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Gender Based Violence

Short Skirts and the Holler of the Cat-Caller

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     The streets have always been a space in which my feet could move freely, but the rest of my being refrains from existing with comfort. Out on the street, where my consciousness of my physical form is heightened, I feel as if my skin and hair are too squeaky clean for the dust that settles on the pavements. Out there, my sense of ownership over my own body wavers. For a while, I couldn’t comprehend why it was that I found it tremendously tiring to breathe easy on the streets. Whenever a pair of strange eyes gazed at my body, I could always sense them, tracing my movement – occasionally, a hand would follow, assaulting me with an unwelcome touch.

For as long as I can recall, street harassment has been a recurring experience in all my years of growing up. Regretfully, it has become a norm within our society; a form of degradation that all females have had to go through at some point in their lives.

 I recall my first experience as clearly as if it were a visual diary entry from 18 years ago. I could just flip the pages in my mind, and I would arrive at this particular memory. Sometimes I revisit it with anger, but most times with sadness and disgust.

I was in Penampang, Kota Kinabalu, paying my mum’s family a visit. I remember wearing a yellow dress, walking towards one of the malls in KK city with my mother. The street outside the mall was crowded, and as we walked through the massive crowd, I felt a hand reach into my dress, lightly touching the back of my thigh. It happened so quickly that the only thing I could do was look back. I saw a man wearing a grey shirt, looking back at me and smiling before walking away. I was confused as to what had just transpired, so I tugged on my mother’s hand and said, “Mama, someone touched me.” She frantically asked me who it was, but he had disappeared into the crowd, taking away any chance of confrontation. After that she kept a close eye on me, holding my small hand in hers, tightly. I was only four years old.

     Despite being from a religious family practicing Buddhism, my father enrolled me into an all-girls Anglican Mission school in the middle of the city of Kuching. Across the road from my school was an all-boys Anglican Mission school. Every morning, I would buy breakfast at the small row of shops in front of the school, which everyone frequented. It was a social space where the boys and girls from both sides of the road would mingle. The boys, deprived of female company at other times, would try anything and everything to get the girls’ attention.

I was not excluded from these attempts as I made my way to buy my usual egg burger breakfast. The hoodie I wore over my pinafore would always be used as a shield, to cover my face and body, to block out unwanted attention. I would avoid eye contact, hoping that the boys would not look me in the face. I think that that may have been the point at which I stopped looking people in the eye when I walk past strangers on the street, or on campus. Till now, I still find comfort in putting my head down, hugging my chest and looking elsewhere whenever a stranger walks by.

     My struggle with street harassment became more strenuous as I grew into a young adult. It was a cycle. I would always feel good, at first, whenever I got ready to go out, but the feel-good vibes never lasted long enough for me to muster enough confidence to swallow the cat-calls I would later experience and spit them back out without feeling affected. This specific cycle of emotions would repeat itself every time I went out.

The hike in my self-esteem in my early twenties did not change this, either. It did not stop the white male tourists at Changkat from grabbing me with their grubby hands, nor did it stop the businessmen in suits at Pavilion from ogling and making inappropriate gestures over their 6pm drinks.

I find myself at a crossroads at times like these; interestingly, now that I am in my twenties, I’ve never felt more woman, more comfortable in my own skin than ever, as I’ve begun to really deal with the criticisms from people surrounding my weight gain. I’ve never felt more beautiful on the inside, nor as at ease with my womanhood. But finding myself expecting to be harassed when I go out has steadily chipped away at the still fragile self-esteem that I have tried so hard to cultivate within myself for the past couple of years.

Embracing my womanhood and being able to feel beautiful on the inside was something I never imagined I could achieve. Years of skinny and fat shaming at the hands of relatives (and sometimes, friends) due to my constantly changing body and fluctuating weight, made me think it was impossible to ever feel this way.

It angers me, then, that I cannot feel the same sense of self-assurance and self-love when dealing with harassment.

Street harassment forcibly takes me away from a state of strength and bravery birthed from self-respect. It’s paradoxical that I would reach a state in my life where I would be able to finally be ‘okay’ with who I am, and at the same time feel so much disgust with the way I am treated and have no ability to stand up for myself. I don’t have enough strength, yet, to aggressively turn away and call out harassment. I would be so proud of the softness of my skin, showing it off in sleeveless dresses and flowing tops, but desperately try to cover myself up with my own arms when I walk past a group of men on the streets.

    I started going out with my now-boyfriend two years ago. In this time, he has taught me a lot about loving myself and it has slowly helped to rebuild my confidence. I’ve noticed considerable changes in the way I view myself and how I deal with everyday harassment. One thing I have found curious since I started going out with him, however, is this: I have noticed a pattern in the way men address me and approach me on the streets. Whenever I am with my boyfriend in public, no one seems to pay much attention to me. Even when there are instances where men would steal glances or stare inappropriately, it would not go much further than that. But this isn’t the case when I’m alone; as a lone woman on the streets, I find myself back at square one: having to deal with that all-too-familiar sense of smallness and discomfort, creeping all over my skin and seeping into my body.

I have realised, sadly, that the reason men don’t harass me when I’m with my boyfriend owes simply to his presence alone.

