Wikipedia defines Street harassment also called Cat Calling as:
“A form of harassment primarily sexual harassment that consists of unwanted sexualized comments, provocative gestures, honking, wolf-whistling, indecent exposures, stalking, persistent sexual advances, and touching by strangers, in public areas such as streets, shopping malls and public transportation”
CAT CALLING – A TALE NEED TO BE HEARD
THE EXPERIENCE is a Gospel Music Concert hosted every December by the House on the Rock denomination Lagos, Nigeria and streamed across different platforms. I attended the 2018 edition of the all night concert in Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria. After the concert I decided that I need to take a tricycle (popularly referred to as Keke Napep) home as my house was just some few kilometers away. Moreover, in the process of strolling down the road to get to a spot where a tricycle can stop comfortably so as not to break any traffic rule.
A rickety tricycle was coming down the road too and one passenger wolf whistled at me. When I did not respond, before I could realize it, I felt a thunderous slap on my buttocks from that passenger. In a split of seconds, all I could hear was laughter and the tricycle sped past. I felt so embarrassed and I felt like crying too as I could feel the pain from the slap. This is just one out of my many experiences with street harassment fondly called Cat Calling.
In fact, Worldwide statistics show that 80% of women endure at least frequent street harassment. 45% feel that they cannot go alone to public spaces. 50% have to cross the street to find alternate routes to their destinations, 26% claim that they are in a relationship in order to avoid harassment. 80% feel the need to be constantly alert when traversing local streets and 9% have had to switch careers to escape the area in which harassment occurred.
EFFECTS OF CAT CALLING ON MENTAL HEALTH
In addition, this type of harassment can easily instill fear and even leave long-lasting psychological effects, experts say. As well as, poor mental health has been found to be linked to street harassment. This is caused by paranoia that certain spaces are not safe. Also, this Harassment may also teach women to be ashamed of their bodies. Also, to associate their bodies with fear and humiliation through reflections of self-blame.
‘STOP TOUCHING US’ – WOMEN PROTEST AGAINST HARASSMENT AT NIGERIA’S STREET MARKETS
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there is barely any statistics to show the extent to which cat calling is prevalent. But almost every woman has experienced cat calling especially when they have to shop at local markets across Nigeria. In 2019, the Guardian newspaper reported a March at the Yaba Market, Lagos by women who were protesting cat calling. Although it was a small group, they were met with resistance from angry male traders who hurled sachet water at them saying “They must touch”. Also, blamed the women for dressing inappropriately. Moreover, going further to state that they should stay at home if they do not want to be touched.
WHY DO MEN CONTINUE TO DEFEND CAT CALLING?
The most common defense that men have against this issue is that, cat calling is a way of complimenting a woman’s looks. Another defense is that the women asked for it by simply looking good for the men. A woman agreed to share her perspective with us on this argument.
On the whole, studies have found that many men street harass simply because it is fun for them. It is a way to release their stress. In some cases, men may enjoy the thrill of doing something illegal or taboo. Likewise, some may experience sexual gratification from groping, flirting, or sexual humiliation. An NPR article states that:
“Most men have high aspirations for themselves and aren’t able to meet them, so they harass women to put them in their place”NPR Article
In the context of gender, harassment often ends up being a way for men to exert control over women and their bodies.
CAT CALLING – INADEQUECY OF LEGISLATION IN NIGERIA
In some countries like France, Netherlands, Peru and Philippines, laws have been enacted against cat calling. In Nigeria, there is no law against cat calling. This issue is barely up for conversation as cat calling is termed normal and women are still expected to simply ignore the shouting and whistling.
THE WAY FORWARD
We need to use all platforms to communicate the ills of cat calling especially making it clear that it is not supposed to be normal while also pushing for legislations to oust the prevalence of cat calling.
RESPONDING TO CAT CALLING
In the meantime, to all women facing the pandemic of cat calling. Here are a few tips from the Stop Street Harassment group.
- If you feel safe enough to do so, assertively respond to the harassers. Calmly, firmly and without insults or personal attacks to let them know that their actions are unwelcome, unacceptable and wrong.
- Intervene when someone else is being harassed to help them out of the situation. Also, let the harasser know that their actions are not condoned by others. Ask them if they want help. And what they’d like you to do or simply check in to see if they’re OK.
- Men engaging in this tactic can be particularly powerful, since men (the majority of street harassers) look to other men for approval.
- Report to employer if the harassers work for an identifiable company. Call or write the company to let them know that their employees are harassing people on the job. And writing why that is unacceptable.
Women have the right to be treated with as much respect and dignity when walking down the street as any man. Women deserve to feel safe.
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