The issue of sexual harassment has been a hot media topic recently thanks to the increasing number of sexual allegations against Hollywood celebrities. The allegations gave birth to the social media movement #MeToo highlighting the prevalence of sexual harassment of women all around the world. Although the recent claims and tweets of Hollywood celebrities about stories of sexual violence and harassment make these issues look like a new and unusual phenomenon, harassment, abuse and violence against women is something that has always been a part of the lives of many women in our world. The degree to which women are exposed to abuse and harassment may of course differ. I do believe that the shame and feeling of guilt that comes from being sexually abused can be lessened with the #MeToo movement because it tells women all over the world that they are not alone. But does the movement instigate feelings of empathy or even shame in men that are perpetrators of abuse and violence? I believe that is a question that remains to be answered. The movement particularly focuses on sexual violence which involves unconsented sexual advances and pressures.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately one third of women in the world are exposed to sexual abuse. For me, this statement is a strong underestimation and appreciation of the problem. Maybe my understanding of ‘Sexual violence’ is different and much broader than the one given by the WHO. Does sexual violence need to be physically violent (like rape for instance) in order to be considered violent? How about all those women who are thrown at vulgarities, are being touched in private places by some random strangers on the streets? Only women would be able to understand how such types of abuse kills their self-esteems. If these types of violence and harassments are taken into account, I would say that maybe near to 100% of women worldwide have experienced some form of sexual violence or abuse at least once in their lifetimes.
You probably would agree with me but I believe that it is much less safer to walk the streets of Addis to a woman than a man. How many of us women would confidently walk the streets of Addis, dressing up the way we want to, and still managing to reach our points of destinations without being insulted or thrown at vulgarities just because we are women? I personally keep silent and never talk back to the perpetrators when I am at the receiving ends of such harassments. But is it the right way to go? Maybe I am too scared because I know I will not be able to fight back. I bet many women would share this feeling of mine. But an experience of a relative of mine showed me that, if you are bold and angry enough, you can put sexual harassers back to their place and make sure they receive an adequate amount of punishment. This guy who works near her home place kept harassing her as she made her way to work and back to home. He would pressurize her to greet him, talk to him and would say inappropriate things to her day in day out. Although she managed to keep her patience for a long one year, one day she just couldn’t stand his pressures. She simply started to insult back, yell at him out loud to keep his distance to the point that people from the neighborhood including her father heard her and came out of their houses to see what was going wrong. Her father went straight to the organization the guy was working in and informed the employers about the harassments. That is when the harasser started pleading that he himself has daughters (Now that’s strange!) and begging for forgiveness. He was of course passed with a warning that if next time he would come near to her, he would lose his job. And after that day, the guy never spoke a word to my relative!
So, can you fight back sexual abuse, violence or harassment? Yes I do believe so, but a woman needs support to win the fight. Support from witnesses, from the law, from family, and from the society at large are all needed to make the world safer for our girls and women.