His existence naturally commands more respect than mine, by virtue of him being male. It shields me from any unwanted jeering, cat-calls and attempts at touching or grabbing. The only reason I have escaped harassment while in his presence is because men see other men as equals, and their female counterparts as only supplements. It is intriguing yet sickening to finally grasp the fact that men would not antagonise each other over a woman because they hold their own kind with equal regard. It is a traditional and normative way of processing the way in which one treats the other. Men have always taken on the role of the protector, as women are traditionally viewed as fragile and vulnerable.

My boyfriend is seen as my protector, and men don’t harass me on the streets just because I am at his side. Men don’t harass me in his presence because I’m no longer vulnerable; there is a possibility that my boyfriend would confront anyone who dares to harass me. Without him, I’m defenceless; an easy target that is up for grabs.

I wish to live in a world where I would not need my partner’s presence to shield me from the predatory eyes and voices that hoot and jeer from the sidewalk.

Harassers know this: as a lone, unprotected woman, my vulnerability is their advantage over me. The more vulnerable I feel, the more likely I am to shrink and react defensively at the discomfort I feel when they harass me. This reaction gives them power. It is satisfaction to them that the words that come out of their mouths have the power to affect me and incite fear in me. It allows them to gain influence over me, through an exchange which I am forced into entirely against my will.

    The experiences I have had with street harassment have taught me that it has never been about my age, my appearance, my body or the way I dress. Power dynamics exist on the streets. Harassers have somehow won the ability to dictate the amount of respect that is due to us. These depraved individuals are able to exert undue control over how we feel with their filthy mouths and hands, which are sterilised whenever our society excuses their behaviour. The only evidence they leave behind is the ‘dirt’ we feel all over our skin and their foul breath that leaves a stench on our faces.

We have been kept silent for too long, while we have grown to expect this appalling treatment whenever we step out of our houses. We have been kept silent by the voices that seek to displace us from the streets. It is time to call them out. It is time we showed them with the noise we make on the streets, in protest, that cat-calling is a broken tune, meaningless and frail, that should be drowned out for good. It’s time we take back our spot on the streets.

Catcalling, and How It Destroyed My Self-Esteem

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I was born and bred in a rural village in Sarawak, and I grew up a fun-loving, cheerful girl around my family. I loved wearing bright coloured shirts and skirts. Whatever my mother dressed me up in, I was the lively young girl who filled the family photo albums. I liked to mingle around, I was extroverted and open to comments about myself and my body.

I hit puberty in early May 2005. Since it happened, I began to hate my body – I resented my own physical assests and how they attracted unwanted attention, comments and stares that made me uncomfortable. I gained weight and my body matured at a quicker rate than my peers. Every part of me felt as if it were turning into something immodest; something that men could objectify. I hated how I came to feel like a piece of flesh in their eyes, instead of a human being.

“Eeee sombongnya!” (“Ugh, why so cold?”) 

“Ingat cantik sangatlah tu!” (“You think you’re so pretty?”) 

“Hek eleh, perasan orang nak kat dia! Pui!” (“You think you’re so desirable? Don’t flatter yourself!”)

It was not easy to deal with, when I had to walk back and forth to my school. I lived in a small village, and my primary school was in a neighbouring village. I had to walk 20-30 minutes to school. Those 20-30 minutes were hell to me.

“Hi cik adik, nak pergi mana tu?” (“Hey, little girl, where are you off to?”)

“Hi sayang, sini dulu” (“Hey, darling, why don’t you come over here for a minute?”) 

“Weee wit, pandang sini!” (*wolf-whistles* “Look over here!”) 

My first experience with catcalling was when the boys at the roadside would whistle and smirk at me. They  would ask me where I was going and if they could “accompany” me. They looked at me as if I were a toy, something to play with and have fun with, for their little amusement. I felt uneasy with being treated that way. These boys, they spent all their time hanging around by the roadside, catcalling girls – and to conceal their wounded egos when their catcalls went unreplied, they would cuss you. What do catcallers actually want? The question remains in my mind, till today.

I used to think I hated them because they didn’t go to school; but soon I realised that I hated them because no one told them that it was wrong to catcall; because they got away with it as if they had every right to do it, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, despite how filthy it made me feel.  The mak cik, pak cik, nenek and atuk who watched as it happened to me did nothing to intervene. Some of them even advised me to wear clothing that was less revealing. What is possibly less revealing that a school uniform and a tudung?

I usually went home feeling quite defeated; having to suppress my anger towards these boys and how they treated me, because it was a small matter to the people around me. The mak cik and pak cik would suggest that I just smile and let it pass. They would say things like:

“Dah dara, ada peminat.” (“You’re at that age, you’ve got admirers!”) 

“Terima je lah, orang puji tu.” (“Learn how to take a compliment!”) 

Most people don’t understand the trouble with this: catcalls are not flattering words. It made me feel painfully uneasy because I was being “evaluated” in the way that I appeared to them. Every step I took along the road – because there was no alternative road home – felt like a walking path to hell; long and painful.

All this obscenity continued while I battled with the rage inside of me; the deep sense of injustice I felt every day as I endured what felt like an assault on my dignity. They way they would stare at me like a stripper on a pole; as if nothing covered my body – while I was in my school uniform. No revealing clothes, and even a scarf on my head, yet they made me feel as if I were stripped bare.

