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Australia 'Not all men? Nope, how all men play a part in ending street harassment'

23:21  25 november  2022
23:21  25 november  2022 Source:   honey.nine.com.au

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Before I sat down to write this article, I asked five women I know about the measures and precautions they take to stay safe on a night out. And then I asked several men I know the exact same question.

The answers couldn't have been more different. Like, startlingly different.

Women would tell me stories that were shocking, but hardly surprising.

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Tarang Chawla is a lawyer and anti-violence advocate. © Instagram Tarang Chawla is a lawyer and anti-violence advocate.

Stories of grasping their keys between their fingers in case they needed to use it as a weapon to protect themselves. Tales of taking elaborate and different routes home to avoid street harassment or walking past their destination to ensure they weren't being followed by a stranger.

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Every single one said they had texted at least one friend to ensure they are safe, and others said they were always prepared to yell out to an imaginary friend to make others think someone is waiting for them. Three of them said they exercise without headphones "just in case". The other two said they just wouldn't exercise in public.

Just in case of what, exactly? Street harassment, of course.

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Tarang's sister Nikita Chawla was murdered in 2015 at the age of 23, and he has since been a vocal advocate against gender-based violence and harassment. © Instagram Tarang's sister Nikita Chawla was murdered in 2015 at the age of 23, and he has since been a vocal advocate against gender-based violence and harassment.

Curious about what the men had to say? The most common answer men gave me was, "Wait, what do you mean by 'precautions'?"

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"I mean, I make sure I have my phone, wallet and keys because once I locked myself out at 3am – it wasn't pretty," one of them said. Ha!

Not all men are behaving in ways that harm women and others, but all men are responsible for the culture that condones it.

In fact, the men who did take precautions were those from LGBTQIA+ communities, live with a disability, are neurodiverse or men from a migrant background. These examples are just one of the different ways in which women, gender-diverse people and individuals from marginalised groups experience the world. We go through the world actively considering our safety from unwanted harassment or discrimination. And it's especially bad for women.

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Tarang with his sister Nikita. © Instagram Tarang with his sister Nikita.

In fact, 78 per cent of Australian women have experienced street harassment, personally, at least once, according to an Ipsos survey of 2000 Australians aged over 18.

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Why do I care about this so much?

I've been speaking out about women's safety following the murder of my sister Nikita in 2015. Since then, I've heard just about everything from empathy and compassion to outright victim-blaming of my sister. I've also seen a whole lot of change, for the better. But sadly, a lot of it has been driven almost exclusively by women and gender-diverse people, when what we need to see is more men engaged in the issue.

And I get it, when men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of harassment, why say anything at all? Why risk making things worse by saying the wrong thing? Sometimes it's better we just keep our mouths shut, right?

Wrong. That couldn't be further from the truth. We need to be vocal. And we need to be doing it now before it's too late. Street harassment is part of a broader problem of harmful behaviours towards women – from catcalling and unwanted attention to sexual violence and even murder.

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Nikita Chawla with her mother in a photo taken in September 2014, four months before she was murdered. © Instagram Nikita Chawla with her mother in a photo taken in September 2014, four months before she was murdered.

Now, I'm not saying the man who tries to flirt with a woman is some kind of predator who intends to cause harm. But when that behaviour is unwanted, and it continues, it signals a clear gendered power imbalance where women feel like they just don't have a choice.

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And that's a problem. I remember recently when former Miss Universe Australia and fellow L'Oréal Paris Ambassador Maria Thattil opened up about facing street harassment, that she described talking herself out of making a deal of it.

But it is a big deal. And it's something that many, many women experience. And as men, we have an opportunity to learn, to educate ourselves and to have better interactions and relationships with others.

L'Oréal Paris has partnered with Plan International Australia to deliver free, virtual training on how to become an active bystander and safely intervene when street harassment does occur. I've done it and I encourage all men to do it, too.

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It's all too easy to say things like, 'Well, not all men commit street harassment', or to think it's just because of a few bad blokes. But this isn't about making excuses or absolving ourselves of responsibility. Instead, this is about changing a culture of normalising bad behaviour.

And that's something in which every single one of us plays a role. Not all men are behaving in ways that harm women and others, but all men are responsible for the culture that condones it. For me, I see this as an opportunity. It's a chance for all of us to have wanted, reciprocal and consensual interactions.

As men, we have a simple question to ask ourselves: Do we want to have a culture where women are going out of their way to stay safe from men, or would we rather a culture where they feel safe around us?

I certainly know which one I'd prefer. And which one I would have wished for my baby sister Niki.

Tarang Chawla is a L'Oréal Paris Ambassador in partnership with Plan International Australia and Movember for 2022. Follow him on Instagram here and learn more about the Stand Up Against Street Harassment campaign here.

Workplace sexual harassment rates aren't getting better. How do we make it stop? .
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