Ways Men Can Help Stop Street Harassment

In my observance of Nigerian feminist movements, one protest stands out for me. It is the Market March protests that occured in Yaba Market, Lagos and Ogbete Market, Enugu.

Created by Damilola Onosowobo Marcus, Market March is an initiative created to raise awareness on the ways in which women are harassed in markets and other public places in Nigeria.

When I was the editor for a project on rape culture about three years ago, I had Ms. Marcus write an essay on the connection between street harassment and rape. She said something which has remained in my memory. 

Dami Marcus said that the harassment of women on the street which takes the form of groping, catcalling and suggestive remarks is in actual fact a collective rape threat levelled at women and girls. She went further to say that its intent is to make women stay away from public life and to shrink ourselves even when in public.

Street harassment in Nigeria doesn’t only occur in markets. It occurs on public transportation, when taking a walk, when jogging and even if the woman is pregnant or if the person being harassed is a very young girl.

A lot has been written and spoken about on the ways women can avoid and tackle street harassment. 

From not wearing “indecent clothing” to carrying pepper spray, it seems as if women have to carry the responsibilities of abusers when abuse can only end when misogyny ends and when there is punishment and a deterrent for abusers.

However, quite little is said to men on ways they can help to stop street harassment. The most obvious way to me, is not to harass women. As earlier said, there is no cheat code for women that can be used to avoid harassment. The only “cheat code” is when we as a society adopt a no nonsense stance towards harassment.

For men who don’t harass, they can intervene in public transportation when they see women face harassment. It is not enough to scream “Not All Men”. If you stay silent when a man is abusing or harassing a woman just because you don’t want to break the “bro code”, you are part of the men and you are also a problem. 

It doesn’t matter if you call the man aside in private to talk to him later. That is futile because abusers need to be publicly embarrassed in order to be stripped of the audacity that makes them abuse women.

To further understand what men as a group can do to stop street harassment, I spoke to three women. For Olakitan, a writer and software developer, she explains that violence may be the answer. She went on to say that she believes men should beat other men who harass and should teach younger boys not to harass women as well.

Speaking with Margaret, a digital marketing expert and writer, she says that one way to combat this is, is men not being silent about their disapproval. 

In her words: “From experience, don’t be silent about your disapproval. Speak up even if the victim doesn’t, show clearly that you’re on her side. Don’t be on the side of normalising or telling them to calm down. 

They know that they can get away with it because it’s usually only one person coming at them, but if someone else is openly supporting the victim and also speaking up, they start to cower.”

Margaret went on to say: “I’m always ready for violence in the market so I’ve had many instances where no one spoke up for me. But I am not afraid to pepper spray you or cuss you out in Igbo or hit you back if you touch me, and I’ve built up some defences for when I just don’t have the energy to react.”

For Kendra, a women’s health educator, she shared an experience of harassment and explained that men need to hold other men accountable. 

To quote her: “Men need to hold men accountable. It’s lack of accountability that makes men think they can  harass women.

One day I was at ring road Benin city and this very useless idiot didn’t just creepily talk about my breasts, he went further to want to touch them. Just as I was about to verbally abuse this bastard,

the Hausa guys that sell and collect dollars reprimanded him strictly.

If it was only me I’m sure I would have been in ring road shouting like a mad woman while this man would have made fun of my “emotional outbursts”.

But the men around made him look so stupid and useless he proceeded to apologise.

Men holding men accountable for the things they do is the only way men can do better.”

As earlier mentioned, the harassment of women on the street and even in cases of domestic violence can only end when there is a collective no nonsense stance to it. If this isn’t done, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when women don’t trust men and when women make comments like “men are trash”.

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