What Does Street Harassment Mean to Me?

By: Safa Yousaf

What does street harassment mean to me? As a woman, who is of Pakistani origin and who is Muslim it means 3 things:

1 Sexism or sexual harassment

2 racism

3 Islamophobia

I wish the connecting word between these things was ‘or’ but unfortunately it’s ‘and’ so let me recap it means Sexism or sexual harassment AND racism AND Islamophobia.

As a women I have been sang to, brushed passed, touched when I don’t want to be touched and cat called just like 80% of women in the UK have.

As a woman who has parents who originate from Pakistan, I have been called a “a stupid Paki” multiple times in my life for no reason while walking through the street.

As a Muslim women who chooses to wear the headscarf…well…where do I start with that one?

I remember one time, I was taking the underground on an old firm game day. I was alone in the carriage but before I knew it, several stops later, the carriage was packed. A group of men, began to enclose me. They started off saying “get that terrorist” and then it progressed to them chanting in unison “kill her” “kill her” while waving alcohol bottles in my face.  I emphasise that it was a group of men and it was only when I began to think about all the incidents that have happened to me and I think, actually all of the perpetrators have been men. Now, isn’t that interesting. Most likely, the men who have carried out incidents like this, view me as a weak oppressed women who’s ruled by her husband, but actually, they are the ones oppressing me with their language and actions. I avoid the underground as much as I can.  As a result…They have oppressed me. 

On that note, I was recently speaking to a friend whose family have relocated to the Middle East, her mother wears the face veil. Whenever her mother comes to visit her in Scotland, she faces a barrage of abuse on a daily basis, from people shouting through their car windows to people refusing to serve her at shops and restaurants. As a result, her mother no longer wears the face veil when she comes to Scotland. Interesting.  To wear what she wants, she needs to live in the Middle East. The irony! Don’t be mistaken, it takes a heck of a strong woman to wear a veil in the climate we live in and for many a sign of an empowerment. To take that away from a woman that’s oppression.

Research published by anti-Islamophobia charity, Tell Mama UK, discovered that of the 300% increase in Islamophobic hate crimes in 2015, the majority of incidents were targeted at Muslim women, by white men, in public places.

I have been called “Osama bin Laden’s” wife while walking through town, funny now but it wasn’t at the time.

People have refused to sit next to me and I quote “in case she has a bomb on her!

And then there’s some cross over between sexual harassment and islamophobia

I have heard people say, “take those trousers aff, take that thing aff yer heed, wear a skirt…let me see those legs”

“I bet you have a really sexy body underneath all that”

Anyway, my point is not to bum you guys out with some depressing stories but I stand here proudly as a woman as Muslim and of someone of Pakistani origins to declare that I deserve to walk through the streets and not worry if today will be the day that I get physically attacked. I deserve to have freedom of movement. I deserve to be an equal. And I deserve not to  be oppressed by arrogance and ignorance.

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