Category Archives: violence against women

GIRLS GLOBE | Meet the Girls Ending FGM

Originally posted on Girls’ Globe:

Girls are perfect, just as they are.

Yet over 125 million girls and women bear scars that suggest the contrary. Every minute five girls are held down and subjected to excruciating pain. Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is the harmful practice of partially or totally removing a girl’s genitals. Girls who are cut face emotional trauma and long lasting health complications. It is a strange paradox that many celebrate ‘cutting season’ with big parties and lavish gifts. FGM is the norm for a large majority of the developing world.

Thanks to a new wave of media attention and two daring young women, I now understand more about FGM. This understanding began with Leyla Hussein’s BAFTA nominated film The Cruel Cut. From impassioned women’s rights activist and mother Leyla, I learned that FGM is happening right on my doorstep.

Read the rest of the story here…

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The Upholstery Man Who Watched Porn

Regrettably, what I had hoped would be a dreamy account of my return to India will have to wait for now. The magic of Delhi has admittedly worn off on me over the past couple of days, and yet I remain head over heels in love with this country and culture…  so stay tuned for the highlights, which I’ve no doubt will soon follow today’s tale.

In November of last year, I wrote about a rather unpleasant encounter with an auto-rickshaw driver in South Delhi. After that incident, I was fortunate enough not to experience anything quite as unnerving. Until last weekend, that was.

Which brings me to 11am on Saturday morning, when two men arrived on my doorstep ready to change the fabric on my bed. I’d organised this job a week in advance, selected the cloth, and struck a good deal with the shop owner (in a seemingly reputable shop in Green Park). The transaction was pleasant and the upholsterers arrived on time (a rarity in Delhi!) I even phoned a friend to say ‘this is the best customer service I’ve had in weeks’. I spoke too soon. After measuring my bed and agreeing on a lower price, the first man left, leaving the second to get to work. I offered him water and turned on the AC. After a couple of hours, my flatmate left to meet some friends and I stayed in alone, working in his bedroom while the upholsterer worked in mine. The job took him almost 5 hours – an incredibly long time now that I think about it. Every now and again I popped my head around the door to see how my bed was shaping up, and the upholsterer began muttering to himself. I did think it strange, but couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was sweating, even though the room was icy cool. And, he was scratching his private parts… but let’s be honest, don’t most of us from time to time? When he had finished, I helped the upholsterer carry my mattress from the balcony onto my bed. He was looking at me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable so I asked him to stop, and to leave. He didn’t. This man was really sweating by now. I walked through to the living room to call my flatmate and request he speak to the man in Hindi. I would pay the balance at the shop later. From the corner of my eye, I could see the upholsterer standing there. He was touching his penis. My flatmate couldn’t hear me clearly so I cut the call and dialled my boyfriend. By this point, I could hear loud sexual noises coming from my bedroom – the voice of a woman’s, not a man’s. Within seconds, I realised that the upholsterer was watching porn on his mobile phone and pleasuring himself, in my bedroom. I could hardly believe what was happening and swore at the man until he stopped. Sat on my bed, he received further abuse from the other end of my phone, to which he solemnly answered “yes sir”, “yes sir”.  The upholsterer then picked up his bag and left.What followed was equally unpleasant. Five minutes later, two men came pounding on my front door, incessantly ringing my doorbell and mobile phone. I locked all of the doors and windows and after a couple of angry phone calls they then left too.My flatmate was home within 20 minutes, and my friend (and ex Centre for Social Research colleague) drove straight over to the upholstery shop. It turns out the upholsterers are on “external contracts” – i.e. the shop keeper accepted no responsibility for what had happened.  His workmen filled us in. The culprit in my story holds a criminal record, with pending charges against him for sexual assault. He was fired three days ago from another job following a similar incident. We, too, are going to press charges. This man must be held accountable, and this kind of behaviour needs to stop.

More and more I wonder where sexual harassment and violence against women stems from. What happened on Saturday got me thinking about pornography and the effects it can have on those watching it. It’s something I’ve never given much attention to. I now realise that I may have grossly overlooked the muted, yet sinister role porn plays within society. For the uneducated, pornography inevitably substitutes sex education. That much is evident from the events that unfolded in my bedroom on Saturday afternoon. Findings on the effect of porn on crime and domestic violence are said to be inconclusive. That’s because it is extremely difficult to measure the influence of porn on sexual behaviour. In 2010, one study showed that boys who watch porn grow into men who think sexual harassment is acceptable:

“Porn is a very poor sex educator because it shows sex in unrealistic ways and fails to address intimacy, love, connection or romance. Often it is quite callous and hostile in its depictions of women.”

Another similar study in the U.S. failed to find one single 20-year-old male participant who had not been exposed to pornographic material. Not very surprising that porn may be a causal factor in crimes against women, then.

Pornography is founded on fantasy. In the absence of understanding that porn is in fact fictional, it may be very difficult for a person to separate their fantasies from reality. For many, porn is exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s private and harmless. And then there are those that wish to indulge in those same scenarios in the real world. Out of those people, there are some who believe sex can be initiated at any given moment, leaving no room for respect or consent. But, a pornographic plot line itself is not real. For years, that’s why I had never spent any time thinking about it. I believed it to be a preferable outlet for sexual urgency and desire to oppression-cum-aggression. And yet, for the first time, I’ve now come face-to-face with the false messages pornography conveys. Last weekend I felt like an unsuspecting character in one man’s personal fantasy. A fantasy undeniably influenced by Western porn.

