the common place passing comment that is almost customarily heard by every girl who walks on the road. Ironical how ‘ah nangi’ could be actually a pleasant phrase of greeting, but is automatically referred to the widespread culture practised in streets which is pathetically amusing to half the men in our country. The word given to sum it all up is ‘Eve-Teasing”, a euphemism used throughout South Asia which includes countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It refers to public sexual harassment -- often known as street harassment -- of women by men.
Sadly, the harassment is not limited to the nuisance remarks. This form of sexual aggravation increases its severity to groping and sexual brushing in public places. It could be easily said that every girl or woman who usually travels by bus or walks across the town has undergone at least one form of eve-teasing, the least being a catcall. We experience and observe this happening in public spaces, public transportation and streets often. It is a pity that school children in their uniforms undergo sexual annoyances, their vulnerability being exploited.
Rude and continuous staring at the physique, lewd remarks and gestures, brushing against women’s body, touching, grabbing and even hard pinching and twisting are what average girls go through in the presence of perverts. These things happen all the time in all the main cities in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t matter how the girl is dressed (girls in traditional clothes are also teased and abused), how old she is (toddlers are felt up and yes, even abused), how pretty she is or where she is (patients in hospitals are felt up and subject to sexual abuse). All that the perverts care about is that the victim is vulnerable and that they aren’t caught.
The above mentioned range of eve-teasing also spreads across an age-span. From what is generally observed; while the young boys, particularly in groups do the whistling and mocking, men of over 40 years resolve to much uncouth acts like brushing and exposing sexual organs. The problem lies in the difficulty to prove such harassment as wrong-doings according to law. A female falls into a situation where anger towards such coarse behaviour is compelled to be suppressed in not wanting to ‘make a scene out of it’.
Why are boys/men probed towards eve-teasing? There certainly is a sociological and psychological aspect as to why such unnecessary acts take place. We live in a society where gender demarcations are strictly believed. Although gender equality maybe spoken of and encouraged by a part of society, it is just a handful of people who would treat both the genders evenly. There is always a gender role to be played, the females being the party to be confined to a set of activities beyond which, a step taken would be ill-spoken of.
Girls are expected to behave, and should be taught that boys will be boys - Kapila Rasnayake
Kapila Rasnayake, a popular youth activist working with boys and men to prevent gender-based violence expressed a similar opinion regarding this issue:
“Owing to ‘the masculine culture’, boys are taught that they are much stronger and more important than their female counterparts. Boys are taught at a very young age that men and women are poles apart from each other, and they are expected to be strong, and that leads them into thinking that they are superior to women. On the other hand, girls are expected to behave, and are taught that boys would be boys no matter what. This mentality moulds the growing child to consider gender stereotypes and roles very seriously. This is the basic reason for not only eve teasing, but many issues such as rape and abuse.”
“Primary education about typical gender stereotypes and roles should be given to each and every child. And EQUALITY is the most important thing. Kids need to be taught that girls and boys are not so different from each other and that they need to respect each other”
Artistes must not brand eve-teasing - Sudath Mahadiulwewa
A fairly wrong idea is often portrayed in films and tele-dramas where mild teasing is shown as a part of a flirtatious beginning of courtship which invariably results in the heroine submitting to the hero’s advances. Young men tend to emulate the example, depicted so flawlessly on screen and make themselves the “Roadside Romeos”. However for most girls, this is not the actual scenario. Therefore, media also play a disappointing role in stirring this sort of behaviour in society. Sudath Mahadiulwewa, an award winning film director admitted that he completely deplored this faulty message given through media productions, advertisements etc. “An artiste should be aware of his/her responsibility towards society. What happens in actual life is not that fancy as it is depicted on the screen. Artistes should think as human beings and must not brand eve-teasing which is a wrong way of implementation. However, I don’t think censoring or interfering by Governing Boards to stop this is a good idea. If a line is to be drawn, it should be drawn in a careful manner.”
We have to make changes in school atmosphere - Dr. Nimalka Fernando
The Daily Mirror inquired Dr. Nimalka Fernando, a women’s rights activist and President of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) about the sociological aspect of this matter.
“Unfortunately, despite high literacy rate and boasting about the prevalence of good culture etc., the Sri Lankan society and family culture in general demonstrate very violent and patriarchal values still being perpetuated and nurtured. Of course there are a few exceptional cases and families who have managed to break away from the norm.”
The school curriculum and the present system including the teacher training process have not integrated a new approach. A majority of teachers have not been able to cope with the new trends and dealing with these subjects.
We cannot introduce so many laws to reform social mindsets and behavioural patterns. We have to make changes in school atmosphere and discuss about these issues openly. How can you expect students to behave when principals and teachers have been guilty of sexual abuse and conduct? These cases must be dealt with immediately to stop recurrence and the educational system has to be changed. I also think that Teachers’ Unions should take these matters as part of their struggle and not focus only on wage demands and their political rights only.”
