Street harassment is a tremendous problem for women in Afghanistan, perhaps especially in Kabul where women are now commuting to school and work every day. But most of the time Afghan women do nothing to try and change it. Women are silent on this issue for many reasons.
Women in Afghanistan never think of themselves. Their honor is not their own. They think about their families and the honor our male-dominated society thinks about. Honor is for the goodness and protection of men and their family, more than for the women’s own protection. So women keep quiet to secure the family value and honor even when it means staying jailed at home.
If women are harassed in the street and raise their voices about it, then they are not considered good women and they put their family’s honor and values in danger. Women who respond to catcalls and verbal abuse are considered “bad women.” Most people support these beliefs. The bad woman is an object to be harassed. The other reason for staying silent about harassment is that women who raise their voices are not heard. No one takes them seriously.
In March, a woman artist in Kabul made street harassment a major public issue when she walked down the street wearing metal body armor. Kubra Khademi helped to raise the voice of every single woman who has kept quiet.
Women’s actions are never taken seriously in Afghanistan, but the radical Kubra Khademi walking down the street in her metal suit encouraged discussion of street harassment all across Kabul. From street workers to people in government and from shopkeepers to teachers, everyone was talking about her and asking why she did it. She told reporters that ever since she was a little girl she had to put up with men touching and harassing her in the street and when she grew up it only became worse.
People in social media took Khademi seriously. She was on Facebook, which increased awareness at least among people on social media. The government made no response to her demonstration; there were no press conferences about the protest although she was all over the news.
Her action was radical for Afghanistan and I am thankful to Khademi for her bravery. Her voice is significant. Street harassment is a big deal to every individual woman who is harassed and keeps quiet about it.
Women who get harassed on the street and never talk about it lose their self-confidence and give up without fighting back. Women in my country should never give up, even if they are objectified, called names, or abused.
Sexual harassment can exist anywhere in the world where there are inequalities, but it is at a high level in Afghanistan. For women it causes psychological problems and social problems that prevent women from having a public presence. It stops their progress socially. It raises psychological problems for men too. Perhaps the worst one is that women begin to assume that all men are bad. This harms our society and affects our children.
Street harassment is a big challenge all around Afghanistan. Women in Kabul, after years of war and Taliban rule, are increasingly out in public life now, facing the challenges of street harassment and sexual harassment, catcalls, verbal abuse. If they talk back, they are stigmatized as bad women, yet if they stay silent, it will just continue.
Photo of Kubra Khademi from Twitter.