I am trying to manoeuvre through a bustling crowd on a footbridge. There is so much going on; hawkers and customers, mothers with babies tucked on their backs, lovers clutching onto each other’s hands and beggars on wheelchairs holding empty containers.
I lack the patience to join the trail moving at a snail’s pace, but moving swiftly through such a crowd requires strategy. So I shift to the left where there appears to be space, and come face to face with a fellow human. His face beams with a silly smile as he stretches his arm to touch me. It happens so fast that I feel his filthy hand on my right boob.
Anger consumes me. I am so mad, I knock his hand off me and cuss. He cusses back in a groggy voice. I walk home extremely agitated, I want to punch a wall. The fury in me is intensifying, but then I am just another helpless woman having her share of sexual harassment —for the umpteenth time!
I have had a couple of similar experiences on the streets of Nairobi. I was once walking past the Railways bus station, where matatus plying the Ongata-Rongai route park, when a makanga tried to touch me. “Usinishike!” I yelled at him. He responded by saying that one day my body will lie cold in a casket where no one will dare touch me. Other times, random comments like, “Madam dashboard iko poa,” and “Uko na boobs tamu,” have been thrown at me. I have lost count of the catcallings I have had to deal with in the Nairobi CBD.
When I am not the victim, sometimes I am a witness. I have seen male hands maliciously caress female bodies on the streets while the people around either stared, laughed, or went about their business as if it was part of the norm. As the victims helplessly grappled away, the perpetrators giggled and continued to scour the surroundings for the next prey.
In most instances women are said to be the steers of sexual harassment when they ‘dress provocatively.’ I was taken aback to find out that muslim women too, fully covered in Niqabs, get harassed. Older women, known to dress conservatively also experience this. Young, innocent girls are in the mix too. Clearly, perpetrators have no limits.
I no longer feel safe to walk down an alley at night. I am scared that I might stumble into a gross human who will shamelessly invade my body and walk away with it. I have to watch my back on the streets and give the cat-callers a ‘deaf ear’ because no one cares. I have learnt to use my voice and repeatedly tell makangas ‘Usinishike,’ because if I don’t they will keep doing it and assume I am fine with it.
Here are tips (5D’s) from L’Oreal’s Paris sexual harassment campaign which you can leverage in a similar scenario;
- Distract the perpetrator – attempt to divert the attention of the harasser away from the victim to diffuse the situation.
- Delegate by asking for help – seek assistance from others who can intervene or support the victim.
- Document the harassment – keep records of incidents, including dates, times, locations, and any evidence, such as messages or witnesses.
- Direct by speaking up – encourage the victim to assertively communicate their discomfort or disapproval to the harasser.
- Delay by comforting – offer emotional support and comfort to the victim after the incident.