This is a guest post by Angelique Mulholland. Angelique is a tireless human rights campaigner, articulate social commentator and a very good friend of mine. Please read, comment and share.
As part of my trip around Asia to find out more about women’s human rights at ground level, I have spent a week in New Delhi in the lead up to the big event in every activists’ calendar- International Women’s Day.
Within 72 hours of arriving in New Delhi, I was sexually harassed twice, both times on the Metro. With the “New Delhi gang rape” fresh in my mind, I can honestly tell you, I have felt a number of extreme emotions over this past week. Fear and anger are just two of them.
Both times, I said nothing to these men who presumed they had a right to touch me without my permission. In your head, when you imagine this happening to you, you always think you’ll fight back and give them hell. But in the reality of harassment – it doesn’t always work that way.
I am fortunate though. I am fortunate because all week I have been working for a human rights charity called Breakthrough. They understand better than anyone why it can be hard for the victim to speak up. That’s why they encourage intervention from others; both men and women. Their most successful campaign here in India is called “Bell Bajao” which in Hindi means “Ring the Bell”.
India’s biggest women’s human rights problem is not in public spaces, it’s actually in the home. The objective of the campaign is clear and effective; if you hear a woman being subjected to violence next door, then “Bell Bajao.” Get up, go next door and #RingTheBell. Intervene. Stand up for that woman. Here is one of the powerful videos, created by Breakthrough which shows how the people of India can do just that.
As I have learnt, intervening is an extremely important part of ending violence and harassment against women. Why? Because very often it is too difficult for the victims of violations just to speak out for themselves.
Why is it so hard to speak out? Why did I say nothing to these men?
I said nothing because I was shocked – beyond belief – both times. You may think I would have been prepared after all the reading I had done on the daily harassment that many women face in New Delhi – but no – I assure you, nothing prepares you for a man grabbing your breast when you innocently get off at your stop, or a man pushing himself up against you after he glimpses your shoulder when your top slips down by accident. Nothing prepares you for either of these things and shock is definitely the first emotion.
I said nothing because I was scared of the repercussions. I estimate that there is a ratio of 100 men to 1 women on the streets of Delhi. If I had shouted at either of these guys on the train, would the other men have stood up for me? Would they have laughed? Would they have understood? Would I have put myself in more danger? Would they have given a shit? I don’t know. I really don’t know…
I hope that Breakthough’s new campaign “One million men, One million promises” will galvanize men into standing up and intervening. The campaign aims to get men in India and around the world to make a promise to stand up for women’s human rights. Make a promise to intervene if they see a woman being harassed. Make a promise to tell other men who are behaving inappropriately to start behaving appropriately and with respect. Putting it simply, it’s about getting the good guys, and there are so many of them, to stand up and tell the bad guys where to go…
“One Million Men, One Million Promises” was launched on International Women’s Day at the British High Commission in New Delhi. I was there and tweeting with the digital team. Please do follow both @LeakyM and the Twitter account for the event which is @bell_bajao for updates. The hash tag is #RingTheBell.
For the women of India who are harassed and subjected to violence on a daily basis – I ask you to join the campaign and make your promise to help end this.