Street Harassment is not a Compliment

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By Maggie Chogugudza

Street harassment includes unwanted comments, gestures and actions directed at a woman by a male stranger in a public place. It can range from staring or whistling at a woman to physical acts like following or grabbing her.

For many women in Chitungwiza and Zimbabwe at large, street harassment is a stressful day-to-day occurrence. So many times women are being harassed by men they do not know as they walked down the street, commuter omnibus ranks and at other public places.

Walking down the streets dressed in tight and revealing clothes women are often stopped by men and boys to say ‘amai makanaka ndimi munodonedza musika’.

Street harassment is not a compliment though there is an insistence from men and women that regard catcalls compliments.

The major problem with this is that those men who believe that it is okay to be sexual toward any woman believe that men have a right to women’s bodies which is totally incorrect as it has led to severe cases of sexual violence.

Street harassment is about man exercising power and control and can easily turn to violence.

Normalizing or even encouraging “compliments” from street harassers broadcasts the message and reinforces the wrong concept that men are entitled in both small and large ways to express verbally and physically their sexual desires for women who have not consented to being a part of them.

Street harassment silences women in a way that is incredibly disempowering. Being a woman in a public place, one is automatically in an unfair game for unwanted attention and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

In a nutshell street harassment is not a compliment because it is not a compliment. It’s a statement of power. It’s a way of letting a woman know that a man has the right to her body, a right to discuss it, analyse it, appraise it, and let her or anybody else in the vicinity know this verdict, whether she like it or not.

Street harassment must be stopped by all costs and there is need to socialize boys and men to understand that it is a form of sexual violence that is punishable by law.

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