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Teaching to say NO to sexual harassment begins at home, when we do not tamp down our daughters’ voices by letting them express their opinions.
As a 30+ years old mother, a daughter and a wife, I have realized that in Indian society the importance of saying NO is gaining more importance than ever before. Firmly say NO as a strong weapon against all mental or physical harassment we go through as women or girls, in our everyday lives.
We have often been advised by our parents when we step out in the real world, away from the safe cocoon of our homes, to seek help and raise your voice if you are ever stuck in an unwanted situation, or with a person. But we soon realize that almost every time we never find the voice for saying NO to something which we were uncomfortable with.
The sole reason for this is that this voice was never allowed at home in our formative years, when it was supposed to be developed in the first place.
We cannot expect to regain that voice all of a sudden when something bad happens to us. We instinctively react in the way we were trained to by our parents or society as a whole in dire situations – “listen to what an authority says, and be a good girl”. This works against us when we go out into the world, as we have never learnt any other way to be. We haven’t tried that voice to say NO!
A girl needs to say NO whenever she is indecently touched in a public place.
A working girl/woman needs to say NO to any wrong advances by her fellow colleagues.
A wife needs to say NO when she is emotionally or mentally tortured by her in-laws or husband in her own house.
I personally have often experienced that we always ignore these situations, thinking that maybe this will be the first and probably the last time this will happen to me or anyone around, so why do we have to make such a fuss about it in public. We forget that this is the way we are encouraging people around us to repeat this behavior, and they get a sense that they can actually take advantage of the person because of the silence.
I remember when as a college student I raised my voice in a public bus against the indecent advances by a middle-aged man, it was a strong NO but it really had an effect. I learnt it the hard way but once learnt, life was much smoother, because then you are the one who’ve got the voice to say NO, and can publicly shame any wrong doing.
We must define the limits for others to protect ourselves, but the work needs to start at home by handholding our daughters initially, and enabling them for a secure future. It’s the sole responsibility of parents, and this strongly includes the fathers to inculcate confidence in our girls, so that whenever they say NO their voices are heard and just not wiped off under strong parental controls. Only when this voice reverberates, can it fall on the deaf ears of our society. We need the men/boys to listen when a girl/woman says NO – that it actually means that the person is acting against her will.
It’s not only education that is important for girls, but a sense of security on the streets, in schools, in offices and at home, that will bring out the real confidence in girls to go challenge the world with their talent. Let her speak frankly, argue about things she doesn’t like, let her speak her mind – this will give her a stronghold in society from the very beginning.
In India we are talking about women’s empowerment in almost all the common forums but we need to understand or focus on the means to achieve or get there. Since the beginning of a girl’s childhood at home we have seen certain norms laid down for us wherein we have to behave or talk in a particular fashion so as to be labelled as a “good girl“. We as parents of the next generation of girls who are being raised in India need to question those norms, and it’s our responsibility to bring in a paradigm shift in the way we bring up our daughters.
As a mother of a daughter I feel the need to encourage them when they say NO to us about something that doesn’t appeal their taste or interest. Indian parents, because of the way we have been brought up are so used to forcing our kids to do or say things the way they are supposed to be done in a “good” Indian society. So this behavioral change need to begin at home.
Let’s try to empower the girls first at home itself, where they have a right to question or argue about almost anything under the sky. Let’s not hush them by saying this how things happen and she needs to follow the same.
I do see this shift happening around me in cities but small towns or villages have a long way to go. We need to “nip it in the bud” whenever we as women/girls find ourselves in appalling situations in our everyday lives, before it becomes a norm and turns out to be a menace for an individual and society at large.
Image source: pixabay