THE BLOG

Why Women Don't Speak Out

04/07/2017 12:55 BST | Updated 04/07/2017 12:55 BST
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Walking out of a small restaurant in Tblisi, Georgia I try to ignore the sleazy stares of the men at the nearby tables. But I can feel them. The men are sat slouched in their chairs and they're leering with what appears to be an incredible sense of entitlement. They don't seem to be concerned at all that the way they were staring, was making us uncomfortable.

I was with two other women and I wanted to complain. However, having experienced this type of behavior from men for many years throughout many parts of the world, I have learnt that complaints are often not met well. People seem to get annoyed that you are complaining, regardless of the fact that you have something to complain about.

Or they blame you, they suggest that maybe you did something to make the man behave in this lecherous, aggressive, disrespectful way. This is obviously painful, to be blamed for something happening to you, that you do not want to happen to you.

So you stay quiet.

But as we walked out of the restaurant I heard the girls talking behind me, they had felt the sleazy stares too. 'They're so arrogant,' I heard one of the women say.

I decided to say something and turned around and said, 'this is how it has been for me in all of my travels around the world, they're like that everywhere.'

'Oh god,' said one of the other girls, 'that would make you want to kill yourself.'

Being the subject of such relentless sleaze and disrespect certainly does cause a tremendous amount of pain and discomfort.

And I know there are certainly plenty of cases around the world, where women do kill themselves, unable to live with the horrific levels of violence and discrimination perpetrated against them.

In Northern Iraq I learnt about the phenomenon of self-immolation. Women and girls set themselves on fire as a way to protest the extreme forms of violence and discrimination they have been subject to.

'Does it work?' I asked Diana Kako, a woman's rights activist in Erbil, Northern Iraq who explained the phenomenon to me. 'Do the men get the message that they're causing harm?'

'No,' she said, 'they'll just say that she's a stupid woman.'

So why don't so many women speak out against this very uncomfortable, offensive behavior from men?

Well, the above mentioned example may be one of the reasons. Fear of not being listened to or not having their complaints taken seriously. Women fear being dismissed, being told that they are exaggerating or that they are 'crazy'. Or just not being believed at all.

So women choose not to speak out.

Fear of shame is also a major perpetrator of silence.

Throughout the world, shame is very unfairly placed on women who are victims of violence, particularly those who are victims of sexual violence. Women are blamed, stigmatised and criticised for the very horrific crimes that are perpetrated against them, regardless of the fact that they did not want these acts to happen to them.

In Georgia, I was told by several women's rights activists that honor killings are prevalent. An honor killing comes from the idea that a woman should have no sexual rights. She is only allowed to engage in a sexual relationship with her husband. Should she break this rule, or in certain cases, even be suspected of breaking this rule, then she has supposedly destroyed the family honor. The only way to restore the honor, is to kill her.

Honor killings are found not only in Georgia but throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Such concepts of honor and shame play a fundamental role in controlling women's sexual behavior and justifying extreme violence against women.

However, these ideas of honor and shame around women's sexuality are prevalent world wide. They suggest that a woman who has multiple sexual partners or who is 'too sexual' in any way, should be criticised. Even in cases where she has been the victim of sexual abuse or assault.

So women stay quiet about acts of violence and harassment committed against them, out of fear that they will be shamed, criticised or in some cases, killed, for the violence perpetrated against them.

If we are going to have any hope to bring an end to these shameful attitudes that blame women for the violence perpetrated against them to an end, it needs to become just that, shameful.

The type of men that harass and intimidate women need to be criticised. They need to be criticised by their friends and they need to be criticised by their family.

Despite the discomfort of doing so, women also need to speak up more. They need to make a fuss and demand respect. Because as long as women remain silent, these 'men' will think that discrimination and disrespect is tolerable and acceptable.

And tolerable and acceptable it's not.

So I am speaking out. Sexual harassment needs to stop. Leering, degrading comments and unwanted touching, women don't like it. If you harass a woman, it's your fault. Nobody made you do it, you are in control of your own behavior. It's not what she's wearing, it's not how many sexual partners she's had, it's you. Respect others in the street or the workplace as you yourself would like to be respected. Most of all, respect a woman's right to speak out.