This study highlights the prevalence of misogyny in young people’s everyday lives, and shows how sexual harassment is a global phenomenon, blighting the daily lives of young women and girls.
The survey, was carried out in the aftermath of the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time's Up movements’, both worldwide campaigns carried out in recent times to shine a light on the sexual harassment women face in their daily lives, and to try and get the relevant entities and government to act.
ActionAid’s study was conducted by Ipsos MORI, on its behalf between December 18, 2018 and January 20, 2019.
Two thirds (or 68 per cent) of young people, both male and female surveyed, believe that the world is a more dangerous place for girls and young women than for boys. The young people of both sexes also said they had seen, heard or read about celebrities or other well-known people portraying women in a negative or offensive light.
The research found that potential influences on attitudes to women and girls start from an early age.
At least two-thirds of younger participants between 14 and 16 years, both girls and boys, have witnessed misogynistic behaviour such as negative comments about women’s appearance or sexual jokes about girls from those around them — from family members and friends to strangers or teachers.
Social media continues to be a damaging influence, where more than half (55 per cent) of young people questioned across the four countries have seen or heard women being portrayed in a negative or offensive way through social media in the last month.
Participants said females are significantly more likely than males to have seen this type of negative portrayal on social media (55 per cent versus 39 per cent). The percentage is higher by 62 per cent among females aged 20 to 21.
They said awareness of the negative or offensive portrayal of young women increases with age.
Interestingly, even though most of the other behaviours were considered unacceptable, the most likely behaviour to be considered acceptable was ‘sexting’ with three in ten (30 per cent) stating this. This rises to 42 per cent among 20-to-21-year-olds.
While nine out of 10 young people believe upskirting or being forced to kiss someone is unacceptable, young men are significantly more likely to find other behaviours such as groping or sharing explicit photos online acceptable, said the report.
Fifty-five 55 per cent of young people, both male and female)questioned across the four countries, have seen or heard women being portrayed in a negative or offensive way in the last month.
At least half of the youth said they had witnessed sexual jokes and negative comments about young women’s appearance doing the rounds on social media.
“This research shines a worrying spotlight on how many young people witness or experience sexual discrimination and harassment. We know from experience that misogyny is not trivial. It happens because of deep-rooted beliefs that see women and girls as worthless, that their bodies exist to exploit, and control,” Girish Menon, ActionAid Chief Executive, said.
The 85 per cent of young people who have witnessed sexual harassment in the last six months think that wanting to impress their friends, thinking it would be funny or believing it’s ‘what men do’ were the most likely reasons for the behaviour.
Apparently the young men in the study said ‘they would think the person would find it complimentary or be pleased they found them attractive.'
In Kenya, a significantly higher proportion (45 per cent) felt it would be because they had seen similar behaviour on social media.
On the upside, confidence in reporting sexual harassment is high among this generation though. In Kenya, 64 per cent of those who have been harassed in the last six months would feel comfortable telling someone. In fact two-thirds of them have already done so.
Awareness creation is the answer
Young people, according to the research, predominantly believe education is the answer to this problem. Overall, 80 per cent support education as the way to tackle harassment of girls, backing educating boys in schools about how to treat girls and educating girls in school about how to report harassment.
They also feel that educating teachers about taking accusations seriously and educating parents is critical.
To try and empower girls about the subject, Ms Godia’s organisation started what it refers to as ‘the speak out boxes’ in schools, where if they are afraid to speak out, then girls have the option of writing and depositing their complaints in the boxes, which have three padlocks, whose keys are separately kept by the school administration, the school chief monitor and a local organisation working in this area of social work.
“All three parties have to be present to open each of the three padlocks to the boxes,” says Ms Godia. “This way, the girls are assured that their information is safe and they will not get reprisals from the school administration if, for instance, the person they’re reporting about is a teacher.”
Unfortunately, the box-programme, which was initiated three years ago, is currently only available to a handful of schools in Western Kenya, where cases of sexual assault are common.
According to Menon, “In the countries where ActionAid works, we support local women’s groups who work with entire communities to challenge these societal norms and educate women and girls about their rights.”
To make real progress, Ms Menon says, “we need a uniformed, properly resourced approach to tackle the unbalanced power relations that prioritise male privilege and perpetuate gender inequality. We want women and girls globally to be empowered to say ‘My Body Is Mine’.”
Forms of sexual harassment
3. Boobs grabbing
6. Wolf whistling
7. Explicit photos
8. Forced kissing
9. Sexual jokes about girls
10. Negative comments