Every second, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography and over $3000 is being spent on the porn industry. Pornography is something I’d like to learn more about. On discovering that a man’s imagination can run havoc on his morals and actions, I feel it’s something that parents, teachers and policy makers should also pay more attention to.

Sexual harassment is not an Indian-specific problem. It is not necessarily linked to bedrooms and upholstery. Neither is it always induced by porn. Men and women can both fall victim to sexual harassment. It can happen anywhere, at any time. Here I now find myself, advising friends to ensure they are not home alone when opening the door to a stranger for any reason. And yet, how ridiculous is that. Is it not safe to answer the door in our own homes?  Where should we draw the line?

Sex should be consensual. All sexual acts should be consensual. If anything similar happens to you or a friend, take the man to the police; file a First Information Report (FIR) against him if you’re in India, or equivalent in another country. Please.

Delhi: The City Where Angels Fear To Tread

Photo Credit: K.Brown. All Rights Reserved.  

Tonight at 10pm, after meeting for a coffee and catch up, my friend and I left ‘The Living Room’ in Hauz Khas Village in two separate auto-rickshaws to go home. On the drive to Vasant Kunj my driver struck up a regular conversation with me. “Where are you from ma’am?” “Do you like Delhi?” “Winter is nice, yes?” Before I knew it, what he was saying very quickly turned from bog standard references to the weather to sexually explicit and unnerving questions. Luckily, I understand enough ‘bad’ Hindi words to make out how inapropriate the conversation was. I also know the city well enough to gauge just how much time I had before we would hit a long stretch of road with no people about, lots of bushes and very little lighting. Needless to say, when the man began to slow down to a halt I could feel my heart in my chest.

So there I was, sitting in an auto rickshaw, with a man who I have no doubt had every intention of attempting to assault me, by the side of one of the most dangerous roads I can think of in South Delhi, in the pitch dark, with a blanket covering the side of the vehicle (usually a shield from the wind/rain), hiding me from the view of any person who happened to drive by. After protesting he’d run out of out petrol, and then a very loud phone call describing my exact location to a friend who lives nearby, the auto started moving again. By this point, I was desperate to get out and so got him to pull over a little further along the road when we reached lights and parked cars. The driver sped off. Guess he decided waiting for his 80 Rupees wasn’t worth facing the wrath of the man on the other end of my mobile phone. He also knew what he said, and what he tried to do to me was wrong.

I work for an organisation that aims to raise awareness of, and ultimately eradicate, the widespread problem of rape and sexual assault in India, so I am very conscious of just how dangerous the scenario I have described can be. I’m fortunate enough to have friends on the other end of the phone who will drop whatever they’re doing to come and pick me up off the side of the road at any hour of the day. It was a good thing I had credit on my phone and battery too, for that matter. There are numerous cases of women who don’t know, nor have any of these things, and so experience something much, much worse. By the time I was standing out in the open by the side of the road, I was shaking like a leaf. And, the moment I shut the door behind me in my apartment, I broke down into tears. I really am so lucky. Not just tonight, but in the grand scheme of things too.

What upsets me the most has nothing to do with my own experience this evening. Not that I unwittingly got into the back of an auto rickshaw with a criminal, nor that I was terrified when it suddenly hit home just how vulnerable I am here, a 22 year old woman alone in Delhi.

  • I am upset and enraged by the fact that, rather than being a one-off incident, similar stories to the one I have just told take place every single day in Delhi, over and over again. Often with a much more sinister ending. 
  • I am sickened at the thought that the man who drove me to Vasant Kunj tonight is somewhere out there in this city, continuing with his job after a very narrow escape from a serious (and much deserved) ass-kicking.
  • I’m furious that I don’t even trust the police here enough to have called on them for help.
  • I’m mad at the men who simply sat and stared from inside their cars or the side of the street as I stepped out the auto in distress. I’m disgusted that sexual harassment is not a serious issue in everybody’s eyes.
  • I’m frustrated by what I feel I have to write next….

Please please please tell your sisters, girlfriends, girl mates, mothers, daughters – tell all women – not to take an auto-rickshaw alone in this city. Especially after dark, and above all not on a journey through isolated or poorly lit areas. 

I shouldn’t have to say that, because it simply shouldn’t be like this. And I’ve never been one to point the finger, so I won’t. Just keep talking about sexual harassment and rape. Keep discussing it and making a huge big fat noise about how WRONG it is. It happens every day, all over the world, and is not just an Indian phenomenon. However, there are indeed certain factors that perpetuate violence and harassment against women in this country more so than in others. If everyone were to stand up against sexual harassment and assault then the streets and roads of Delhi would be safer for everybody. The fact that treating women this way is not a social taboo is unbelievable. I wish crime against women was socially unacceptable – unaccepted by everyone and not just some. Harassing a young woman anywhere in Delhi is illegal. It’s frightening. And, it’s downright degrading.

Please SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT against the men like my auto driver tonight, who take advantage of women against their will. I can’t stress that enough.