Next time you’re on a bus or train, look around. How many young women do you see?
Over 50 per cent of female respondents to a recent international poll said they avoided public transport and spaces because they feared harassment. Not just in one or two countries, but across the world.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), which represents 10 million girls and young women in 150 countries, conducted this research.
From 7000 girls 70 per cent said streets were the most unsafe places in their communities and 78 per cent thought sexual violence was increasing.
One girl who has experienced this first-hand is 25-year-old Ugandan, Martha Atuheire.
When she thinks about travelling into Kampala city it makes her shiver and wonder if the inevitable harassment is worth the trip.
One day she was buying clothes.
“Salesmen were calling for customers; it was unbearable because everywhere I moved people would forcefully pull my hand … it was becoming worse. Then one of them touched my breast.”
Martha described herself as “big or averaged sized” and said shopkeepers would often hurl insults at her, like “size yange” meaning “my size”.
“It’s a phrase most men use to demean women, by describing them as their own property.”
In another recent poll, nearly 126,000 people were asked about the biggest challenges for women and girls where they live.
Education received 30 per cent, while the close runner-up was unsafe spaces and violence with 25 per cent.
This same poll asked what parliaments should do to better serve young people; 32 per cent said meet to discuss their needs and recommendations.
That’s exactly what Martha intends to do. She is part of the WAGGGS remote delegate team taking part in the United Nations’ 62nd Commission on the Status of Women this month.
The team of remote and on-site delegates will be a voice for women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable in rural and indigenous communities, to ensure all live free from violence.
Lucy Agyeman, 29, from Ghana is part of the on-site delegation. She said street harassment made girls feel unsafe and in Ghana this behaviour wasn’t restricted to public spaces.
Sexual harassment from senior male employers was also a serious problem for young women. She even recalled an occasion when her boss touched her bottom.
“I felt intimidated and alone. Harassment is an issue we need to talk about and support each other.”
WAGGGS is hosting an event to enable girls and young women to share their experiences and call for an end to violence in all its forms.
Through Her Eyes: #GirlsAreUnsafe will run from 3.30 – 5pm, 16 March at the Westin Grand Central Hotel, New York.