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Street Harassment: It's Not A Compliment

Aakanksha Manjunath's campaign fights for safe public spaces


TW: This interview mentions sexual assault.

 

Growing up in India, we often called getting harassed by men in public spaces "eve-teasing". It wasn't until in my early twenties that I realised being groped or hearing comments about my body was not teasing - it was assault. We have normalised being on the receiving end of men's abuse to such an extent that we don't even have the correct terminology for it.


But, Australia based campaign It's Not A Compliment (INAC), co-founded by Aakanksha Manjunath, is trying to change how we look at street harassment. It aims at achieving street justice for all by speaking up about it and demanding action.


Dilpreet speaks with Aakanksha to find out what drives her to run the campaign and why.


Dilpreet: Aakanksha, I understand It's Not A Compliment aka INAC is a campaign against street harassment. But, what exactly do you mean by street harassment? Would you please tell us about the reach and style of your project?


Aakanksha: INAC originally started as a campaign and has grown into a full-fledged organisation powered by a team of passionate volunteers. 


We define street harassment as "any unwanted behaviour directed at someone by a stranger in a public space." This can include acts such as unwanted comments, whistling, leering, sexual and racist remarks, persistent requests for someone's name or personal information, general intimidation, threats, stalking, indecent exposure or public masturbation, along with more physical acts of violence such as groping and sexual assault.

Since starting, INAC has shared close to two hundred stories of street harassment, conducted research, run projects, workshops and campaigns.

 

 

Dilpreet: The name really stands out. What led you to choose it?


Aakanksha: For as long as many of us can remember, we have been told that being harassed in a public space is a compliment. So when the time came to pick a name for our then campaign, we wanted to have a name that directly called out the problem and left no room for any confusion.


Dilpreet: Is street harassment only an "issue" for women?


Aakanksha: Street harassment is more than sexism. It involves racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of structural oppression. 


Street harassment is an issue not just for women and girls but also for people of colour, First Nations peoples, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and others. It isn't just women and girls who can't fully enjoy public spaces free of the fear of harassment, as highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement for years.

 


Dilpreet: As a woman of colour yourself, do you think there is more street harassment done against non-white folks?

 

Aakanksha: As a person, one has many parts that make up their identities, such as gender, sexuality, race and others. Non-white folks are more likely to face street harassment because of their race, ethnicity, or skin colour. 


Our research report found that 58.3% of non-white respondents reported experiencing harassment due to their race, ethnicity, and/or skin colour. A timely example to support my statement is the extensive racism East Asian communities have been facing since the onset of COVID-19. 


Dilpreet: What does representation to you as a South Asian woman founder look like?


Aakanksha: A world where systems on all levels represent the interests of all groups, where voices of all groups are elevated rather than following the age-old norm of "speaking for". A world where one community isn't thriving at the cost of another. 

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.

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