The right to safety in the streets of Mexico
This morning I left home a little later than usual. I’m running late because it took me ten more minutes to get ready as I wanted to look powerful and professional for this very important meeting that I have in a couple of hours. I’m wearing my gray skirt and jacket that I bought last week specifically for this day. Power heels clank as I walk the normal subway route.
And there you are too.
You, in your pressed navy blue suit and maroon striped tie. A commanding presence just like me. After a couple of minutes,saddling up next to me, as if you knew me, you whisper softly into my ear: “You’re looking fine today”, looking at me up and down, undressing me with your eyes after I had so carefully clothed myself this morning.
You say it as if you owned my body, as if you had been given the authority to molest me with your eyes. As if I had dressed just for you.
So timidly I ask for an explanation, but you know your privilegies and stronger position in this society, and to punish me for tyring, you say it again, this time louder and closer to me. Humiliated, watching no one else intervine in a city where mornings like this are “normal,” you and I exit in separate directions as the subway stops at the next station.
My day has changed, forever. But yours hasn’t.
Stories like this happen every day inside Mexico’s transportation system, where thousands of women and girls suffer visual, physical and psychological sexual harassment on a regular basis. To this society, it’s natural for men to look, talk or touch a woman the way they want, when they want. That morning, I joined at least 70% of women users who report having been molested during the past year, with some incidents leading to rape.
But in order to be able to propose solutions to this problem we have to first analyze what the true causes are. Generally, sexual harassment in public places is a manifestation of violence derived from another much larger cultural problem that is not always approached from the right perspective: gender inequality.
In recent years, some segregated subway cars and taxis separate men and women as the Mexican government’s answer to the problem, a measure that only quells the symptoms but does little to resolve the disease.
There must be education of these men, of society, to address this delicate situation and begin a cultural shift, in the way men and women coexist in public transport. There must be measures to encourage women to file complaints and report abuses, because if we can’t feel safe on the subway or buses, we will stop using them and further strenghten the inequality gap.
This day will never be the same for me or for many other women.
Why? Because and abuser holds hands with a society silent on the issue of sexual harassment towards women.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.