Sexual Harassment: I've Had Enough

26/06/2016 21:56 BST | Updated 27/06/2017 10:12 BST


I'm tired.

I'm tired of picking up a newspaper and without a doubt there will be some terrible story of a woman who was brutally gang raped in India. A 14-year-old girl forced to marry her landlord to pay her families rent in the Middle East. A young refugee mother in Haiti who was gang raped in front of her children and threatened to be killed if she goes to the police. Not that it matters, I know, because for women in refugee camps in Haiti, the police aren't going to do anything. I'm tired of the complacency, all the people that just don't care. I try my best to raise interest in the subject of violence and discrimination against women, but most people just shrug their shoulders and say, 'you can't change it.' They say that its culture, so therefore that's how it must be. They say be quiet Johanna, we're having a beer, we don't want to talk about this. I go into a dark corner in these moments, images flash across my mind, the little girl who I met with the dead eyes in the Philippines, because she had been raped so many times. I see the women, the faces of the endless women who I have met in my years of travel around the world, the sadness and despondency because of the violence they have been forced to endure. I see the men smirking and leering at me as I walk down the street. I see their eyes, narrowed and threatening, a sneer across their face as they make disgusting comments. I see this in the streets of Africa, of Latin America, the Middle East, of Asia and the Pacific. I see this everywhere. And then I see all the people looking at me shaking their heads, it's your fault they tell me.

I'm tired.

I'm tired of the ignorance. I'm tired of people not understanding that those leering, smirking guys are leering and smirking because they have grown up in an environment where there is a severe disrespect for women. A place where women are 'nothing' as I have been told by men in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. They have told me this to my face, with no shame or embarrassment. Women are just sexual objects. These men come from 'cultures' that privilege men as being the 'owners' of women. In some countries, they may have as many of them as they like, 1, 4 'as long as they can afford it', I've been told so many times. Throughout the world women are like a commodity to be bought and sold, to be used when needed and disregarded when not, to be slaves. Women I met in Zimbabwe referred to themselves as 'donkeys' of men. A woman is to be controlled, especially her sexuality. Only a man is allowed to go onto the street and look, or leer at other women. A woman is a 'slut' if she shows sexual interest in men. In many countries women cannot go out to bars and are limited from where they can go in public. Like in northern Iraq where I was told women must stay at home, inside, behind doors where she can cook and serve the husband, as a servant. Should a woman attempt to step out of this boundary, into the public sphere, then she is a bad woman. She is not under the control of a man, she is a slut, a whore, a prostitute, to be disrespected. I have come across these attitudes throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Throughout the world in varying degrees. I have been told on my travels abroad in the Middle East and India that all western women are considered 'prostitutes'. We're easy, we're not told what to wear by men, we're not confined to our homes, we're allowed to make our own money, have our own lives and choose which man we want to be with, we are therefore prostitutes. There is no respect for our culture or for our way of life that includes women having rights. So when I step out onto the street and face this incessant harassment, it is not because of what I'm wearing, or because of my hair. It is because these men think that I have no value, because they don't respect my culture or my right to have rights. They think can treat me however they want, with complete disrespect. And yet these ignorant people continue to blame me. They don't know what harm they are doing.

I'm tired.

This world was built for everyone. Not just for one gender. This is a woman's world, yes it is. The abuse needs to stop and it needs to have stopped yesterday. Everyone needs to be part of this to make it happen. When you stand up against abuse, you are protecting and you are setting an example. You are changing the way things are. If everyone does this, then the bad guys will not prevail, education will. People will learn respect and tolerance because they will learn that if they don't they'll be cast out of their group, their home and their community. They'll learn that punishment, be it a legal punishment or a social one, will follow. You can be powerful in this change, so powerful. You can make the world a safer places for women, please, I beg you. I beg you for myself, because I can't stand this anymore, the lecherous eyes and the constant threat. But mostly, I beg you for the little girls like the one I met in the Philippines. Her eyes were gone, she had been abused by so many men, no more little girls need to have eyes like that. Let's stand and demand that men learn respect for all women and learn that sexual harassment and assault, will always, always, be their fault. Not that of a piece of material or because of culture, it is theirs. Violence and discrimination is wrong and it needs to stop. It's black and white.