them and eve-teased. Many times women get on the bus and find that men have taken the 'women's seats and they feel insecure in the packed bus. Photographer Syeeda Farhana captured sequence of Moina and Sathi as they tried to board a bus c. 2005:

The good news is that these women persevered and continued to come to Nari Jibon for English and computer training, pursued their higher education and taken some teaching jobs. Nonetheless many women service holders contend with daily eve-teasing as they commute to and from their jobs and same-same for students as they walk and/or travel to their schools. Eventually, women and/or guardians decide that these pressures are too much and they drop out of school, get married for security, and in some cases commit suicide. Dhaka has tried adding a few women only buses and other countries have tried adding women-only subway cars, but these measures & added buses will not be enough until men start treating women and girls with more respect as they move through and live in various spaces.

Time for women to freely and safely occupy all spaces!

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