The whistling, kissing sounds that came from roadside; some would be quick to dismiss these experiences, but the scars they left on me are very real. I hate walking, even now as a working adult, and I would rather fork out money (that could be better spent) on an Uber than to walk to my workplace.

“Look at how plump she is!”

“Yummy girl!”

“Look here, girl!”

I hate walking alone, anywhere. I wouldn’t even hold my chin up while walking, because I would rather not look into the faces of people I pass by, in case one of those faces had on it a smirk that felt all too familiar. I have become so cautious of people around me and what would they say about how I look. My self-esteem has been all but destroyed.

Here we ponder: Why do people consider catcalling a compliment?

A good article by Emma Nobel explains why catcalling is no compliment. It makes women feel less safe, and this is something that I can relate to. When I get catcalled, I feel anxious about what the perpetrator might do to me, and I know that I am not alone in feeling this way.  I would love to have enough courage to combat catcalling like this girl here does, attacking her catcallers’ egos as an act of resistance to reclaim her self-esteem.

I still feel anxious whenever I walk alone, even in the daytime. I wouldn’t go out alone, especially if I risk having to pass through a group of men. Some would say that #notallmen engage in this behaviour, but it only takes a few to leave an impact on your entire life.

Gangguan Di Jalanan: Mengapa Ia Masih Bukan Jenayah?

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Penterjemah: Azim Allaudin

Saya masih lagi di sekolah rendah ketika pertama kali diusik seawal umur 11 tahun. Ini adalah kejadian yang biasa berlaku. Namun, pada usia tersebut, saya sememangnya tidak mengerti mengapa mereka itu mengusik dan melemparkan senyuman gatal kepada saya. Bahkan saya juga tidak mengerti mengapa perbuatan tersebut membuatkan saya berasa kurang selesa apabila ia berlaku.

Jadi, saya lakukan seperti apa yang disuruh, seperti apa yang semua wanita lain disuruh untuk lakukan, saya menyelubungi diri saya. Saya mula memakai seluar panjang dan baju sejuk yang longgar. Semakin usia saya meningkat, semakin cara pemakaian saya berubah kepada gaya pemakaian lelaki untuk melindungi diri saya daripada mereka. Kadang-kadang ia berkesan, kadang-kadang kurang berkesan. Benda yang paling teruk tentang perkara ini ialah perbuatan mereka membuatkan saya berasa malu menjadi seorang wanita, malu dengan bahagian badan saya yang bersifat kewanitaan dan tubuh saya yang kecil. Saya tidak mahu berasa malu dengan diri saya sendiri lagi dan saya juga tidak mahu lagi hidup dalam dunia di mana wanita-wanita lain termasuk gadis-gadis muda berasa sedemikian rupa.

Jika anda seorang wanita yang berjalan kaki di sekitar Malaysia, saya pasti anda biasa mendengar siulan sumbang, bunyi-bunyi ciuman dan panggilan “Hei Awek!”, “Awek seksi!”, “Pandang lah sini” dilemparkan ke arah anda. Perbuatan-perbuatan ini langsung tidak membuatkan kami berasa senang dan tertarik. Malah, perlakuan tersebut membuatkan kami berasa jengkel, bahkan malu dan takut.

Akan tetapi, mungkin itulah apa yang lelaki-lelaki ini mahukan?

Semasa saya masih muda, saya tidak pernah berfikir tentang perbezaan antara cara hidup lelaki dan wanita; saya cuma menjadi diri saya dan jantina saya hanyalah jantina sahaja. Saya tidak faham mengapa ibu saya berasa risau apabila saya berjalan kaki seorang diri atau mengapa guru saya memberitahu yang kami sebagai perempuan haruslah berhati-hati dan mengelak daripada melalui lorong-lorong yang gelap dan sunyi. Kini apabila sudah meningkat dewasa, atau lebih kewanitaan, seperti yang mereka katakan, saya mula memahami punca ketakutan ini.

Pada tahun 2014, Stop Street Harassment (SSH) telah mengadakan satu kaji selidik melibatkan 2000 orang di Amerika Syarikat. Kaji selidik ini telah membongkarkan bahawa 65 peratus wanita yang menyertainya pernah mengalami gangguan jalanan. Antaranya, 23 peratus telah diraba, 20 peratus telah diekori, dan 9 peratus telah dipaksa untuk melakukan perbuatan seksual. Manakala, dalam kalangan lelaki, 25 peratus daripada mereka telah diusik di jalanan (kebanyakan mereka adalah daripada golongan LGBT) dan usikan terhadap mereka adalah berbentuk celaan dan makian terhadap golongan homoseksual atau maknyah (9%).

Kebiasaan perbuatan tidak sopan ini dan bagaimana ia mengikut jantina adalah membimbangkan, tetapi, lebih menakutkan lagi ialah ketiadaan tindakan daripada pihak berkuasa. Rencana ini akan menumpukan kepada usikan di jalanan terhadap wanita – bukan kerana ketiadaan insiden melibatkan lelaki, tetapi ia kerana gangguan-gangguan ini khususnya di Malaysia adalah mengikut jantina dan rata-rata yang menjadi mangsa adalah golongan wanita.

