I am not your ‘Babes,’ I am your sister

Stella Says

No matter if I’ve only been gone from Guyana for a couple weeks, whenever I return and start to go about my business, it is always such a culture shock to see the way men treat women on the streets and about town. The things the men say and do are so brash that I cannot help but drop my head in shame for them.

Oft times as I run my errands, I have my good friend Varshnie Singh with me. Together we go about our day doing what every woman must do. However, there is not one hour of a day where some man is not saying something inappropriate to us.

20130302stellaSuch disrespectful behaviour toward women always seems to catch me off-guard because it is considered a social faux pas in every place I have lived– including machismo-prevalent countries like Panama and Costa Rica. As such, no matter how many times I see it in Guyana, I simply cannot believe it. I am astonished by the blatant disrespect every single time.

For example, it blows my mind when these men say such things to Varshnie, who is a Former First Lady. It is not as if they do not know who she is. At times, they even call her by name as they make ridiculous noises (as if that is supposed to impress her?) and call her babes, sweetheart, sexy, honey and a whole list of objectifying names.

This is how men speak to a distinguished woman? This is how men speak to ANY woman?

If a Former First Lady is treated to such garish behaviour, what woman in the nation can expect any respect at all?

Yes, Varshnie is beautiful. Of that there is no question. But her outward appearance pales in comparison to what is inside. She works tirelessly from sun up to sun down every single day for the people of Guyana – and she does so without financial recompense.

She does it from her heart.

Moreover, her intellect would put most in the highest positions in Guyana to shame. And she uses that intellect for good, which is more than can be said of most “leaders” in this nation. She has been put through hell a million times over and still has the resilience and determination to brush herself off and get back to work… not for herself, but for others. Which is why it infuriates me when some ‘Joe Schmo’ calls her babes or sweetie, as if she were nothing more than an object to be admired. Such disrespect sears my heart.

Still, do not think for one moment that Varshnie allows herself to be treated with such impertinence. I love to see the look on the faces of these men as she stops and tells them she is not their babe or their honey or their sweetheart. She says, “I am your Sister or Ma’am or Miss.”

She did this to a man outside of Courts the other day. As she walked by to go into the store the man called her “honey” and she stopped in front of all of the men who always loiter in front of the store and told him she was not his “honey,” she was his Sister. He was shocked, but obligingly acknowledged that she was right.

According to www.stopstreetharassment.org, “Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender. In countries like India and Bangladesh, it’s termed ‘eve teasing,’ and in countries like Egypt, it’s called ‘public sexual harassment.’ Street harassment is a human rights issue because it limits women’s ability to be in public as often or as comfortably as most men.”

How ironic that some guys actually think women like this animalistic behaviour. How can a woman find such conduct attractive when she cannot walk down the street for even one block without some type of irritating pestering? Public sexual harassment also steals all sense of security and makes a woman feel unsafe, used and objectified.

Last November, sexual harassment had become so bad in one state in India, Madhya Pradesh, that the mayor said that those indulging in eve-teasing will not get a driving licence, passport or be able to use other government facilities. He also started a database of eve-teasers and those indulging in similar offences and was prepared to take action against offenders.

In Mumbai, due to concern over the spate of eve teasing cases in the state, the Maharashtra government is considering a proposal to make it a non-bailable offence. An anti eve-teasing helpline was set up in Delhi.

In Uttar Pradesh, a girl suffered 90 per cent burn injuries after allegedly being set on fire. The only fault of the girl was that she objected to pestering by the man. In the town of Chopda Mohalla, a 23-year-old woman who was constantly subjected to eve-teasing by a neighbour committed suicide by hanging herself at her home.

If things do not change quickly in Guyana, these nightmarish news stories will be on the front page of Stabroek News. Let me say this as clear as I possibly can, public sexual harassment is not cute, funny or charming. It is disrespectful and immoral.

In many places in the world, such behaviour would land the offender in jail because there are laws against street harassment that are most certainly enforced…and women have no qualms about calling the police on an offender.

Which is probably why I am so shocked to see it when I am in Guyana. In, my eyes this behaviour is criminal and socially deplorable.

In town, I watch as women just keep walking while some man catcalls. I see the looks on the faces of those women and I know how a piece of security was just ripped from them as they wonder if there is a need to take extra measures to protect themselves just in case.

Brother, hear me, that woman is not your babes or honey, she is your Sister. Treat her as your Sister!

Email:  StellaSays@gmail.com

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