Hi, my name is María. I’m 15 years-old and live in Lima, Peru.
Today I want to tell you about the group harassment that is affecting girls in my community and school: we feel intimidated and have no possibility of defending ourselves.
Group harassment takes place every day and it’s tragic that we have to be on the alert at all times, particularly outside of school. I have heard many of my friends talk of feeling uncomfortable about being pursued by men who will not take NO for an answer.
Schools are not safe from harassment
Plan International’s latest research shows that group harassment is a reality for girls in 5 major cities - Madrid, Delhi, Kampala, Sydney and Lima. And that it’s worryingly likely to happen around school buildings when girls arrive or leave class.
If school is supposed to be a place where we can learn and feel comfortable, why do we have to rush to get there? Why do we always have to walk there in groups? Why do we always have to walk with a boy to feel safe? It’s only when you’re walking with a man at your side that these aggressors think they shouldn’t mess with you because you’re ‘owned’ by someone else.
Many of us are also afraid to use public transport. We can’t get on a crowded bus: getting on a bus involves a significant risk with people rubbing themselves up against you, groping you, and you can never be sure who’s done it.
Men view harassment as a game
The fact that men view harassment as a game means they place no importance on how we feel. And no-one takes it seriously, the authorities do nothing about it. It’s frustrating not to know who to turn to, to have no-one, because everyone refuses to help you.
This is a constant problem for teenagers. The fact that we have a school bag with us doesn’t gain us any respect, quite the opposite! They see schoolgirls as even more helpless and attack us even more. Why aren’t children’s voices heard in an adult world?
Group harassment in the street is even more complicated. If you are walking along and you hear a whistle, you don’t know who to challenge. Group members cover up for each other and you’re not sure where the attack is coming from.
Girls and women are regularly degraded
Sometimes, harassers think they can “choose” one of you: you become their property which means that they have decided that you cannot be approached by anyone else. But it is not up to them. This situation is degrading to women. We aren’t able to decide for ourselves: they have “decided” who we are to be with.
A woman is not a chattel, she is not a sexual object.
Harassment is a reality that affects us all and, the sad thing is, no-one takes any notice of what’s going on until something worse happens. So far this year, in my country, 31 women have been murdered and it is still not understood that it all starts with a “compliment”, flattering a woman for being “pretty.”
It needs to stop now because, if we continue to accept harassment as “normal”, even more dangerous things will continue to happen to girls, and I’m talking about more aggression, more ill-treatment, more murders.
Suggestions for a solution to harassment
It is essential that teenage girls are, first of all, able to talk to their family because they are the people who should be most concerned for their well-being, and then they should also be able to talk to their friends, their school and their wider community, up through all the levels.
It is also important to talk to boys and men, from an early age, so that they know there is no reason for violence against women, not now, not when they are older, not ever: a woman is not a chattel, she is not a sexual object.
The girls who experience harassment on a daily basis are best placed to find a solution, better than the grown-ups, better than the city mayor, who doesn’t understand the problem. The girls around the world who were consulted for Plan International’s Unsafe in the Streets research confirm this. We must be allowed to have our say.
Although, to begin with, we didn’t have many spaces in which to get our voices heard, this is changing. We need and have a right to feel safe in the city.
Young women have huge potential and, together, we can combat street harassment!