Mengapa gangguan jalanan ini sangat biasa terjadi?

Hasil pemerhatian menyatakan yang kita ini hidup di dalam dunia di mana seksualisasi dan pengobjekan adalah rangsangan yang kuat, khususnya apabila objeknya ialah wanita yang menarik. Di kaca televisyen, kamera kerap ditumpukan kepada rupa paras wanita yang cantik dan menggoda. Apabila anda melihat video lucah, anda akan dapat melihat wanita teruja untuk digunakan sebagai mainan seksual dan menurut sahaja apa kehendak lelaki yang mendominasi mereka. Para lelaki digalakkan untuk berasa teruja dengan imej wanita-wanita ini di kaca televisyen ataupun di dalam buku dan majalah. Ini secara tidak langsung mengajar para lelaki untuk melayan wanita seperti sebuah objek.

Masalah timbul apabila lelaki menanam persepsi yang sama terhadap wanita yang mereka jumpa dalam kehidupan seharian mereka.

Mereka berasa perbuatan tidak senonoh seperti mengusik dan melemparkan kata-kata kurang sopan apabila wanita mendedahkan diri mereka bukan sesuatu yang salah kerana persepsi pertama mereka terhadap wanita adalah bukan sebagai manusia, tetapi objek seksual. Sesuatu yang dicipta untuk memenuhi nafsu mereka.

Sebab yang kedua adalah kerana di dalam masyarakat di mana gangguan seksual jalanan ini menjadi suatu kebiasaan, budaya biadap ini bukan sahaja ditolak ansur malah dianggap suatu perkara yang normal. Mangsa dan saksi yang melihat perlakuan ini cenderung untuk diam membisu. Untuk sesetengah orang, mereka berdiam diri kerana ia dianggap normal tetapi untuk sesetengah lagi, mereka juga takut yang golongan yang mengganggu itu akan bertindak lebih kasar jika mereka berbuat sesuatu untuk menghalang perbuatan itu. Normalisasi dan penerimaan perlakuan ini lebih jelas di negara-negara seperti India di mana cabaran #dontbeamannequin telah dicipta selepas satu video seorang wanita muda diraba oleh sekumpulan lelaki yang menaiki skuter di Bengalaru tersebar luas di Internet dan tiada tindakan daripada pihak polis dikritik hebat. Cabaran ini bertujuan untuk menggalakkan masyarakat dunia agar mengambil tindakan terhadap gangguan seksual apabila menyaksikan perbuatan ini terjadi.

Berikut adalah sebab-sebab mengapa wanita dan saksi-saksi tidak bertindak. Ketakutan mereka terhadap keganasan dan tindakan balas daripada pengganggu sememangnya berasas. The Ghotamist melaporkan pada tahun 2014 bahawa seorang wanita telah diludah, dipukul dan dikelar oleh seorang lelaki di dalam keretapi bawah tanah apabila wanita tersebut tidak mengendahkan usikan-usikan seksual beliau. Di Brooklyn, Tiarah Poyau telah ditembak di bahagian mata selepas dia cuba untuk menghentikan lelaki tersebut daripada terus bergeser kepadanya.

Terdapat risiko-risiko membahayakan yang gangguan jalanan ini boleh membawa kepada keganasan. Ini adalah punca kenapa ramai orang cuma berdiam diri dan tidak mengendahkan perbuatan ini.

Apa yang menyedihkan lagi, terdapat banyak bukti yang menunjukkan masyarakat sudah terbiasa menyalahkan wanita dan mangsa untuk kejadian-kejadian ini.  Selalu terdapat sesuatu yang wanita sepatutnya lakukan dan apa-apa perkara lain yang merupakan salah mereka. Pada halaman Facebook, “News with Suse”, Susie O’Brien berkongsi pengalamannya diganggu secara seksual oleh seorang lelaki di dalam keretapi bawah tanah. Sangat mengecewakan apabila ramai yang memberi respon yang mendukacitakan seperti “Kenapa awak tidak berpindah?”. Ia seperti menafikan bahaya yang dibawa oleh lelaki-lelaki tidak bermoral ini.

Di Melbourne, apabila seorang remaja wanita diserang secara seksual oleh pemandu teksi, peguambela pemandu teksi tersebut berhujah yang si mangsa sepatutnya duduk di tempat belakang teksi seperti wanita-wanita lain untuk mengelakkan daripada diganggu. Video tular yang tersebar di Internet, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” menunjukkan seorang wanita berjalan di sekitar New York dan begitu mengejutkan telah diusik sebanyak 108 kali. Wanita tersebut kemudiannya menerima ugutan rogol daripada lelaki-lelaki yang menyatakan dengan marah bahawa beliau membesar-besarkan isu tersebut dan paling teruk lagi, beliau patut bersyukur kerana dipanggil cantik.

Ini menyuluhkan suatu kebenaran iaitu ramai lelaki berasakan perbuatan ini adalah tidak salah. Hal ini kerana mereka ingat bahawa apa yang para wanita mahu adalah untuk sekumpulan lelaki untuk menjerit, “awak seksi” atau “awak cantik” sambil membuat ekspresi lucah kepada kita. Mereka ingat perkara ini membuatkan para wanita berbesar hati.

