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What is street harassment?

By Basir Qazizada-Every Afghan woman has experienced street harassment. It is more than an annoyance. It makes women nervous and insecure as they go about their daily lives, as they go to work, attend university, do their shopping, and even go out with friends for a picnic.

It happens everywhere—even in the place you were born and grew up. It is part of the culture; men follow you and make rude comments. They tell you, “Your body is nice”, or maybe they say, “You are fat”. They tell you, “You are beautiful”. They may try to touch you or push you.

If you scream or complain other men say that it is your own fault for attracting attention. Street harassment is a common thing, they say, just forget about it and go on your way.

There is no respect for women on Kabul streets, let alone in other provinces. If you wait for a taxi even for five minutes, many cars will stop and offer to take you home. If you take a taxi the driver will start to question you: Are you married? Do you have any children? Where do you live?

On public transportation you hear many rude remarks from passengers, and also sexual harassment. Even walking home with a male family member will not protect you. Men still say rude things, to try and get your male relative to fight them.

There are some provinces where women are not able to go out at all. In Jalalabad there are almost no women on the streets. Women are afraid to leave their homes without an escort; girls cannot continue their education.

People believe that women themselves are to blame for these situations.

There is no law to appeal to, and there is no organization in the government that will take action. No one listens, because street harassment is becoming a culture in Afghanistan.

The government needs to take a serious decision to protect women. If there is no law against street harassment it will continue forever. Women cannot feel safe on the streets even during the daylight; at night it is completely impossible for them to be outside.

Men who harass women set a bad example for boys. They see their fathers abuse women and learn bad habits. They never learn to respect women and they become the next generation of harassers.

Schools also should address these issues. They should teach gender equality and respect for women, so that the culture of harassment does not continue.

The government, which has so many programs for women’s empowerment, should create some facilities to defend women against this type of harassment. We must be able to appeal to rule of law.

We now have the Sexual Harassment Prevention Regulation, approved by the Council of Ministers in August, 2015, and signed by President Ashram Ghani one month later. But, like the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, if remains more on paper than in reality.

We must raise our voices and give each other a hand. We must show society how severely street harassment affects women.

Finally, men must understand that the street belongs to women, too; we also have a right to walk there.

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