The belief that girls and women embody family honour is quite universal even today. Here’s how the belief is being challenged, in homes, in public spaces and in the online world.
Gendered roles are learnt young. In course of her conversation with two teenagers, Community Correspondent Soriya Banu uncovers the deeply held belief that girls should not be allowed to go out of their homes while it is perfectly okay for boys to do so.
While her brother can go for tuition after school and then hang out with his friends at the local market, often after dark, this young girl is afforded no such privileges. “I’m a girl so I don’t have the freedom to go outside,” she says.
Mobility and honour are deeply linked in this scheme of thinking. When a group of girls gathered in Jharna Colony, Jharkhand, to talk about this, they explained why they faced such restrictions.“Honour means to not go out anywhere. If anyone harasses you, we’ll lose our reputation,” says Rekha. The girls wonder why the burden of maintaining a family’s honour rests on its women.
The fight for mobility to begin with and then to create safe spaces for women has been the underlying theme of both, online and offline movements. The SlutWalk, #WhyLoiter, #MeetToSleep, #pinjratod and the massive protests at the Benaras Hindu University in September 2017, where college-going girls stood face to face with armed police personnel, all ask a vital question: Why should women stay locked away to protect themselves?
Breakthrough’s research shows that schoolgirls are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse in public places. Margaret, Community Correspondent from Trichy, says that young girls are worst off because they dare not speak for fear of stigma and shame. But as women get older, including rural women, they speak up against harassment on public transport. When we describe movements like #MeetToSleep to her, she agrees that these are important but adds, “Where is the impact? As an activist, I always speak up when I am harassed and take the perpetrators to task. But the government needs to step in.” She also adds that young boys are equally vulnerable, but it’s not something often spoken about.
Community Correspondent Christy Raj lives in Bangalore. As a trans* person, he has faced a lot of harassment. “I was travelling late at night on a bus and these boys tried to take off my clothes when I said I was a boy. I went to the police to complain but even they asked me are you a boy or a girl?” He has been part of Blank Noise’s protests in the city but feels that issues of trans* persons always take a backseat and gendered violence seemed to normatively always be about women. He illustrates with the example of lack of public toilets. “Many girls are uncomfortable when trans* women use their toilets. I asked some of these girls and they said they feel shy. As a trans* man it’s not possible for me to use the urinals. And separate toilets are not the solution because then people will become easily identified as trans* persons and many people don’t want that because of the stigma they face”.
Zulekha, our Correspondent from Mumbai, reiterated that ladies special buses and trains made life easier for women. However, these would often attract disparaging remarks from disgruntled male passengers. She also says that men are generally helpful to women, in her experience, if they board the general compartment and believes there’s always the support of bystanders if a woman protests against street sexual harassment. Yet Mumbai saw a rise of crimes against women by 59% in 2013-14. Zulekha has not heard about #MeetToSleep or #WhyLoiter, even though she is very active on Facebook.
At a fair in Ulhara Village, Jharkhand, young Jyoti Soren has gotten permission to go out with her friends. She cautions that she and her parents often fear that she might be groped or molested by one of the many ‘rascal boys’. When asked if she protests if such a thing happens, she replies, “I do. But who is listening? Everyone finds fault with the girl.”
Meanwhile, in Jharna Colony, Nisha asks a pointed question, “Everyone from our fathers to brothers says that girls embody the family’s honour… Are girls the only ones with honour? Don’t boys have any honour?”
Video by Community Correspondents Soriya Banu, Shikha Pahadin and Basanti Soren
Article by Kayonaaz Kalyanwala and Madhura Chakraborty, members of the VV editorial team