Advocacy for Dignity: Street Harassment in Kabul

Published on January 31, 2012

Brief Data Analysis

Target group: The pilot project for Advocacy for Dignity, a research on street harassment of women, began in April 2011 as twenty women were surveyed to identify the prominence of the issue in Kabul. All these women were below the age of twenty five. Seventy per cent of them lived in Kabul during the survey; the remaining thirty per cent had spent at least three years in Kabul. The survey covered three university students, two high school students and fifteen women who worked in local non-governmental and governmental organizations during their stay in Afghanistan.

Method of research: The majority of the women received hard or soft copies of the survey questionnaire after they were approached by YWC members. Women who lived outside Afghanistan were surveyed via E-mail or Skype.

All the interviewees were provided with the same set of twenty questions and the following definitions of harassment and assault: Verbal abuse and harassment includes, but is not limited to, name-calling, sexual comments, shouting, insulting, intimidating, threatening, shaming, demeaning, or derogatory language.

Sexual assault includes, but is not limited to, any form of sexual or physical contact without voluntary consent. Kissing, touching, groping, squeezing, fondling, sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, and oral sex are all examples of sexual assault if they are done without voluntary consent.

Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, any unwanted comment, gesture, or action of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual attention, demands, or a pattern of sexual jokes or insults. Public cases of verbal abuse and sexual assault can be classified as street harassment.

Results: Ninety percent of the women surveyed expressed that they face street harassment on a daily basis, but only forty percent said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual assault in public. Eighteen out of the twenty surveyed said that they did not feel safe in Afghanistan due to street harassment, as well as security concerns. The remaining two said, that street harassment made them feel uncomfortable but they did not think the harassers had the intention or the power to hurt them or make them feel vulnerable. The majority of the women said that there was very little communication about street harassment in their families.

Forty percent argued that they would be blamed for street harassment if they talked to their families and twenty percent said they never thought of sharing stories of harassment with their families. Only two of the women said they had gone to the police in cases of sexual assault; none of the women had gone to police for verbal abuse. Seventy percent of the women said that they felt the police was not helpful, and fifty per cent said that the police engaged in harassment. Eighty percent of the interviewees said they thought that all women who exit their houses are subject to street harassment after puberty and men of all ages partake in harassment and assault.

Twenty percent of the women said they were “assertive” against street harassment and “talked back.” The remaining sixty percent, who said they faced daily harassment, said they remained silent and tried to ignore harassment. This research makes it clear that street harassment of women is a prominent problem in Kabul; the majority of women do not feel safe leaving their houses and face daily harassment from men of all ages and backgrounds. The research also shows that the manner of clothing of women has little, if any, correlation to the amount of street harassment they face but victim-blaming is a common approach towards street harassment.

Evaluation and Recommendations: Twenty women cannot represent the female residents of Kabul. However this research can be an initial step towards a city-wide research on street harassment. The majority of the surveyed women said that they thought all women who exit their houses face daily harassment. This statement is significant because it calls for a bigger survey to examine this claim and seek more accurate data on the matter.

A second research should be designed to cover more women from different backgrounds and levels of participation in the society. For example, the age group of the interviewed women is limited to below twenty five. The future research should focus on a more diverse age group. This initial research is limited to interviews with women; men, religious leaders, police and psychologists are able to provide different points of view about street harassment.

The next research should include men, who engage in harassment or oppose it, the views of religious leaders on street harassment, the mental and emotional effects of street harassment on women and men as discussed by psychologists. The future research should also focus on the roots of street harassment; why it exists and what cultural and social factors make it possible for men to harass women. This can be analyzed through interviews with psychologists and men themselves. The interview with the police will clarify the amount of support available for women who are harassed or assaulted. This will allow the advocacy against street harassment to be stronger as religious leaders, men and psychologists speak out and discourage men from engaging in public verbal and sexual abuse. The second research should be focused on gathering information as well as advocacy.

Using public and social media, distributing flyers against street harassment, arranging debates, lectures and discussions on street harassment, and use of religious leaders as forces to discourage street harassment make it possible for street harassment to be recognized as a problem and can contribute to decreasing street harassment as well victim-blaming in cases of assault and abuse.

The Author

Noorjahan Akbar was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1991. She works with Young Women for Change, an organization dedicated to empowering Afghan women. She is also a volunteer member for Hadia- Afghan Volunteers for Social Reform, and a sophomore at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, USA. She also worked with Radio Azadi (Radio Free Europe) as a writer of Children’s programs. Later, she became the exectuive assistant of Huma Media Group and assistant of Huma Monthly Publication. As an outcome of her work at GTZ-BEPA, a book of six translated short stories for children was printed and distributed among the children of Afghanistan in Afghanistan. The author’s picture is by Abasin Azarm.