Adakah gangguan jalanan sukar untuk dibendung?

Jawapannya ialah tidak.

Kita sudah mempunyai undang-undang menentang gangguan seksual di tempat kerja di mana kata-kata berbentuk seksual, rabaan dan paksaan seksual akan mendatangkan hukuman terhadap pelaku. Jadi, mengapa kita tidak boleh mengadakan undang-undang menentang gangguan-gangguan di jalanan? Salah satu hujah mengapa ia tidak boleh diadakan ialah gangguan-gangguan tersebut sukar dikesan, dibuktikan dan akhirnya dihukum. Walaubagaimanapun, kesukaran dalam pelaksanaan sepatutnya tidak menjadi alasan untuk tidak menghukum pelaku-pelaku yang bersalah di mana kita boleh membuktikannya. Ia boleh sahaja dilaksanakan seperti di tempat kerja di mana bukti boleh diambil daripada pernyataan daripada saksi dan kamera keselamatan. Kebanyakan gangguan berlaku di tempat awam dan kenderaan awam di mana terdapat ramai orang dan kamera keselamatan.

Ini bermakna kita boleh membendung gangguan jalanan.

Mungkin, yang paling penting, terdapat banyak kebaikan yang besar yang boleh kita dapat apabila undang-undang menentang gangguan jalanan diadakan. Menjadikannya satu jenayah akan menyebabkan perlakuan tersebut dianggap sesuatu yang memalukan dan lelaki-lelaki yang tidak sedar diri ini (dan juga sesetengah wanita) akan dilabel sebagai penjenayah di mata keadilan dan tidak akan lagi menganggap perlakuan mereka sebagai “saya cuma memuji dia”, atau “saya cuma cuba mendapatkan perhatian dia”. Lebih ramai ibu bapa akan mengajar anak-anak untuk tidak mengacau orang lain sesuka hati. Rakan-rakan akan berhenti menggalakkan satu sama lain untuk melaungkan kata-kata lucah di jalanan dan harap-harapnya orang yang biasa melakukan gangguan-gangguan jalanan ini akan berasa malu terhadap kelakuan mereka itu.

Tempat awam kita mempunyai banyak undang-undang yang mengawasinya di mana terdapat undang-undang menentang perlakuan melintas jalan tanpa menggunakan jejantas dan meletakkan kenderaan di luar kotak parkir. Terdapat juga undang-undang yang menghukum pasangan-pasangan yang berkelakuan sumbang seperti bercium di tempat awam. Akan tetapi, tiada lagi undang-undang di Malaysia yang menghukum sebilangan ramai lelaki yang membuat bunyi-bunyi tidak senonoh dan melemparkan kata-kata lucah kepada wanita-wanita yang berjalan kaki ke destinasi mereka. Saya berasa sekarang adalah masa yang sesuai dan terbaik untuk kita menghasilkan undang-undang bagi membanteras gangguan-gangguan jalanan dan menghukum individu yang berasa mereka boleh melayan wanita seperti objek seksual dan tidak akan menghadapi hukuman daripadanya.

Terdapat dua sebab mengapa saya menulis rencana ini; pertama, untuk mewujudkan kesedaran tentang perlakuan gangguan jalanan dan kedua, untuk menimbulkan keinginan rakyat Malaysia untuk menyokong penghasilan undang-undang menentang gangguan jalanan ini termasuk sokongan berbentuk kata-kata.

Ianya satu impian untuk hidup di dalam dunia di mana tiada sesiapa lagi perlu berasa risau sekiranya ibu, kakak, adik, anak atau mereka sendiri tidak perlu lagi berasa takut untuk berjalan di mana-mana tempat, tidak perlu lagi berasa malu dilahirkan menjadi wanita dan berasa kurang layak disebabkannya.

**Baca artikel ini dalam bahasa Inggeris di sini.

Street Harassment: How Is This Not a Crime?

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I was probably still in primary school when I first got cat-called – a little over 11 years old. This was not uncommon. I was too young to know any better or to understand why people were calling out to me and smiling lewdly at me. Neither did I understand why it felt so bad when they did.

 So I did what I was told – what all females are told – to do: I covered up. I wore long pants and baggy sweaters. As the years went on, I dressed more and more like a man, to protect myself from them. It worked sometimes, other times, not so much. The worst part about it was that at some point they made me feel ashamed of being a woman, ashamed of all my womanly body parts and my petite stature. I don’t want to feel that way anymore, nor do I want to live in a world where other women and young girls are made to feel the same way.

If you are a woman walking down the street in Malaysia, you might be familiar with the usual wolf-whistling, kissing noises and the typical “Hey Awek”,“Awek seksi”,“Pandang lah sini!” being hollered at you. None of this is flattering and it certainly doesn’t make us blush and want to drop our panties. What it does is make us feel disgusted, horribly humiliated and afraid.

But, perhaps, that’s exactly what they want?

When I was younger, I never wondered about the differences between how men and women lived their lives; I was just me, and my gender was just my gender. I didn’t understand why my mother would worry when I walked about unaccompanied, or why my teacher told us girls that we had to be careful and stay off dark streets. As I grew older, however – or more womanly, as they say –  I began to understand this fear.