Eve-teasing doesn’t happen in the vicinity of the school: Principal - Royal College
In order to be informed about how education could facilitate to lessen eve-teasing, we inquired from Upali Gunasekera, Principal of Royal College, Colombo about whether he had come across such situations happening in the vicinity of the school, he clearly stated that he had not. When asked what his opinion on this issue was and what can be done in an educational approach to prevent it from happening further, he stated that he couldn’t comment on anything he wasn’t familiar with. However he mentioned that through improving moral values of children such behaviour can be avoided.
Laws should be brought in to mitigate this matter - Kumuduni Samuel
What can girls do about this? Sadly, most girls have learnt to accept it as a part and parcel of their daily lives. Executive Director of the Women and Media Collective Kumuduni Samuel insisted that girls should speak up for themselves at such instances.
“Nothing is minor or major in harassment. If a girl feels uncomfortable at being harassed, she should take the courage to speak out against it. If you undergo this while travelling in the bus, you have the right to complaint to the bus-conductor, and he should be able to stop what’s happening. You can strongly express your discomfiture and try to shame the man who put you in such a situation. India has tried segregated measures like separate buses for men and women. However, I don’t think this is practical in Sri Lanka. I believe that laws should be brought in to mitigate this matter while media and other social organizations should advocate about this. Families should give sex awareness to children and encourage girls to stand up for themselves”
It is no doubt that eve teasing violates a woman’s basic right to live in dignity. Street harassment of girls/women because of their gender is usually not taken seriously. It is often seen as a joke, compliment, or their own fault. In reality, harassment limits a woman’s peace of mind and mobility, making it a gender equality and human rights issue. Instead of recognizing this as a human rights issue, most men live in ignorance and the women, try to adapt. Girls and women often change their lives in myriad circumstances to avoid harassment. It is not acceptable for women to be treated as a mere piece of property; it undoubtedly makes a big impact on the society as girls/women play a huge role.
With the the increasing number of girls victimized to street harassment whether labelled as minor or severe, it is time to voice the struggles.
“Eve teasing is definitely not a compliment”
Guys in Sri Lanka are sexually deprived, unlike in most Western Countries. Males and females are kept apart from a younger age. I think that is the main
reason why teasing happens. Eve teasing is definitely not a compliment. But I guess it can differ under various circumstances.
Kishan Peiris, (26) Colombo
“Tolerance should have its limits”
“Girls should oppose and tell men not to tease or to stop whatever they are doing. If they keep on teasing, I of course feel that they should call the Police and complain. From my personal experience I have done these. You need to tell the guys who are teasing firmly that it’s bad or a violation of freedom or rights. It is because girls don’t retaliate because they tend to tolerate, these things have increased. When you show you are scared they will take advantage.”
Prarthana Liyanage (27), Dematagoda
“Older men are a bigger menace”
“I undergo this sort of thing most of the time as I travel alone. Rather than the teenagers it’s the older generation who make us victims of touching and all that. I feel like beating them, but yet as society sees me as a ‘girl’ so I just walk away”.
Fairoza Fairooz (19), Kandy
“ Women should be respected”
I think it happens due to lack of respect for women. I believe they are not brought up in a way in which they have been taught to respect and value other human beings. Another reason is sexual frustration. This behaviour can be prevented if children are educated about this from a younger age, through primary education.
Manisha Panditharatne (22) Colombo
“Women should retaliate”
I think women should reply whenever something like this happens. There is a possibility of things turning worse given the fact that they remained silent regardless of the harassment. These activities should be brought into attention so that the culprits can be given proper punishment. Exposure to explicit content on the internet and lack of education are the main reasons that I think are responsible for this sort of mentality among people.
Goshen Jackson, (22) Colombo
“Boys teasing girls is natural”
“I do not do this kind of thing. However, I see no harm if a young boy teases a girl. I don’t think the girl’s character is affected in a negative manner. Yet, a boy should be mindful about the place and kind of words he uses. Just teasing a girl is natural. But, teasing a girl in public, dragging sexual references is not acceptable”.
Rajitha Gunarathna (19), Kandy
“Tough laws should be implemented”
Lack of civil protection, proper law not being implemented and criminal charges not being taken up before the law and courts when it needs to be taken are the reasons why perverts thrive. The level of education given in local schools, the family background, religion and its teachings matter as well. I think the law should be implemented properly and strictly followed. Women should be more concerned about their clothing as well. Also educating and grooming on personality for both genders, teachings should be brought up on ‘Human Life & Its Value’ in primary education.
Ach Shibly (26) Colombo
“awareness is necessary”
I have come across a plenty of situations, and I think this happens mostly because girls and boys are kept apart from a very young age, and are taught that they are different. In most South Asian countries parents and teachers avoid having conversations on sexual education. You think the children need to be educated about this at home and at school.
Ishari Bodaragama (29) Negombo