At bus stops near where I live, posters display images and messages aimed at young men. The message is clear: don’t harass women, mentally or physically. This is council funded and I don’t resent council tax money being spent on raising awareness but do these posters make any difference?
Foreign Secretary William Hague got together with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and others at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict held in London last week. Will there be follow up, will virtual impunity for perpetrators of violence against women really end?
What about everyday sexism, how big a step is harassment to outright murder?
The following extract is from The Jakarta Post:
“Two teenage girls wait until darkness falls so they can head off to the open fields to answer the call of nature.
“At least the darkness protects them from prying eyes and affords them the dignity they deserve.
“Afraid of the lengthening shadows of the night, they go together, feeling assured of safety in a pair.
“A few hours later, the very darkness that was meant to shield them has swallowed them. They are murdered in a manner so brutal and bestial, it can only be attributed to sub-human behaviour.
“As dawn streaks the sky, the world wakes up to a blood chilling image of two children, which is what these 14 and 15 year-old girls were, hanging by the lengths of their own scarves, to a mango tree. Their bodies sway, ever so gently in a village breeze.
“The two girls belonged to the lower Dalit caste. Their impoverished village lacks toilet facilities and open defecation is a way of life. That their lives were snuffed out, because they did not have access to a toilet, sounds anachronistic in the 21st century. But it is a normal practice for millions of women across India.”
Social activists in India mobilise behind banners that state: “Egoism... Dominance... Forcefulness... Violence... does not make a MAN”. This is a similar message to bus stop posters in Lambeth.
Yet as Ashwini Devare points out in The Jakarta Post: “The sexual objectification of women through ‘item songs’ in Bollywood films and regressive television serials are seen as factors reinforcing sexual stereotypes.”
Images that denigrate and exploit women are all too accessible and Rape Crisis South London #banrapeporn campaign seeks to criminalise the possession of pornography depicting rape.
In the UK End Violence Against Women campaign to protect women’s services, their invaluable work and their research proves the provision of specialist women’s support services is a post code lottery.
I believe every effort to raise awareness and importantly provide support to girls and women is worthwhile. There is a lot going on, grassroots women’s organisations across the world campaigning to get their voices heard.
A tiny shift of wealth to fund proper sanitation in India, international development, solidarity, the cessation of conflict and scaling up specialist women’s support services are achievable goals.