In 2014, Stop Street Harassment (SSH) commissioned a 2,000-person national survey in the USA. The survey found that 65% of all women who participated had experienced street harassment. Among them, 23% had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual. Among men, 25% had been street harassed (a higher percentage of LGBT-identified men than heterosexual men reported this) and their most common form of harassment was homophobic or transphobic slurs (9%).

The prevalence of instances of street harassment and how gendered it is is appalling, but the inaction of authorities is most upsetting of all. This article will mainly focus on street harassment against women – not because of the absence of incidents of such harassment against men, but because these forms of harassment, particularly in Malaysia, are gendered and, thus, predominantly targeted at women.

Why is street harassment so prevalent?

One observable reason is that we live in a world in which sexualisation and objectification are plied are powerful stimuli, particularly when the object is a desirable woman. When you switch on the television, your view is guided by a camera shot set up to focus on the shapely figure of a woman and her ‘sexual’ assets. When you watch porn, you  see a woman thrilled to be used as a sexual plaything; a submissive woman who sheepishly accepts and welcomes everything she is subjected to. Men are encouraged to react with excitement to the images of these women, because they are no more than pixels on a screen, or images printed on glossy paper. This teaches men exactly how to treat women: like objects.

The problem occurs when men transplant this perception onto women they encounter in their everyday lives.

It seems acceptable for them to cat-call and express their excitement by making vulgar honking noises when they see some skin, because their first impression of a woman who comes into view is not that of a person, but of a sexual object. Something designed for their pleasure.

A second reason is that in most societies where street harassment is prevalent, the culture of harassing women is not only tolerated, but largely normalised. Victims and people who witness these repulsive and sickening acts tend to watch in silence. The normalisation and acceptance of such acts will silence some, but the fear of harassers reacting violently, or that the harassment might escalate, often results in even greater silence. This normalisation is prominent in countries like India, where the #dontbeamannequin challenge was born after a video of a girl being molested by scooter-borne boys in Bengalaru went viral and the inaction of the police was criticised. The challenge aims to rally members of society to take action against sexual harassment when they witness it taking place.

These are very real reasons as to why women – and witnesses – don’t act. Their fears of retaliation and violence are not misplaced. The Ghotamist reported in 2014 that a woman was spat on, beaten and slashed by a man on the subway when she ignored his sexual advances. In Brooklyn, Tiarah Poyau was fatally shot in the eye after she tried to stop a man from grinding on her.

There are true dangers that street harassment may escalate to violence. That’s why some decide to lower their heads and walk on.

To add insult to injury, evidence still shows us that society is accustomed to blaming women and victims for these occurrences. There’s always something else that she could have done and something else that was her fault. On the Facebook page, ‘News with Suse’, Susie O’Brien wrote about her experience of being sexually harassed by a man on the subway. The responses to the post were alarming and heartbreaking, as many readers asked her, “Why didn’t you just move?”, as if to excuse and dismiss the harm caused by the perpetrator’s antagonistic behaviour entirely.

In Melbourne, when a teenager was sexually assaulted by her taxi driver, the lawyer for the accused argued that she should have sat in the backseat like every other women to avoid being harassed. The viral video ‘10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman‘ depicted a women walking down the streets of New York and astonishingly was cat called 108 times. The women in the video then received rape threats from men who angrily commented that she was exaggerating her ordeal and worse that she should have been grateful that she was called ‘beautiful’.

This brings light to the harrowing truth that a lot of men see nothing wrong with this humiliating experience. Because, obviously, all we women want is to have a horde of men calling out, “You’re sexy” or “You’re pretty” while making vulgar expressions at us. That just makes our day.

Is street harassment so difficult to regulate?

It actually isn’t.

We have laws to regulate harassment in the workplace where unwelcome sexual comments, touching and coercion are punished. So why can’t we regulate harassment on the streets? One argument against such regulations is that street harassment is particularly hard to detect, prove and ultimately prosecute. However, just because the execution could be tough doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it and punish individuals guilty of street harassment where we can prove it. Besides, it can actually be regulated the same way harassment at work can be: through evidence from eye witnesses and security cameras. Most of these incidents happen in public places, and on public transportation. These places are usually full of people as well as security cameras.

This means that regulating street harassment should be entirely possible.

Perhaps, more importantly, there are massive benefits from simply instituting laws to prevent it. Criminalising it attaches shame to the act, and these entitled men and boys (and even some women) will be seen as criminals in the eyes of the law and can no longer reduce their actions to, “I was just trying to compliment her”, or “I was just trying to get her attention”. More parents will teach their children not to harass strangers at will; friends will stop encouraging other friends to yell vulgarities at people on the street; and hopefully the perpetrators of street harassment today will feel some shame in their misconduct.

Our public spheres are heavily regulated, from laws levying heavy fines for jay-walking and parking in spaces not marked with a box, to laws regulating decency in public, such as laws punishing couples who engage in consensual sexual interactions like kissing in public places. But there are no laws in Malaysia punishing the hordes of men who make kissing and honking sounds and vulgar sexual gestures at women who walk by. I think it’s high time we regulate street harassment and punish individuals who feel entitled treat women like sexual objects and face no consequences.

