Why is the Harassment of Women So Universal and Widespread?


In the past month I have travelled a lot – from India to South Africa, Colombia to Mexico. I found one thing in common: patriarchy is practiced in everyday life. At home, in schools, on streets, at work places. Sexual harassment in politics in South Africa has been in the news lately; stories from other countries may not be so public. At educational institutions in Mexico, harassment of girls has been increasing.  Gender-based violence continues in all walks of life, for all classes, religions, races and communities. The age of a girl/woman does not matter; she is sexually harassed and violated in all societies. It also does not matter what profession, occupation and position she occupies.

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Lest it appear that I am unduly pessimistic, let me admit I do see visible and audible changes taking place in these societies. Women are speaking out against such discrimination, violence, and harassment in Colombia, South Africa, Mexico…and India too. Men are also speaking out against such attitudes and practices, joining hands not just in solidarity, but also in reform.

Men are recognising the need to change, and are trying everywhere, in South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, and India. Institutional sexism and discrimination is also being challenged, and slowly but surely some reform is taking place. Investors, consumers and employees – all are beginning to take a stand. That is why the CEO of UBER in America was let go of, and the founder CEO of TVF in India has been forced to resign, for their sexist and harassing actions, and continued denial of the same.

But, I also saw a difference, marked difference, in how women use public spaces in these countries. In Bogota and Cartagena, two large cities of Colombia, women walk alone on the streets after dark; small groups of young women go out to eat on the weekend, without men.


In Veracruz and Xalapa (small towns of Mexico), young college girls travel alone in public transport and taxis after sunset. Toll plazas on highways at night are staffed by women.


In Durban and Cape Town, large cities of South Africa, working women and young women tourists are comfortable in public places and public transport. They do not feel a piercing male gaze on their bodies.


In India, why is this not possible today? Why can’t women not go out to study, work, entertain, shop after sunset? Why should safety training be given to girls, if they want to be safe?


Why should our boys not be taught to behave appropriately? Why should men not stop staring, touching, harassing girls and women in public spaces? Why should parents be worried when their daughters go out to study, work or travel? Why?

Perhaps working with young boys and girls at school is the answer, or perhaps stricter enforcement of laws? Or ultimately, will collective voices and behaviour change of all citizens (girls, boys, men, women) make the difference?

Dr. Rajesh Tandon
June 28, 2017

Rajesh TandonDr. Rajesh Tandon is one of the Founder Directors of MFF (Martha Farrell Foundation), the Founder President of PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia), and Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair on Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, living in Delhi, India. He completed his graduation from IIT, Kanpur and post-graduation from IIM, Kolkata, and received his PhD from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, United States. He is an internationally acclaimed leader and practitioner of participatory research and development. Dr. Tandon specialises in social and organisational change and has contributed to the enhancement of perspectives and capacities of many voluntary activists and organizations. He has served on numerous government task forces and committees, and is the founder of the Board of Directors of World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS). He has written a number of articles, books and manuals on Participatory Research and related topics.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s personal opinions. The facts and opinions stated in the blog do not reflect or represent the views of the Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF) or PRIAMFF/PRIA do not endorse or assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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