We have all probably seen the YouTube video that did rounds last year of a woman in NYC being harassed time and time again walking down the street minding her own business. If you haven’t. Here is the link.
The world saw the video and reacted in ways that the makers of the video never expected. It went viral. We all spoke about it in our various circles. We all sympathized with her. We all thought to ourselves “wow it must suck to walk down the streets of NYC”. But the truth is this video could have been on any street in the world. It could have been any street in Nairobi.
Closer to home, we all saw the videos of that did the rounds on social media of woman after woman being stripped naked in public. Including some that had even more vile acts of defilement. This was the point that the public was outraged. That the president came out of his busy schedule to say something about it. But the truth is we have all allowed this situation to get out of hand. We have all done nothing until the situation has blown out of proportion. The image below depicts the logical sequence of events in my mind.
There is a name for it. What has been happening to all these women. What happens to you and me regardless of our social status, sexual orientation, race … The name “street harassment”, the definition of which is any behaviour that is disrespectful, inappropriate, and threatening to women or LGBTQ person in a public space.
As with all other forms of gender based violence there exists a perpetrator and a victim and often times a casual observer that talks about it and does nothing. As Wacu Mureithi the Founder and Site Leader of Hollaback!NairobiKE puts it “Its the point at which as a victim you realise that you are all alone even in a crowd. She recalls her own experience that put her in touch with the movement.
“I was walking home from the bus stop talking to my workmate on the phone. There were two drunk men walking behind me making all kinds of funny degrading comments and noises. I decided to ignore them and just get home. I was barely a meter from the gate. Basically outside one of the shops in my building when suddenly there were hands up my dress. And then another set of hands. It was the most disgusting and shocking thing. There were people outside too. People that have known me since i was a child. I screamed and i got angry and still no one did anything. I am of course quite crazy and picked up the largest stone i could see and hit one of them with it. I tried to apply the i have one rock and these are two guys logic. Walk up close and hit him without letting go of it and go after the next one. The second one ran away of course but i had done something. I had protected myself. A talk with a friend later brought up Hollaback and the rest is history.”
Hollaback is a worldwide movement that exists for just that purpose. To do something for all those people that have been victims. To lead a movement that will put an end to the practice as a whole so that the kids in strollers right now do not grow up in the same world that we did where people are afraid to walk down the street, take public transport and are free to just be themselves. It offers a place for victims to speak out against their tormentors and harassers and heal from the experiences by speaking out. It also aims to empower observers to no longer stand by and do nothing. As President Uhuru said there was an “umati” of people around these women and they did nothing.
As Wacu says. “I was never again able to wear the dress that i had on that day and every other dress that looked like it. I gave them all away.” It took her years to heal from that experience and once again walk freely down the street.
To learn more about Hollaback!NairobiKE and be a part of the process you can visit their website nairobike.ihollaback.org. We encourage you to join the movement, log on and share you stories of street harassment in Nairobi. The more stories we have the better chances we have of approaching the government to intervene and legislate against this practice.