One of the worst experiences women in Kabul have to deal with every day is harassment on the street.
Every day when I go to work I see men touching, insulting, and cursing women. Men will say things that even thinking about is embarrassing, but every time I feel bad about it, I tell myself: “Do not blame yourself, this street is yours too.”
In the past few years the harassment has become worse because thousands of women and girls are now working and studying outside of the home. Many conservative Afghans cannot tolerate seeing women become independent; they prefer to see women in the house only. So men use the situation to insult and bother women, and most of the families just blame the girls for provoking street harassment.
This harms women’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It discourages both educated and non-literate women from engaging in public and social activities. The victims think there is something wrong with them and they don’t want to go out and participate socially.
Street harassment will not go away until women stand up for themselves. Most Afghan women prefer to stay silent and ignore the harassment. That gives men the perspective that women cannot protect themselves: it seems easy to bother women when there is no consequence.
Noorjahan Akbar, an Afghan women’s rights activist, identified this as a problem in one of her articles. “I did not then, and do not now, understand why women are always asked to keep quiet and exercise patience when they are violated. Patience is an overrated virtue. When I was eleven I learned to not be patient and silent in the face of injustice,” she said.
Although every Afghan is aware of street harassment, no media paid serious attention to it until June 2011 when almost one hundred women and men marched to protest against street harassment. Young Women for Change, an organization that advocates for women rights, managed this walk. After that, media and politicians took this issue much more seriously.
Afghan women need to learn how to stand up for themselves. Women need to keep fighting.
We must raise our voices because nobody else will stand up for us except ourselves.
If street harassment had consequences in our country, it would decrease. Afghan feminists should teach women how to talk back instead of being silent when somebody harasses them. In this way people will understand women are not victims; they do not need a man to stand for them when they can do it themselves.
By Fatima H.
Members of the group Afghan Young Women for Change take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 14, 2012. Massoud Hossaini / AFP – Getty Images