Sitting in a small restaurant in a remote corner of Kyrgyzstan, on the border of Tajikistan, I feel the sleazy stare of a local man on me. We're in the only restaurant in town and whilst it's incredibly beautiful with huge, snow capped mountains surrounding us, I'm feeling incredibly uncomfortable. The man is probably in his mid 50s and is leaned up again the counter. He was sitting in the restaurant with a woman who I assumed was his wife but once she had gotten up to leave, he had turned to stare at me.
I feel the discomfort wash over me. He's leering and it's aggressive and blatant. It's done in such an unashamed way that it is obvious he feels a sense of superiority over me, a sense that he is entitled to blatantly treat me as a sexual object.
The familiar sneer on his face also indicates that he has absolutely no concern for how his aggressive, lecherous behaviour is making me feel.
It's a familiar sneer because, it's not the first time I have felt such sleaze in this part of the world. It is not the second time, or the third or the fourth time. This has happened hundreds of thousands of times on the various trips I've made into the region. Lewd, aggressive, sexual behaviour that is forced on you throughout the day, every day.
And this is precisely where much of the discomfort comes from, the sheer relentless of it. It happens constantly. It makes you feel afraid to go outside, because you don't want to have to deal with the extreme discomfort that it will bring.
You also feel uncomfortable because you know that they are behaving like this because they are discriminating. They think that they are superior and they think that this entitles them to treat women however they feel.
They think that they don't need to respect you.
So you feel uncomfortable, not just because the behaviour is so lewd, but also because you know why they're doing it. Because they think that it is acceptable to treat you this way.
I'm sitting at a table with a fellow traveller, an elderly German man. As the anger of once again being turned into a sexual object bubbles up inside me I turn around to shout at him, to let him know that I am uncomfortable and that I want him to stop.
I see no reason why I should have to put up with this, again.
However, the German man is completely unconcerned with my discomfort and says, "oh just let him."
I turn to look at him in surprise. I realize that this German man is on the side of the harasser. I've met men like him before, many times. The ones who think that sexual harassment is no big deal. The type of men who think that women should just 'get over it' and not be concerned if they are being degraded and objectified by men. The type of man who actually thinks that women should be 'flattered' by such aggressive, sleazy behaviour.
And indeed, this German man, with a smile on his face that I interpret as him not taking my complaint seriously says, "you should be flattered he is looking at you."
This of course, angers me more. I am not flattered, I'm uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
Now I feel trapped. Sitting in this small café between a harasser and a man excusing the behaviour of a harasser, I feel the full weight of the discrimination. The fact that these men believe that it is acceptable to treat me as a sexual object. Their refusal to take my requests seriously for the behaviour to stop and the suggestion that I should actually 'like' this lewd, aggressive behaviour.
To add to the insult, the German man then walks out of the restaurant declaring that I was "too sensitive."
Part of the problem with this behaviour is how accepted and tolerated it is. Women throughout the world have been expected to endure this type of behaviour from men no matter how much discomfort it brings and no matter how degrading they feel it is.
And this is precisely why sexual harassment and assault is such a huge global problem.
Because all too often it is dismissed, with a shrug of the shoulder, as it if it is no big deal. As if it is something that is fun, that should be enjoyed by the victims, something that they should feel happy is happening to them.
But sexual harassment is a big deal. It's not something that is fun for those who are made victim of it and it certainly is not something that they are flattered by.
Rather it makes them feel degraded, uncomfortable and disrespected.
We need to make a change on this issue, globally.
It needs to be understood that sexual harassment causes harm and it causes discomfort. Staring in a sexually aggressive and lewd way is not acceptable. Making perverse, sexual comments about another's body, following someone down the street or standing too close on public transport is not okay. Touching another in a way that is sexual without their permission is sexual harassment.
We as a global community need to demand that this kind of behaviour is at all times unacceptable. We need to insist that we want to see better from our community members and we need to stand up for others. If we see somebody making another uncomfortable, whether it is through staring, touching or unwanted comments, we should stand up and say something. Not laugh and suggest that the person should be happy, or flattered by such behaviour but rather that it is unacceptable and that it should stop.
If we all did this everywhere, then we would have a much better chance of bringing this behaviour, that causes so much harm, to an end.Suggest a correction