Educating your sons will protect your daughters

What we can do to change the way women live in constant fear for their physical safety

The #MeToo movement started in 2006 with activist and sexual harassment survivor Tarana Burke speaking out on the social media platform, MySpace. Since then, it has become a huge social movement against sexual harassment and sexual abuse, with people publicly speaking out about similar experiences.

Then in 2017, #MeToo became a viral hashtag when celebrities started sharing experiences about the sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. It encouraged people all over the world to speak out against sexism, harassment, and discrimination.

The kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard in London on 3 March, has led to a global movement regarding the safety of women in public. Sarah was walking home at 9PM, in a well-lit neighborhood wearing bright clothing and sneakers while speaking to her boyfriend on the phone, taking every safety precaution a woman could take. However, she did not make it home.

On 12 March, her remains were found and a police officer, Wayne Couzens was arrested and charged with kidnapping and murder. Women across the UK and the world are enraged by the incident caused by a law enforcement officer who is supposed to protect. How can women feel safe if police are committing such acts?

Incidents of this nature have given rise to a social movement because of the rage and frustration. How can the government and law enforcement keep women safe from the violence committed by men?

The brutal rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Pant is an example of how higher up officials can influence justice from being served as the perpetrators continue to walk freely. The recent rape and murder of 17-year-old Bhagirathi Bhatta is another example of how women continue to get the short end of the stick and pay for the inhumane acts committed by men.

How is it possible for women to feel safe and protected when men continue getting away after committing such acts? How can the country keep its daughters safe?

Many women experience daily sexual harassment in public and it is the women who feel more embarrassed than the perpetrators who do not seem to feel any shame and remorse regarding their behavior. And it is the women who are ashamed to come forward and speak up because of the stigma attached. It is the men who commit the shameful act, and it is the women who pay for it, as we have also seen in Bhatta’s case.

In many societies, victim-blaming is the immediate reaction. Speaking up about sexual harassment is important, so we can fight against all forms of violence against everyone.

Despite having laws against gender-based violence in Nepal, very few cases are reported in the excuse of protecting the family’s name and honour.

The victims and survivors often end up dealing with a lifetime of stigma if they choose to report such crimes. There is no guarantee of safety and protection once someone speaks up, which is one of the main reasons women silently suffer.

Women who have experienced sexual abuse and harassment experience lifelong depression and anxiety. Experience of harassment at work for women, is often stalked by male bosses threatening the security of their jobs.

Most women are not even aware of their own rights, which puts them at a disadvantage and education is the first step to address such issues.

Keshav Sthapit, former mayor of Kathmandu, was accused of sexually harassing a female reporter from My Republica daily, and another female employee at Kathmandu municipality. Although he eventually stepped down for other reasons, he was able to dismiss the allegations at that time.

Many women grow up internalising sexist behavior as a part of their lives and continue to silently suffer and tolerate all forms of harassment because they are vulnerable. Also, the potential threat to their family is another concern that keeps them from speaking up. How can we encourage women to speak up if their perpetrators always go unpunished?

Men, women and people of all genders need to be trained and educated about what is sexual harassment and how they can be helped if they experience it. Every day thousands, if not more, of people, are victims of sexual harassment. Girls and women are at the highest risk of sexual assault, but it does not mean that boys and men cannot be victims either.

Sexual violence can have long-term effects on people, and it is likely that they might have suicidal and depressive thoughts after the incident. Victims and survivors of sexual violence are likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, contemplate or attempt suicide or abuse substances.

Victims and survivors of sexual violence experience problems in school or work and it can negatively affect their relationships with their family and friends.

To end all sexual violence, the first step is to educate sons so that every family can have a serious conversation with them to tell them how to treat other genders. It should begin at home.

There needs to be stricter punishments for perpetrators so women can feel safer in their neighborhoods and in public. Girls and women practice safety more than men do, but we need to create an environment where they can feel safe and stop living in fear of the worst.

If you have never had a conversation with the men in your life, talk to them. It is important to have this conversation so we can put an end to gender-based violence.

Educate your sons, so your daughters can feel safe.

Read also: ‘Boys will be boys’ is never an excuse, Anjana Rajbhandary

Anjana Rajbhandary