There are two reasons why I wrote this; first, to create awareness on these sickening occurrences of harassment, and, second, to trigger a desire for Malaysians to start regulating harassments on the street, including verbal forms.

It would be a dream to live in a world where no one would have to worry if their mother, sister, daughter, or even they, themselves, would be made to feel afraid to walk our streets; to feel ashamed for being female, and feel less human for it.

One of Us Needs to Be Kept Off the Streets, and It Isn’t Me.

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S had just stepped out of a bar with a girlfriend. Both ladies walked at a brisk pace to S’ car, a short distance away, clutching their handbags tightly. “Nice big backside ah…” yelled a taxi driver as he drove close by, leering. A nearby parking attendant looked at them and shrugged whilst other bystanders, affluent-looking pub-crawlers, appeared nonchalant or pretended not to notice.

V, a social worker, walked out of a police station with her client, a domestic abuse victim. The husband of the victim accosted them – harassing both women using obscene language and physically intimidating them. The husband was even bold enough to threaten to divorce his wife and “marry V forcefully” to teach her a lesson. All of this took place in the presence of security guards and other bystanders who were content to watch the drama unfold and laugh at the women whilst a man publicly humiliated them.

A young Muslim girl, still in her teens judging from her nondescript secondary school blue-white baju kurung and headscarf, was standing next to me in the train. We were in the middle of a relatively uncrowded train car. She was unremarkable in every sense of the word – her dress, her mannerisms, her general state of exhaustion – and did nothing to draw any attention to herself. The LRT en-route to Ampang stopped at Chan Sow Lin station – this time though, a little longer than usual with the doors to the train remaining open for passengers to walk in. Loud laughter erupted. Wolf-whistling and sucking noises followed – I look up from my book to find a group of Malay men attempting to “make eyes” at the girl. She looks dead-ahead and is unflinching – believe me, whatever tension or fear this girl felt… it was palpable to me. The men continue. “Tak nak tengok ke… alahai.” “Pergi mana lewat petang ni?” Their focus was on this young lady, mind you, a young schoolgirl, modestly dressed and in a train-car with adults – yet, they were unafraid, unabashed. I could have sworn the headscarf-clad lady seated in front of us was looking admonishingly at the young girl, as if to say, “Why are you going home so late?” or “It’s your fault that they are behaving the way they are…”

We’ve barely skimmed the surface when it comes to examples of public harassment, in the Malaysian context, of women and other minorities. Unwanted sexual (or just unwanted) attention from strangers, unwanted physical contact (touching, stroking, groping, grabbing) or any kind of pressure to cooperate sexually or show a favourable response to the harasser is street harassment. A distinction can be made when harassment manifests itself in a physical form – this becomes actionable in law, if and only if a victim is brave enough to pursue legal action against their harasser. What, then, of non-physical forms of harassment? Wolf-whistling, catcalling, crude sexual jokes or remarks by strangers – or otherwise sexist or discriminatory behaviours and micro-aggressions intended to make a person feel uncomfortable or fearful of being in public spaces?

What about the men who do not or would never harass a person, whatever his personal scruples about the way a woman or effeminate man dresses or behaves? A number of men express their disapproval (albeit tacitly, for the most part) of harassment only because they are able to relate it to a close family member or friend who happens to belong to a victim-group. “I would never do such a thing! Imagine if it were my mother/sister/wife/daughter?” Sound familiar? The trouble with this rationale is that men require a personal reference point when it comes to determining their attitudes and actions towards women or LGBTQ persons. The rationale fails simply because it tells us that men in our community do not regard women and LGBTQ persons as human beings with the right to occupy and enjoy public spaces without fear of embarrassment or any kind of harm, in the same way that men do.

We, Malaysians, pride ourselves on upholding ‘traditional’ Asian values. Respect for women and our elders in a family-orientated society would be consistent with this value system, one would say. What, then, would trigger a person (or a group of people) to engage in behaviours that are contrary to this value system? I have a number of male friends who swear that some harmless forms of harassment (catcalls, wolf-whistling) are really meant to compliment women. This, of course, is not much different from that all-too-familiar explanation for why men engage in crass and vulgar behaviour (even if it manifests itself in subtler, seemingly innocuous ways, but are essentially micro-aggressions) – that an unaccompanied young woman, or a person who dresses or carries themselves in a certain way (in our culture, an effeminate boy or man or transgendered person, for example, are not exempt from street harassment) or, is “asking for it” or “deserves it”.

Perhaps we are due for an examination of the problematic aspects of the ‘traditional’ Asian value system: paternalism (an anachronistic concept in itself) and male chauvinism . On the one hand, it emboldens and encourages men to publicly humiliate women or LGBTQs who do not conform to what is perceived to be consistent with our values. Some men consider themselves self-anointed moral policemen with the “power” and “entitlement” to chastise and humiliate victims they view as outliers – women who do not conform to “modesty” or ethno-religious codes and our social mores, for example, and LGBTQ persons who are viewed as deviants. In recent times, several campaigns by morally-conscientious men intent on warning women to dress/behave appropriately or suffer the consequences have received publicity. Think the Thaipusam spray-paint group and the National Muslim Youth Association’s warnings to avoid using emoticons and wearing perfume (amongst other haram activities) on Valentine’s Day.

