I Don’t Feel Safe in This World as a Woman, and That’s Not OK

Image Source: Suzanne Jannese
Image Source: Suzanne Jannese

It’s sad to think that in 2016, women are still fighting for the right to live in a safe and welcoming world where they can walk down the street without fear of being harassed or assaulted. But a campaign that launched just a few days ago proves this is still a major issue facing women.

On November 25, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign kicked off, which aims to raise public awareness and mobilize people on a global level to bring about change and end violence against women and girls. In partnership with these efforts, the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign invites you to “Orange the World” using the color to symbolize a brighter future for women — one without violence.

I am all for this movement, as I myself have been a victim of harassment too many times to count. My well-endowed chest has honestly been the bane of my existence due to all of the abuse I’ve endured because of it. I’ve had sexual slurs spewed at me as I’m minding my own business walking down the street. Once in a pub, a man saw me carrying drinks and, pointing to my chest, offered instead to help with “drowning those two puppies in your top.”

I’ve had countless men press up against me with erections on the tube, colleagues at work comment on my chest daily, and a man masturbate on the bus next to me. Is this what all women should have to endure just because we’re female?

There wasn’t a single day in my entire three years as a student in London where I didn’t think about my safety: the areas I chose to live in, the eye contact I never made on the tube or street, the parties I missed for fear of having to travel home alone. It became a way of life that carried on after college when I became a TV reporter.

My job required me to attend all kinds of evening events and when it came time to make my way home, I always panicked: it’s dark, it’s late, I’m alone — and my miserable TV company won’t pay for me to get a cab. There was a point where I honestly thought about handing in my notice as the stress of walking home from the tube alone began to affect my mental health and job performance.

And unfortunately, these fears remain a steady presence not just for me, but for millions of women around the world.

In a new global survey from ActionAid, 2,200 women were polled about their experience with harassment in the last month, and the results are sobering. Fifty-seven percent of British women admitted they have experienced some form of harassment, and just under one in six (16 percent) have been groped in the past month alone.

Moreover, 70 percent of all British women and 88 percent of those aged 18 to 24 have taken steps in their everyday lives to safeguard themselves against harassment. For young women, it appears that taking care of our safety, especially at night, is something we automatically do.

In fact, only last week — in broad daylight — I panicked as I was running along the pretty canal that runs through my town. I reached a deadly silent area, dark and overgrown with trees, backing on to empty fields. My heart began to race as I heard footsteps behind me; I turned, bracing myself, only to see another female jogger looking to pass me. But my first instinct? Someone’s going to attack me, and I need to figure out my next move.

Why is this still happening today? Why are women still forced to take extra precautions every day, just to feel safe? We’ve all seen the products marketed toward women to safeguard us against these attacks — most recently the Go Guarded self-defense ring, a dagger-like weapon mounted on a plastic ring. In my late teens, I remember clutching scissors in my hand while walking home from my friend’s house, and I walked around with mace in college. These self-defense weapons are becoming something of a necessity — still, in 2016.

Sure, the U.K. government believes they’re doing their part with ads scattered around the city warning women not to get into unlicensed mini cabs, or not to walk along unlit paths at night, or to choose running routes carefully. But you know what I think: Why not instead invest this government funding into educating men about consent and funding more sexual awareness classes in schools and universities? It’s time men took responsibility for how they behave, rather than leaving the responsibility solely on us women.

Something has to change. I know two women who were raped by a stranger, many more who were dated-raped, and every single one of my female friends has been touched, groped, or harassed by a man at least once. How can we ever be equal when we have to spend so much of our lives trying to protect ourselves?

This is why this new 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign is so important. We need to stop accepting that it’s normal to live in a world where women are plagued with fear on a daily basis. Violence like this is a human rights violation, and it’s time we continue to fight for equal rights for women. Because as far as we have come, there’s still so much more for us to do to make the world a safe and equal place for our girls.

After all, sexual violence doesn’t only affect our lives in the moment itself, but it can cause long-term damage. It affects us every day — in where we work, how we travel, the social situations we put ourselves in, the worry we have for our own daughters. It’s a constant stress that must change.

Now let’s say we all do our part to end violence against women by donning orange and sharing photos on Twitter and Instagram with #OrangeTheWorld, and refusing to allow violence and harassment to be seen as “acceptable” behavior. Our girls are depending on us.

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