FREE FROM SEXUAL HARASSMENT
How do we change the perception of sexual harassment from inconvenient yet acceptable to an important issue?
By Edie Bannerman
Growing up as a girl, we’re all told by our parents to be vigilant; to never walk alone at night, keep your phone on you at all times, don’t have both headphones in. We don’t want to tell our daughters that somehow they must be responsible for not getting assaulted. But our mothers still reiterate the same thing over and over, because they too have spent their lives clutching their keys in their hands ‘just in case’. No matter how careful we are, we can’t stop the catcalls, the staring or even ‘accidental grab’ on a peak hour train. It seems perhaps impossible to escape the leering, whether you’re on a night out or just coming home from school. There is no woman untouched by this. There are no women who haven’t had to feel the trauma and weight of these experiences.
But where is the outrage? The voices and stories of these women are cloaked in silence because street harassment and even assault are things that we have been taught to view as ‘inconvenient yet acceptable.’ And in doing this, as a society we send the message that girls are fundamentally of less value then boys, and that they don’t have the same rights to public space.
I disagree. That’s why I’m working with Plan International to launch Free To Be Sydney, an online mapping tool that allows women to drop pins around our city where they feel safe or unsafe. They can tell their story and be heard for the first time. This is an important step towards ending the injustice that women have been socialised to accept. We are allowed to demand more, it is not inconvenient of us to want the same rights.
Sexual harassment is not okay. Being cat-called is not okay. Being followed home is not okay. Being indecently assaulted is not okay. It seems crazy that we should even have to tell our friends these things, but up until now they have been told the opposite. They have been told to ‘take it as a compliment.’
These feelings of shame, embarrassment, even humiliation associated with harassment are isolating. It feels like no body cares and no body can help you. But go onto the website and see for yourself how many other women have had to go through the same thing. You are not alone in this. We all have a story to tell and all of those stories are valid. When you drop a pin you are demanding more for yourself, but also empowering others to do the same.
So how does sharing your story go towards making a change in our city? After the data is collected, Monash University’s XYX Lab analyses all the information that we collect. They look at what kind of factors make women feel safe or unsafe, whether it’s lighting, particular kinds of businesses, the amount of traffic etc. When we know what it is that makes an area inaccessible for women – then we can talk to government and policy makers about how we can change it. Free To Be isn’t just about making a report, but making change you can see and feel in this city.
When I have a daughter, I want to tell her to stand tall and proud of who she is. I want her to live in a community that supports her rights to exist without fear. That’s why I’m fighting back.
Edie Bannerman is a 19 year old Plan International youth mentor from Sydney. You can join her fight to free all women from street harassment by visiting the Free To Be website here.
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