On the other hand, you have men who may not directly engage in street harassment but, by their silence or non-action, fail to outwardly oppose or make it known that such behaviours are unacceptable, whatever the circumstance. This failure is untenable because it is tantamount to what street harassers may view as tacit approval or endorsement of their actions, and normalises their behaviour. This is the bystander effect: when passers-by who witness harassment and have the capacity to interfere or at least attempt to protect the victim fail to do so – and in some cases, join in. This includes those in positions to lawfully interfere – note the security guards and/or police officers in the examples above.

A measure of how civilised our society is, is how we treat those who are victimised and oppressed. We pride ourselves for being Asian-centric in our values, in observing customs built on courtesy, respectful and dignified behaviour. Or, don’t we?

It appears, in 2017, we are still battling the prevalent view that the victims are culpable when they find themselves in the path of harassers. Our society has a tendency to victim-blame and victim-shame instead of addressing systemic factors that continue to embolden harassers – and worse, inadvertently endorse harassing behaviour in an effort to regulate the private choices of women and LGBTQs. This is endemic of a society that has yet to achieve one of the most basic tenets of any civilised society – the freedom for everyone to live their private lives and occupy public spaces free from harm. Women and LGBTQs in Malaysia are especially vulnerable because they lack power and self-determination, and have been conditioned to view themselves as the problem.

We are not alone in our struggles, however. India, for instance, has had “eve-teasing” laws since the 1970s. Scotland, as recently as 2016, is attempting to make “wolf-whistling” a hate crime and Argentina is considering the criminalisation of “catcalling”. Some may view these measures as being excessive and harsh, as they involve penalties. A discussion on whether legislation may serve to adequately solve street harassment merits a detailed study. Laws may not be the be all and end all, and they certainly cannot effect meaningful change in our society if they do not go hand-in-hand with a socio-cultural re-engineering or reconditioning. However, it is an excellent catalyst to generating much-needed discussion on street harassment and how it must be viewed as impinging on the fundamental human rights of women and LGBTQs.

Understanding Sex and Gender: Distinctions, Assumptions and Violence

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Understanding sex and gender is imperative in ending violence and marginalization of transgender persons.

Overwhelming evidence affirms that gender identity is an innate part of our being, and sex and gender are two separate categories that all human beings have. Neither sex nor gender are binary, meaning consisting of only two identities.

The First Cut

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by Frank 

This is a story of how naïve I once was; how two decent human beings (at the very least) became toxic to each other. How the perfect guy could become a nightmare, a ghost that lingers. This is a story of my mistakes.

When I was 21, I was already planning to get married to the ‘man of my dreams’. He was tall, attractive, kind, caring, smart and we shared the same values. We were together for 7 years at that point and he had my best friend for a year before. I should have felt like the luckiest girl alive. I met the ‘love of my life’ when I was 13, and we were now planning our future together.

The Silenced Warfare

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by Dhabitah Zainal 

At first her gaze was filled with sympathy, but it was not long before it turned into scrutiny. She studied my arms. My neck. The bit of skin that was showing through my favourite ripped jeans. Coldly, she asked,

“So, where are your scars?”

I quietly looked down at the floor, knowing exactly what was coming next.

“How can you call it an abusive relationship if you have no scars to show?”

Perkataan ‘Tidak’ Tersekat di Kerongkong

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Penulis: Allison Jong

Penterjemah: Syahirah Wahed

Aku diajar bahawa penderaan wujud di antara kesan fizikal yang luar biasa di badan seseorang. Kesan yang tidak dirancang. Bukan secara semula jadi. Dipaksa. Hodoh. Aku mempelajarinya dari filem-filem, iklan berunsurkan sokongan terhadap keganasan rumah tangga dan juga artikel-artikel di ‘Facebook’. Aku selalu percaya bahawa badan seseorang itu sudah dilukis seperti buruj yang menerangi langit malam.  Masa berlalu, dan di antara tanda lahir dan tahi lalat, beberapa bintang baru akan muncul. Seperti parut cacar air di siku kiri ketika kau berusia 7 tahun atau tatu pertama ketika menginjak usia 18 tahun. Walaubagaimanapun, dalam lingkungan sempadan itu aku sedari bukan semua  adalah bintang. Terdapat tanda yang menganggu pembentukan langit malam kamu, seperti letupan pelbagai warna pada kulit. Menyala dalam warna merah, ungu, biru dan hijau.

How the Word ‘No’ Disappeared Down My Throat

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by Allison Jong

I was taught that abuse exists between the borders of unusual physical markings on a person’s body. The kind that wasn’t planned. Unnatural. Forced. Ugly. I learnt it from movies, advocacy ads about domestic violence and articles on Facebook. You see, I’ve always believed that a person’s body is mapped out, like constellations in the night sky. Amidst the birthmarks and moles, some new stars will appear as time goes by. Like that scar on your left elbow from chicken pox at the age of 7. Or your first tattoo when you turned 18. However within that border, I have learned that some aren’t stars. Markings that are disruptive in the formation of your very own night sky are more like explosions of different colours on naked skin. Glaring in red, purple, blue, green.

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