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Trigger the talk...........break the silence

With all the discussions and debates around women harassment and abuse in India, I am compelled to reflect and remember my own personal experiences on sexual harassment both in public and at the work place.

One particular incident stands out in my memory. I was 12 years old, travelling by train with my mum and sister from Parel to Andheri. In those days, around 7 pm the ladies compartment would turn into a general compartment. As it so happened, on that particular day, we were still on the train at 7 pm and the compartment suddenly turned from an empty ladies one into an extremely crowded one with lots of men. As we prepared to get off at Andheri, we were crushed at the doorway amidst a sea of bodies. Suddenly I felt my skirt being lifted and a strange hand groping me from behind. I was shocked, horrified and felt utterly violated. I wanted to get off but the train was still moving. I wanted to do something but my arms were pinned against my body because of the crowd. I started to shout “stop it, stop it” but my voice was drowned in the noise. Fortunately for me, Andheri came and I was able to get off and away from the man.

That incident is so vivid in my mind today and has affected me so deeply that I hate travelling by train. Given a choice, I will never choose it as an option instead preferring to drive by car and wasting time stuck in traffic. I hate the fact that I was not only violated as a child but also robbed of my choice of public transportation. I wonder what happens to those women who do not have a choice and have to travel by train or other crowded transport.

I also remember the incident when I was a young cabin crew of 19 and quite inexperienced, immature, insecure and naïve. My safety instructor (a foreigner) used to play mind games with everyone and I was in particular targeted by him. He first heaped praises on me and then when I was once in a vulnerable position tried to make advances on me. I of course resisted but I was completely shocked. It was not only a personal violation but also shattered my dreams/illusions. Here was my instructor, my mentor, someone I looked up to. There was also an unstated threat that I could lose my job as he had the power to do so if he chose to. Thereafter I stayed far away from him but never once did I think I could complain against him.

Many years later, the same individual returned as my boss. This time I was the instructor. He knew he could not take advantage of me but he definitely stalled my career progression. I helplessly watched as he continued to play mind games with other young cabin crew and dread to think how many of them may have succumbed to his advances. However I could not take up the issue as the system did not allow for it nor did I feel I had the power to do so individually.

A few years later, there was another incident involving a senior management staff who gave me an unsolicited neck massage in the board room in full public view of other staff and he even had the gall to whisper into my ear that he wished he could have known me better before then (he had just resigned from the company). I sat frozen during this entire episode not believing that I had the voice or power to raise it as an issue. I was a manager by designation yet did not have the power to call him out on what I now know is a case of sexual misconduct. I remember that I did not feel that I could take it to HR or the top management as once again I did not feel the system would have supported me nor did I feel I could actually fight the battle on my own.

Reflecting on the Tehelka case, I am reminded that my organisation still does not have a sexual harassment policy. If it has to follow the Vishaka guidelines, there must be a committee with a majority of women in the panel. Given that I am one of only 2 women who head departments, it does once again hammer in the fact that we work in a man’s world, in a system dominated by them and therefore difficult for a woman to feel supported should she be harassed or violated by one of the majority.

As women, we face many such instances throughout our lives both in public and at the workplace and sometimes even at home. As women, sometimes we are left wondering if it was our fault, brought on by us or our dress or our behavior or our messaging. As women, we have the intuition to actually identify that these are uncomfortable incidents and not appropriate in context. As women, most of us never even discuss these personal violations with our family or even our closest girl friends. As women, we have been conditioned by the system to believe it is our fault and never to raise our voice against it.

Last year post the Delhi rape incident, my friends and I started Safecity so that women and men could report their personal experiences of harassment and abuse. As the reports started to come in, I was startled and shocked to find that there are so many women, all over the country who continue to face this abuse. What I faced when I was 12 years old continues to happen to many women even 25 years later. When will it ever stop? If we truly want things to change, if we want the next generation to not face groping or sexual harassment at the workplace, it is important that we start talking about it openly. If we talk about it, more women will hopefully come forward as well. Talking openly about it is the first step, acknowledging it to be a problem is the next. Solutions can then be found.

But it starts with the first step – talking.

- ElsaMarie D'Silva (Co-founder Safecity)

Come share your experiences on www.safecity.in and inspire other women to break the silence!

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

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Comments

Mauwa Brigitte's picture

Courage for the work done

Thank you so much for sharing your story world pulse, it really touched me but the ongoing struggle for women in your country. The Security Council of the United Nations met in the search for peace on the woman whose 3 peace - participation, protection, prevention. To overcome this problem of sexual harassment, women, girls must denounce the harm done by criminals. Have you heard of Resolutions 1325 & 1820? I love knowing who you are.
Be blessed!

Brigitte

Safecity's picture

Thanks

THank you Brigitte for your response. I am not aware of the resolutions.

Do enlighten me.

