Being a foreigner in India is not always easy, especially not if you are a single white female. During my stay in India I have to face several forms of harassment, which varies from ‘innocent’ staring and screaming words of sexual nature to following and touching. It does not matter where you are – be it in the rural parts of Maharashtra, the capital New Delhi or in the expat neighborhood of Pune. Wearing a traditional Kurta or a tank top with jeans; does not make a difference. You need to be alert for hands and eyes all the time.
The solution for “eve teasing” in Loni – the village where I was studying was easy: girls are not allowed to be out of their hostel after 9 pm. This is something that also tends to ‘solve’ the problem in places like Delhi. However, boys can be out all night. So, instead of punishing the perpetrators, the victims need to stay in! After 2 months in Delhi I could not deal with the ongoing harassment anymore and left for Pune. It is not just me; Delhi is famous for being dangerous for women, as research showed:
‘ ( …) 85.4% women, 87% men and 93% common witnesses said that sexual harassment was “rampant” in public places and that this was the single most important factor that made Delhi an unsafe city.’ (http://www.indiatogether.org/2010/aug/ksh-harass.htm)
The longer I stay in India, the more I realise that gender inequality and violence against women cannot be ended by only empowering women. Focusing on women again only emphasises that they should change their behaviour and not the men. As Gauri Shendge – a young woman from Khadki Bazaar community in Pune – said:
“If a man harasses us on street our parents tell us to look down, ignore it or take a different route. I like your approach – you ask the men to stop harassing us”.
Changing the opinion, view and behavior of men towards women is crucial to fight gender based violence as: ‘65 percent of Indian men surveyed said they believe there are times that women deserve to be beaten. ‘ (http://www.icrw.org/media/news/gender-equality-indian-mens-attitudes-complex)
When I came across ECF, I was very happy that finally an organisation was aiming to engage men to end violence against women. I gave up my former job and joined ECF as a volunteer. Whenever I visit the communities I am happy to see the way young men are involving their peers in the programme, their motivation for fighting gender inequality and the positive feedback we receive from their mothers.
Change should come from men as well as women. More and more organisations should start to engage men; so both genders will work on this cause together!
– By Mireille Vos (Volunteer, Equal Community Foundation)