Archive | May 28, 2010

Making Cities Women Friendly!

Making Cities Women Friendly!

By Hwaa Irfan

There is a curious manner in which the issue on the disadvantages women face in the public sphere is addressed by so-called women rights groups and organizations. The problem is always reflected as one which only women of the first/third world are afflicted by, therefore the foregone conclusion is that women of the dominant world culture are liberated and have all their rights in hand. For instance, in IPS news in its coverage “Making Latin America’s Cities Women-Friendly” reflects the following:

“Rosario is one of the Latin American cities taking part in the regional program “Cities Without Violence Against Women, Safe Cities For All”. If this only what you read then one might “So what/there’s nothing wrong in that!”, but when you have read a few U.N. documents pertaining to women, it becomes apparent that women in first/third world countries are in need of the benevolence of the West to get their rights, and that abuses only happens to women in first/third world countries or in the case of Muslims, the poor Muslim sisters need to be freed from oppression.

Having lived in the West, and have seen on a daily basis the battles western women face every day from the bedroom to the workplace, and the many dangers western women are vulnerable to from the time they are born, one could find it actually quite amusing when western women need to put their own house in order first before they can even present a “real” solution to anyone else!

In the above mentioned article one of the problems that Latin American women on the streets face are as follows:

    “Women like Retamoso consider catcalls and often aggressive come-ons that are typical in public spaces in Argentina — squares, streets, bus stops, buses, schools and even hospitals — to be gender violence”.

There are three aspects to this i.e. the male, the female, and the interpretation of what has taken place.

From the Women’s Point of View

A study of 600 girls (49% Latin, 23% white, 9% African-American, and 7.5% Asian)) from Georgia, and California revealed:

• 99% girls reported experiencing sexual harassment once

• 67% received unwanted romantic attention

• 62% reported receiving bad gender-based comments

• 58% teased because of their physical appearance

• 52% reported receiving unwanted physical contact

• 25% reported receiving threats of harm/bullying be males

Then there was a disparity in reporting the above information based on the following factors:

• Latin and Asian-American girls reported less cases of harassment than other ethnic groups

• Those exposed to feminism were more likely to report

• Girls who were expected to conform to “gender stereotypes” by their parents were more likely to report

• Girls who had identity issues about their gender were more likely to report


As indicated above, it is a matter of the cultural relationship to gender which influences the way in which a woman will identify an act as a form of sexual harassment. What is not reflected in many studies is the reality on the streets, which is:

a) Not all women are victims, therefore innocent. i.e. some aim to elicit catcalls

b) Some women take pleasure in eliciting catcalls

From the Man’s Point of View

Many studies on various gender issues have proven that there is a big difference in how men perceive the female body image, and how women perceive the female body image, and then we have feminists who advocate that a woman should dress and behave as she pleases, but to behave as one pleases means that one is not concerned with the response/reaction. Some women play blind and behave indignantly without regard to how a man may see her. It is cast off as a crime, but in court there is such a thing as aiding and abetting or entrapment:

    “I’m not saying its right to objectify women, catcall, etc., but when women go out in public dressed in skimpy clothing that is so tight it looks painted on how is it that they don’t see it coming?”

A man sexually harasses a woman, and the blame lies entirely with the man, regardless of whether the woman has objectifies her body at some level. It might even be the case that she reacts in anger only because he has gone beyond a certain point, still the man is to blame. Far too many women today take their lead in physical appearance from what happens on stage in music video’s etc, but still it is the man who is to blame. A look, a smile, a play with the hair, an accentuated mince in her walk, or the voice projected in some subtle way, and it is still the man who is to blame!

A study involving a group of 56 female students from Southwestern University found that the greater the level of self objectification, the greater the level of body self dissatisfaction, which only proves Objectification Theory which states:

    “…routine sexual objectification experiences socialize girls and women to treat themselves as objects to be looked upon and evaluated such that their bodies become objects for others”


It goes without saying the millions of dollars that women spend on make-up and plastic surgery which heightens self objectification further.

Gender Mainstreaming

Making cities women friendly cannot be done overnight through public awareness alone. It goes right back to the home where children are raised and the enforced sex education programs by the U.N and local governments which teaches self objectification, and it goes right back to the policies that allow media to make it seem natural to objectify the body. Otherwise it is like a series of open door policies, which pushes for for a mixed gendered environment in the workplace and school, approaching sexual harassment as a separate problem when in fact sexual harassment has become a living reality for many women in societies, where there are no religious values/ethics in place in civil society. To add to the problem the issue is not just about the availabilty of sex:

    “The idea that a woman is taking something that belongs to a man is increased when there are fewer good jobs to go around,” said Jane Lang, who represents 15 women suing Duluth, Minn.,-based mining company
    “Our clients have been told they are taking bread out of the mouths of men. You hear a lot more about economics than you do about politics.”

The above situation took place in the U.S., where sexual harassment is commonplace in schools and in work life – this is not the back waters of a first/third world country. Here sexual harassment is a symptom of a greater problem that organizations like the U.N. ignore as it steams ahead with its gender mainstreaming program. The world is not just about making room for women, it is about nurturing self respect and understanding for men, women, and children.

The principle behind gender mainstreaming according to the U.N. is:

    “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women
    and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”

This statement seems like a fair one, until the last sentence if the U.N keeps pursuing the meaning of “equality” as being “the same.” Men and women are not the same, and can only be in the same environment under certain conditions, and those conditions have to be understood and respected by both genders in order for it to work. An example in mind is the underground transport system in Egypt, in a society where secularism is gaining ground. There has always been separate carriages for men, and carriages for women on the metro in Cairo, however, with encroaching secularism in the public sphere, men have been increasingly behaving badly. It almost became a battle of the sexes, as a few men/boys would push their way into women’s carriages (which were few in comparison to the men’s). This was aided and abetted by some young women who took pleasure in the occurrences. It took a couple of reported incidences, not a whole case file as in the West, before the authorities for the underground stepped in, by first changing the arrangement of carries allocated for women only, then followed up by regular public announcements over the megaphone. Finally, the number of women only carriages were increased, and then a fine slapped on any male over a certain age found breaking this code. This of course is supported by having transport police in attendiance at each metro stationed making it easy for any incident to be reported and addressed instantl. yNow sanity has returned to the underground metro, and women can travel safely. This was made possible in a relatively short period of time (2 years) when compared to the West because there were cultural and religious “reminders” still prevalent in society on how one should behave in public.These reminders do not exist in outright secularist societies where individualism means everything is according to the individual.

{O mankind! Surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you many know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of their duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware!} (Al Hujurat 49: 13)

Clarke, A “Sexual Objectification and Its Consequences on Body Image and Social Interaction”

Valente, M. “Making Latin America’s Cities Women-Friendly”

Market Research Global “Experts See Sexual Harassment Growing in Blue-Collar Industries.”…-a064938394

Moradi, B. “Roles of Sexual Objectification Experiences and Internalization of Standards of Beauty in Eating Disorder Symptomatology:A Test and Extension of Objectification Theory”. Journal of Counseling Psychology 2005, Vol. 52, No. 3, 420–428 0022-0167/05/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.3.420

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