Kind regards,
Elsa

Mauwa Brigitte's picture

Thank you for the courage

Here's some explanation on resolutions 1325 & 1820, the day of 08/03 the why, how, where and when the day began to see how these resolutions 1325 & 1820 we have arrived. On landing well on our two Resolutions 1325 & 1820 the teacher based the third question was worded as follows:
Do you know some women's rights?
 Right to education,
 Right to inheritance,
 Right to work
Right to the discussion of the dowry of his daughter.
The difference between the form of violence:
- Genre: they are laws or rules given to man as man and wife being a woman.
- Parity: It is the ability of opportunity in the workplace between men and women.
- Fairness: Be fair to women and men and this is leading to equality
- Equality: equal conditions, equal opportunities and life chances.

Looking to document for the development of your community and denounce the perpetrators to restore peace to women.

Brigitte

Safecity's picture

Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to explain.

Julia O'Byrne's picture

So much courage!

Hi Elsa!
Wow - your post really touched me. You have so much courage!! It is hard to have had to deal with these types of assaults and sexual harassment since you were 12! I totally understand and get the feeling of "why would I tell HR? no one is going to do anything..." I've felt that too. I also commend you so much for being one of only 2 women who are heads of departments. Everything you wrote sounded sadly familiar but also so unpleasant and unfair. It is not right that women have to withstand these things. I get what you mean that you felt you didn't have the voice or power to express yourself when these things were happening to you but I was struck by how you are speaking up now and that's what's most important. You've created SafeCity which is incredible and allows women the chance to speak up. I admire your work and resolve and you very much! Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading future posts.

Best wishes,
Julia

Safecity's picture

Thank you

Thank you Julia for your kind words. I did find it difficult to write the post. Even though I put up Safecity for exactly the same reason that women can come forward and break their silence. On a deeper level we tend to block these memories and relegate them to our subconscious. It was only as i read others stories that I had the courage to write about my own experiences.

i hope it helps other women too.

Lea's picture

Dear Elsa, Thank you so much

Dear Elsa,
Thank you so much for having the courage to share your stories of sexual harassment with us. It is always a painful experience to remember those moments when one felt violated and then, was overcome with shame, blaming oneself for not having reacted more quickly. I can only imagine how difficult it is to stand up for yourself when you work in an environment where you do not feel safe and are constantly the subject of harassment. It pains me to read that certain workplaces do not acknowledge sexual harassment and abuse and do not implement policies to put an end to it. Until there are such policies, people such as your boss will continue to abuse their power with complete impunity.
You are very brave to step forward and take an active stance against this kind of harassment.
I have been following Safecity's work and applaud you for creating this platform where abuse and harassment can be reported and men and particularly women can find a space to share their feelings and get support from others. You're doing important and amazing work! Keep up the amazing work!
Lea

Safecity's picture

Thank you

Thank you Lea for your words of encouragement. It means a lot especially since we need this motivation to keep us going with Safecity.

I do hope Safecity as a platform is useful for women and hopefully we are making a difference.

Hello Elsa,

Thank you for taking that first step and telling us your harassment experiences. I'm sure they were not easy stories to tell. I think the "code of silence" has been engrained into all societies around the world for so long that is going to be a hard thing to resolve. I took a look at your website and was impressed. I think you will make a difference because of it and I hope similar platforms can be set up around the world so other women can be encouraged to break the silence.

Best wishes,

Kristina

Safecity's picture

Hi

Thanks Kristina for your words of encouragement. We are planning a global app which should be out end of the year.

Kind regards
Elsa

Its really great that you disclosed and shared many real life incidents of yours with us.I am from Mumbai and I know what travelling is like in local trains.Everyday we reach home and feel safe but never know which day will be so unsafe.
I travel by train everyday but I never got to see men entering the ladies so was wondering if that really happened.
We have security personnels now a days in the ladies compartment and its quite safe to travel early morning or late night.
We need to be little more strict with men approaching us for any kinda touch.Once it so happened with me that a man touched me while walking on the road and I pushed him so hard that he tumbled over.That was a lesson to him not to dare to repeat this act ever.
SaritaMat

Safecity's picture

Hi

Hi Sarita,

As mentioned the incident in the train happened when I was 12 years old. In those days the ladies compartments used to change to general compartment at a certain time. I guess we were caught at the wrong time that day and I forever hate travelling by train because of it.

Nowadays there is a lot of security on the train but women still get groped on the platform and the over foot bridges and outside the railway station.

Would you mind sharing your incident on www.safecity.in?

Thanks
Elsa

SaritaMat's picture

sure,i will..

Dear Elsa,I would for sure share my experience and the incident on your given site.Not just one I faced but many incidents I had come across and each time I taught a lesson to the eve teaser.Would advise girls not to remain silent and ignore that we face in d public rather Act upon and give a good lesson to such people.But above all be safe.
I agree with you that we do face many such incidents in and around the railway station but I think if we react,atleast the number of such incidents will reduce for sure.
Regards
SaritaMat

Safecity's picture

True

Hi Sarita,

It is from reading about experiences such as yours that women get the courage to react and confront the perpetrator. They do not feel alone and in fact will find the strength to take on not just the perpetrator but society, the customs that inhibit us and all the other social norms that limit us.

I look forward to your reports and together am sure we can spread the message to women to stay strong and be safe.

Cheers,
Elsa

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