TIME FOR CHANGE: Sexual misconduct is a growing problem around the world; including for Divya* from India (Pic credit: © Smita Sharma/ActionAid)


by LAUREN CODLING

PEERS and activists condemned “depressing” statistics showing the extent of sexual harassment and violence against women, as it was revealed more than two thirds of British and Indian females experienced sexual misconduct in the past six months.

The new study, conducted by charity ActionAid, highlighted the impact such attacks and misogyny can have on women and girls across the world.

Findings showed that across four countries 65 per cent of girls had faced sexual harassment in the past six months, and many worried about experiencing it daily.

In the countries surveyed within that time period, including Brazil and Kenya, 57 per cent of participants from India claimed they had suffered sexual harassment while 48 per cent shared similar experiences in the UK.

Speaking to Eastern Eye on Tuesday (5), Baroness Burt of Solihull, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for women, called for “total intolerance” of misogynistic behaviour.

Data showed that around 31 per cent of people aged 14-21 in the UK had witnessed members of their family behaving in a negative or offensive way towards girls and young women.

Baroness Burt has called for “total intolerance” of misogynistic behaviour

Baroness Burt, expressing her frustration at the findings, said: “The most depressing statistic for me is the misogynistic attitudes held by families and friends of girls and young women, and for [Eastern Eye] readers, the fact that the families of Indian girls seem to be most tolerant.”

She referred to findings that 42 per cent of Indian participants had witnessed misogynist behaviour by family.

The peer added: “If family and friends don’t recognise that the behaviour described is totally unacceptable, no wonder so many young women continue to be exposed to it.”

On inappropriate behaviour, 15 per cent of Indian respondents said upskirting (capturing an image of the crotch area without permission) was acceptable, compared to five per cent in the UK.

Last month, it was confirmed that upskirting was to become a criminal offence in the UK after the House of Lords approved a bill in parliament.

Women and girls have been urged to speak out if they have faced sexual harassment or abuse

Data from ActionAid showed that young men were significantly more likely to find other behaviour such as groping or sharing explicit photos online acceptable, compared to young women of the same age in the UK.

Worryingly, 16 per cent of respondents in India thought being forced to kiss someone was acceptable, compared to five per cent in the other countries, the survey showed.

ActionAid chief executive Girish Menon told Eastern Eye that deep-rooted beliefs which can
lead to sexual harassment can often take longer to tackle in countries such as India.

“Women and girls may not know their rights, or fear retribution, for example,” Menon said on Monday (4). “Men and boys may be used to gender inequality and see it as the norm.”

Stressing that sexual harassment is a global problem, Menon suggested a “more robust approach” to the issue.

“These deep-rooted attitudes that women and girls’ bodies exist for others to comment, exploit and control are everywhere. This won’t change until we empower more people to speak out and bring perpetrators to justice for their behaviour,” he said.

He added that change could happen by supporting local women’s groups to work with entire communities in challenging attitudes and educate women and girls about their rights.

ActionAid has worked with Divya*, a young victim of sexual abuse

ActionAid have worked with many victims of sexual violence and harassment in India, including Divya*. The 17-year-old was raped twice, one of which occurred on a bus.

Divya twice visited the police to report the rape, and faced medical examinations where staff blamed her for the attacks. Eventually, her attacker was jailed for life last September.

“Once everyone starts realising that you cannot take anything away from anyone, they will not be able to exploit women,” Divya said.

Elsewhere in the report, findings showed 66 per cent of UK females who had been harassed in the past six months would feel comfortable telling someone, while 79 per cent would do the same in the India.

Shaista Gohir, the executive director of Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWN), said it was encouraging to see so many women coming forward.

Citing the Me Too and Times Up movement as major factors in giving women confidence to come forward, Gohir claimed MWN had been approached by many victims who needed help or advice.

“On our national helpline, we receive calls on so many issues. These also include revenge porn, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape,” Gohir told Eastern Eye.

“In most cases, the perpetrators are known to the victims.”

This week, Monday (4) marked the start of #ITSNOTOK – a national sexual abuse and sexual violence awareness week.

The Metropolitan Police Service expressed its support.

Detective Superintendent Sian Thomas, of the Met’s Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Command, said: “No one should have to suffer sexual violence and abuse on their own and no one should think it’s ok to sexually exploit or abuse others.”

In response to the findings, a Department for International Development spokesperson said: “We still need to push through significant changes to make gender equality a reality. Only then will we build a more peaceful, safe and prosperous world for us all.”

In other central findings, a fifth of young people surveyed across the four countries said they have seen, heard or read about celebrities or other well-known people behaving in this way.

In the UK, of the young people who would not tell someone about experiencing sexual harassment, they claimed some of the most likely reasons would be feeling as though it would be pointless as “nothing would be done about it’”.

In India, the most common reason for not telling anyone would be worrying about it affecting them at school or fear of experiencing shame and guilt.
*Divya is not her real name