For many women and girls, street harassment is an unfortunate fact of life. Far too many men feel entitled to make sexual comments, follow women and girls and even grab or touch them inappropriately. This happens across the United States, every single day, to women and girls of all ages.
And yet when a new study on street harassment by U.N. Women and Promundo was released recently, it received worldwide attention. The study surveyed 4,830 men in four countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a high percentage of men surveyed admitted to harassing women in public (between 31 percent and 64 percent), with 90 percent stating that they did so simply because it was fun. Women reported far higher levels of street harassment in these countries than men admitted to in the surveys. Men with more education and more progressive views about women in society were less likely to engage in street harassment
One of the most troubling aspects of the survey is the reasons the men gave for harassing women. This included provocative dress, women being out at night, and simply because they were bored and were looking for something to do. Just as in the U.S., a high percentage (71% in Morocco) claimed that women liked the attention of being sexually harassed on the street — yet few women agreed. The headline that Slate ran about this survey has drawn a fair amount of mockery, given its fairly ridiculous wording. Why are we asking the perpetrator if the victim liked the abuse?
Importantly, street harassment is not a problem isolated to the Middle East or Africa. The United States has a significant problem with street harassment itself. A 2014 survey found that 65 percent of American women had suffered public sexual harassment. We have written about this topic before, and how common this form of harassment is in the U.S.
While this study has value, the true cause of street harassment — both in the U.S. and across the world — is the failure to view women as equals. The root causes of gender-based violence, including the objectification and degradation of women in our media, rape culture, harmful gender norms and inequality, all contribute to street harassment. Many men feel entitled to make these comments to women, because they’re bored, to put women in their place, or for any other reason. Getting at these root causes is the key to ending street harassment and all other forms of gender-based violence.
If you would like to join us in our mission to end gender-based violence, you can start by volunteering, donating, or getting involved with one of groups, such as FAME or FAB. While these problems are complex — and impact people throughout the world — we can make a difference right here in Westmoreland County by coming together.