You see them from outside your car window, a group of young male students between the ages of 9 and 13 years old.
You come down from your car, whistling a happy tune. It past 1 pm, and the sun is hiding behind the clouds. You lock your car door.
Then you hear those words: “Big Ass.”
At first, you wonder if you heard correctly. But then you know that, of course, you heard them right – you are a 29-year-old woman; your ears work just fine.
You stand still and wonder what to do.
Should you speak out and tell them that they shouldn’t speak to a human being like that?
But you remember where you are: in the parking lot of an all-boys secondary school. So many things can happen here. Spoken things like ashawo, slut, prostitute.
You turn around and walk away, avoiding their faces.
You feel ashamed.
You are walking towards the bus stop at 5.40am in the morning. Though there are some people on the road, your heart refuses to rest. This is Lagos; all it takes is a slap and a pull, and your life will change for good.
You clutch your bag close to your side and walk faster. You pray. God please, protect me. You pray this same prayer every morning.
You see a man walking towards you. Your body tenses up. Could he be a thief? Or even worse, a rapist?
But when he gets close to you, you see he is dressed like a decent human being – like a man who is on his way to work to earn a living. You try to relax. You can’t.
As he passes by you, he whispers, “I like your pussy.”
At first, you wonder if you heard correctly. But then you know that, of course, you heard him right – you are a 29-year-old woman; your ears work just fine.
You stand still and wonder what to do.
Should you speak out and tell him that he shouldn’t speak to a human being like that?
But you remember where you are: on a deserted road at 5.40 am. So many things can happen here: some physical like rape, physical assault, robbery; some spoken like ashawo, slut, prostitute.
You continue walking, clutching your bag tighter.
You feel dirty.
You enter a bus at 6.30 pm in the evening. You are tired. Your mind is heavy. You sit on a hard-wooden chair and rest your head on the window. The air is filled with the smell of bodies. You sigh and close your eyes.
You feel something pressing your buttocks. You turn behind, and there it is: a knee. You look at the owner: a young respectable-looking man. He is looking out of the window. Of course, this touching cannot be intentional.
You move a few inches forward on the chair. A few seconds later, the knee is there again, resting on your buttocks. You look at your own knee: it is there, in its place, not bothering the woman in front of you.
At first, you wonder if you are being paranoid. But then you know that, of course, your instincts are right – you are a 29-year-old woman; your brain works just fine
You sit still and wonder what to do.
Should you speak out and tell him that he shouldn’t touch a human being intentionally without their permission?
But you remember where you are: in a bus filled with eleven men and two women (one of which is you). So many things can happen here: some physical things like rape, physical assault, robbery; some spoken like ashawo, slut, prostitute.
You rest your head on the window and close your eyes.
You feel violated.
Daily we women are verbally abused and our bodies are intentionally touched without our permission. This is called HARASSMENT
Because of fear, we bear it all and we keep silent.
We allow these men make us feel inhuman, like objects, like we don’t matter.
But don’t we know our silence does not help?
The more we keep silent, the more this behaviour continues. We should not only speak out on serious issues of rape and sexual abuse; we should speak out on these subtler, but equally insidious acts of verbal abuse and intentional touching of our bodies without our permission.
Fine, there are arguments that speaking out in the moment can lead to harm, but what about after the act?
What about on social media?
What about in conversations with our family, friends, and co-workers?
These three instances above happened to me in one week, and up until now, I regret not speaking out.
For the man on the road, it would have been dangerous to walk up to him and speak out because of the timing and location. But for the schoolboys and the man in the bus, I should have spoken out.
Fine, they could have verbally abused me.
At least I would have gotten my message across.
And what if they didn’t abuse me? What if they actually listened to me? I could have saved another woman from going through such harassment.
And speaking of women, we have a huge role to play.
When we are raising boys, let us teach them that calling girls names is a BIG NO.
Let us teach them that intentionally touching a girl’s body without her permission is a BIG NO.
When we speak out and raise our boys better, one day, we will live in a world where women do not have to experience such harassment.
Does this resonate?
Have you been harassed in this way?
How did you handle it?
Let’s get the conversation going in the comments section.