On Sexual Harassment: Don’t Shame Victims Who Do Not Speak Up
By Afia Kwakyewaa Owusu-Nyantakyi
The #Metoo campaign was necessary. It doesn’t matter how it started. (Ok, maybe it does). But more importantly, sexual harassment is a globally normalized silent vice that needed to come to light. And rightfully so, as we have seen how pervasive and deep the horrors perpetrated can go.
Powerful women all over the world, yes Oprah as well, have warned the powers that be, that a complete social overhaul is underway. I love it, I love it all. Before this time, many women (and men) of influence had shared their own stories of sexual harassment, abuse and rape. Many stories tell of the strength these victims had to push back as well as the repercussions that had on their careers and livelihood. We will continue to applaud these voices.
When the conversation found its way to the motherland, many people, including myself, shared harrowing experiences of sexual harassment. It made me proud to have everyday people occupy online spaces with such relevant stories.
But there were those who felt the need to call out women who have succumbed to these pressures. I’ve seen many examples, referring to female students who have had to sleep with lecturers for better grades, or surreptitious relationships between bosses and employees. What now? Are we to say these women are less important or their experiences do not count simply because they ‘lost’ or ‘gave in’? Are they weaker or promiscuous because of their choices?
Well I THINK not. But this isn’t surprising. Victim blaming and sex-shaming has always been the bane (one of many) of African womanhood. When you stand up for yourself, you are brash, when you do not, you are shamed. I am sure we all know that we are defeating the purpose of fighting sexual harassment, if we are going praise the outspoken victims or activists and condemn women who made other choices. On a daily basis, women have to make the decision to hold on to the aura of dignity assigned or be free. Daily, we are prepositioned, without any regard of the terror and discomfort we are caused. And we pay for this. There are young girls who grow up believing this is the way to get by. This is the way to rise to the top; Give a little piece of yourself to survive. It’s our reality.
I think the challenge we have here is that many people are still struggling to understand what constitutes sexual harassment. For instance, I understood our perspective better when I read the comment section on a BBC video coverage on the harassment of a Kenyan journalist. A lot of men, (and women too) believe it is normal for a woman to be catcalled, slapped on the butt or be propositioned by whoever and whenever.
Popular reactions on the video : She probably asked for it. What was she doing there in the first place?
I remember someone commenting that she was making a fuss about her breasts being groped when she recounted her experience.
It is an indication of the bigger problem we have here on the continent. We are guilty of victim shaming and silencing, because we fail to recognize that this is an issue in the first place. We cannot fix something, we are unable or unwilling to acknowledge. We are conditioned to believe that men wield their power, thus if you are caught in an unfavorable situation, you either did something to put yourself there or that’s just how the patriarchy system works. That’s life.
It’s no wonder many rather choose to suffer a dignified silence than speak up. I will not begrudge for that.
I think sexual harassment is horrendous, whether you concede to your attackers wiles or you resist. It is a mental turmoil that can take years to overcome. There are people who do not even know that they were or currently are victims, but only understand the discomfort and violation the ordeal can bring. Stories that are shared are so necessary because it is our hope for change, the beginning of a different mentality.