As part of International Day of the Girl on October 11th 2018, Plan International UK released their powerful #ISayIt’sNotOK campaign video, highlighting the harassment that young girls face on UK streets on an everyday basis. Their accompanying report showed that 66% of girls aged 14 to 21 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in a public place and 15% are being touched, groped or grabbed on UK streets every month. They found that 35% of UK girls have been sexually harassed whilst wearing their school uniform.
I watched the video on Twitter one sunny Saturday morning and found myself scrolling through hundreds of comments from women applauding their campaign whilst sharing their own disturbing experiences of public harassment as young girls. Yet again, the horrifying thought that harassment, ranging from wolf-whistling to being groped, is a common shared experience for all women lodged itself in my mind, refusing to budge for weeks.
Many of the girls interviewed by PLAN International regarded harassment as ‘just part of being a girl,’ and one of the reasons why I was so angered by this is because I too internalised the same idea, at least for some time. On exactly what day of my teenage years did I begin to accept it? When did I roll out of bed and suddenly realise that, because I was a girl, it was perfectly normal for myself to worry about things that my two brothers wouldn’t need to?
There are everyday things a woman might do to avoid being harassed. It could be as simple as crossing the road or pretending to talk on the phone. Many schoolgirls even take more extreme measures, like changing into different clothes in an effort not to be targeted. In The Gambia, the tiny West African country where my parents were born, women and girls alike are still strongly encouraged to be at home and off the streets by sundown. Although these acts are a means of protection for women, it’s incredibly damaging that we feel that we need to make these ‘precautions’ in the first place. It reinforces the harmful message that blame lies with women themselves; ‘it’s herresponsibility to make sure she isn’t assaulted because ‘boys will be boys.’
It’s so easy for a huge problem like street harassment to feel too big to conquer – it feels ingrained in our society’s way of thinking. Unmoveable, almost. But, as PLAN identify in their campaign, there are small, realistic things that we can all do. From calling out harassment out as a bystander and listening to the experiences of young women, to starting important conversations with boys and men, there’s so many places to start.
As I’m finishing writing this, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Should I really show this to anyone? Maybe I should write about something softer, less uncomfortable.’ But no. That’s the whole point of PLAN’s campaign – to speak up and create safe public spaces for young girls, no matter how awkward it may seem. Because it’s not just part of being a girl. So, here goes.
#ISayIt’sNotOK. How about you?
Creativity has the power to change this behaviour, this is why I work at GOOD.
Binta Jallow is an account exec at GOOD. She has just completed her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing at Brunel University. You can find her on twitter @BintasThoughts