16 April 2019

East Africa: Most Women Just Have to Put Up With Sexual Harassment, and They Still Get Blamed...

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If blame were a compass, its needle would always point to the woman. Trevor Noah, on his famous satirical political show, once did a social experiment.

It was during the #MeToo campaign and he addressed the audience, asking men who had ever been sexually harassed to raise their hand. Hardly any man raised his hand.

Then, in that same room, he asked the same question, this time directing it to the women, and more than half of the women present raised their hands.

Gather a group of young women, and ask the question, "When was the first time you realised that an individual was making an unwelcome advance? To the point where you felt uncomfortable and you knew that you were walking on egg shells?"

Many mentioned that it was even before they were 18 years of age. As early as high school and not necessarily from age mates, but also teachers, neighbours, people that you know, not complete strangers.

What about a stalker? This happens to women often, to the point one would avoid a meeting so that they would not have to interact with a particular individual. Avoiding phone calls is also common, or blocking messages.

What does lowering the age of consent have to do with the economy? As the economy continues to struggle, in our everyday conversations, people continue to talk about the lack of money in circulation.

Lowering the age of consent will produce dire societal consequences that we are not ready for. The main issue seems to be, how young girls these days look older than they really are, "teenagers sitting in a bar."

But the real issues of concern for us should be, how did she get in there without an ID.

Almost every bar has a sign somewhere that says, "No alcohol sold to persons under the age of 18." You see that sign right before you walk into the club or take a sip of alcohol. Any person there should have an ID.

The question on the tip of our tongues should be, how can a teenager easily sit in a bar to meet an adult male without an ID? And if she has a fake one, why is it so easy to get?

But the larger question is, what is consent in a world where consent is more acceptable to one gender? The young girl is here for reasons other than simply having fun.

These are difficult times and people are finding other avenues to make a living. But this is not an article about judgment, for hypocrites and the moral police that thrive in this country.

Even in our offices, reporting sexual harassment is not as easy as we imagine it to be. There are the fears of being judged or when one brings it up, it is viewed as normal behaviour, as in, "He is like that". Or worse still, nothing happens to the perpetrator once it is reported.

If that happens within the office, how difficult must it be to report it at a police station? Female university students struggle to make a formal complaint because the first thing that will be asked is what were you wearing, or why were you walking in that area at that time. Yet it appears to be common knowledge that a professor asking for a relationship so as to give you a grade is not something outlandish.

A young, beautiful and brilliant young woman was murdered. Worst of all were the justifications for murder online.

What could lead someone to do this, what did she do? And the false stories that arose, mainly peddled by insecure boys who have the bodies of grown men, trashing her reputation and talking as though she were an "item."

And the very next day, radio station presenters cracking jokes about the whole thing like it was part of a cartoon and not an actual life lost.

How does one say no in an environment that translates it as playing hard to get? The number of women who die frequently in horrific ways is rising.

The 1976 film, The Network, which was basically about a TV anchor who was well into his prime and being threatened with losing his job, decided to say and do outlandish things on air to boost his ratings and it worked.

The movie somehow predicted the future, which is what we are living now. Where seeing a dead body on social media circulates fast and freely, it has become entertainment. We live in a sick country that has become inhumane and cold. We have lost our very sense of empathy. And now we are animals.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is the executive director of Nairobi-based Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW

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