It’s fairly common in South Asia. Due to the changing society and increase of women’s liberties it is all to common now in countries like India, Pakistan and Nepal for women to travel without male company. Many men in those countries cannot handle situations where women prove to be independent and some of these men (and boys) become harrasive. Eve teasing is the term used for their sexually abusieve behavior.
Eve teasing relates of course to the Biblical Eve and the word teasing to a playful thing, which it for obvious reasons is not. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working in Nepal, in the southeast Terai and due to the way we work we often used public transport. Two western women, one of them dressed European style and the other dressed Nepali style but still very obvious European white women. Most of the days and most of the travels are without incidents and also most of the days and travels men noticeably observe and watch. Not much ado about anything.
And then, one day, there’s a local bus ride from a provincial town to a refugee camp. The bus is crowded, over crowded as the busses always are. It is by all means the quickest way of transport in that location although one would probably not think so according to the speed of the vehicles. It’s the big bus, not one of the small ones and after a few stops the thing is completely filled with people standing against each other, leaning over and trying to grab anything that can hold them upright while the bus bumpes it’s way along te road. And we are of course noticed.
Most people don’t even react, some of them look at us and children gaze. Older women smile when they see us and younger women look curiously. Old men have no interest but the other man gaze. Except for one. The guy starts throwing remarks. Friendly at first as if he’s trying to charm us but after a while he continues with his remarks in a flirtatious way. Some people laugh. Some remarks are in Nepali and not in English, presumably he thinks we do not understand his Nepali. He is right as far as my European dressed curly haired companion is concerned but I do understand some words. They are sexually loaded remarks.
No one interferes and he seems unable to get more attention than a few laughs from other young men and a couple of giggles from teenager girls. Still, his remarks were pretty indecent as the whole of his behaviour was. The only reasons for it being two western women traveling in the same bus he was in. He could have stayed silent. But he didn’t.
This time there were no others to jump in on his attempts to be ‘funny’. This time there were many women on the bus and only few men. So this time it all stayed at a harmless level. Quite different from another instance earlier last year when I solely walked the streets of a little town during a bhanda, a general strike. At that instance I came into a situation where young men in their early adolescense started throwing remarks at me. Mind you, I was dressed Nepali style as usual at the time. Still they started of from the other side of the street making remarks. First it were words but within minutes some of the were shouting remarks at me. A few of the remarks I understood as I do understand some Nepali. I was being ‘Eve teased’. Not in a ‘funny’ way like on the bus but in a more agressive and intrusive way. I didn’t quite understand what happened at the time but now I know that it was one of those examples of harrasment that many women in South Asia experience when moving in public without male company.
Both instances of Eve Teasing were relatively mild but both of them unwanted. Both instances were sexually loaded and directed at me and both instances were examples of sexual harrasment as in both cases it wat unwanted and intrusive.
Now, after months living and traveling in the region I know more and now I realize how deep the unease of a lot of men is when they see women in public without a male companion. I also understand now that social change and women liberation in countries like Nepal and India has come at a consequence that society has not been able to handle. Men simply seem not able to accept women being emancipated.
Now ofcourse this all is quite different from the experiences we’ve had in working with the great guys who were helping us with our work. They are the modern guys. The ones who act normally and do not fool around. They support and enjoy working together and gender is not an issue with them. But outside this amazing group of guys there are so many men in Nepal and India who seem sexually frustrated. Harrasing women is an evil in society that is unfortunately all to common. Bollywood enforces that as society is constantly flooded with gender traditional images on television. Films, commercials and even music underline an overly heterosexual and gender biased mentality in a culture that is changing rapidly but does not yet understand the importance of female independency and emancipation. Eve teasing is just part of that. It should be fought against as much as possible.
Alice © 2012