FEMINISM has come a long way since the Venetian poet Christine de Pizan began challenging the male stereotype of women in Medieval Europe in the 14th century. In the first half of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf would famously say that any woman aspiring to a career needed financial independence. At the start of the 21st century, the issue of women’s rights encompasses not just the basic rights on par with men, but protection against harassment of any kind. It was this belief that spawned the Slutwalk movement. These are protest marches against curtailing of women’s freedom based on men’s idea of ‘modesty’ .
The first such march was organized in Toronto in 2011 in response to a top Canadian police official’s suggestion that to be safe “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” In the ensuing protests, women deliberately dressed provocatively (as the official’s ‘sluts’) to send a clear message that misogyny, in all its form, would be vehemently resisted. Since, the movement has grown and has now become a global phenomena, organized everywhere from London to Delhi.
The latest in line of the cities to embrace this form of protest is Kathmandu, where an enterprising group of youth has had enough of lascivious men harassing women in public. Such harassment can take many forms: From subtle eve-teasing to blatant invasion of women’s privacy. Walk for Respect, the organizers adopted name for the Slutwalk march to be held in Kathmandu on April 28, aims to give the message that “someone should never be excused shaming, harassment or sexual assault.”
It is a sad fact that Nepali women face some of the worst forms of sexual harassment anywhere in the world. Every young woman who travels in the city’s packed buses regularly can perhaps recall an instance when she was groped at or had a cad thrusting his groin against her legs. And there must be very few women in Kathmandu who have not been at the receiving end of overtly sexual innuendos of testosterone-fueled dudes. In this situation, such a movement was long overdue.
But we are also a little confused. If the message was to send out a clear signal that no form of sexual harassment can be justified on the basis of what women wear—“if you see someone looking or acting like oh my god such a slut, you let her go on her merry way”, in the organizers own words—conceding that they had to tone it down a bit because “
[the word] slut is too bold for our society” and revising the dress code because “in our country, wearing short dresses is considered outrageous” is self-defeating. If this really is a protest based on principle, such muddled message threatens to undermine the event’s very sanctity. Nonetheless, Walk for Respect, we hope, will still get widespread support. For if someone’s right to freedom is in any way being curtailed, speaking up is always better than maintaining a deafening silence.