October 3, 2016
This week we’ll hear from Deepshikha, Megan, and Moira about their feelings and insights on safety and harassment, based on their own experiences, observations and their cultural contexts.
Deepshikha Parmessur, Mauritius
Deepshikha graduated from the African Leadership Academy in 2015 and is going into her second year at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. She is currently 19.
Growing up, being a girl has never really been an issue for me. Mauritius is a liberal society, and so my parents never told me that I should only do certain things because I was a girl. Both of my parents have their own jobs, so it never became a question that, once I grow and get married, I would have to stay at home for my family. I spent my childhood going on hikes with my dad and helping him with any plumbing things, but I also spent time cooking and shopping with my mom.
I moved to South Africa at the age of 16, unaware that the world I grew up in was different from the reality. The day I moved to South Africa, being a girl now seemed an issue. I could not go anywhere I wanted unless I was with a man to “protect me.” Being a girl then had a different meaning. Being a girl meant that I could no longer do the things I love because I had to check whether it was a “girl thing” or a “boy thing.” Being a girl made me more insecure when I travelled to India recently. Everywhere I would go, and everything I would wear, there would always be a couple of men who would stare me down, like I am some doll that is dressed up in pretty clothing but needed to be stripped away from my outfit. And then they would smile because they felt like they had seen what they needed to see.
After these couple of incidents, that was when I realized that being a girl is a burden. You will never be safe wherever you go. If you are a black woman or woman of color walking down the streets, you will be scared to walk down the streets by yourself. There were several instances where I was ashamed to be a girl because of the way people were looking at me, as an object.
However, because of these very same experiences, I realized that no girl should have to walk down the streets thinking that it is okay if men are looking down on her as an object. I decided to major in Women and Gender studies in college, to be able to understand the complex identity of being a girl.
Megan Martin, United States
Megan lives in Alameda, California with her father and twin sister. She is 17 and going into her final year of high school. Megan wants to be a psychobiologist.
Because I live in the Bay area, arguably one of the most liberal areas in America, you would not expect me to face discrimination based on sex. Yet here I am, a 17-year-old girl who can say that she openly sees women being objectified by boys. In middle school, on Fridays, boys would go around slapping and grabbing girls’ butts in the hallways. I once stood at my locker surrounded by 10 boys taking turns grabbing my butt, not able to do anything. These boys, when in large groups, find joy in making girls uncomfortable and feel invincible. They are not penalized because this is socially accepted behavior (by their peers), and the administration has just one girl’s word against the group of boys. This culture of men having power over women makes me feel vulnerable when alone, and powerless. No woman should ever have to feel that way.
Moira O'Brien, United States
Moira is 17 and lives with her family in Avon, Connecticut.
Growing up as a female in the United States, I was constantly reprimanded for my clothing. Schools have certain dress codes that students need to follow in order to be allowed into class. For girls, shorts need to be longer than their fingertips, their stomach is not allowed to show, and they are not allowed to wear any shirt with a strap less than two inches. Furthermore, if girls do not follow these guidelines, they will not be able to attend class, and will be sent to the nurse in order to find clothes from the lost-and-found that are “school appropriate.” In seventh grade, I wore a tanktop to school that I had gotten from my mother for my birthday. The straps were a little less than the requirement, so I decided to bring a sweater to school. Towards the middle of the day, the classrooms had gotten noticeably warmer, so I did what anyone would do and removed my sweater, but this move did not please my teacher at all. Experiencing embarrassment and humiliation, I was sent to the nurse in order to change. Since then, I have been extremely cautious about my attire while in school. This experience has made me realize all the unnecessary injustices targeted towards women and their bodies.
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WomenStrong International is an organization of bold women, from the brave girls in our Girls’ Clubs in Ghana, Haiti, India, and Kenya, to the women who face challenges each day, as they work to lift themselves out of extreme urban poverty. So the theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is one we can relate to -- #BeBoldforChange. It would be hard to find a bolder, more dedicated, more innovative and passionate group of women than the Project Directors who run WomenStrong programs in our five Consortium member sites. In honor of Women's Day this year, we celebrate these bold women with a series of short profiles. We hope you find their stories as inspiring as we do and that these stories encourage you, too, to #BeBoldforChange.