Phone ready to call a friend. Live locations shared. Big coat to cover up. Headphones out of your ears. Head down, heart pounding, avoiding eye contact, ready to run at any given second. This is what it means to walk as a woman alone. I love going on a walk but what I don’t love is that I cannot simply go on a walk. You see, I cannot walk too early in the morning on unknown roads to discover the beauty of nature because what if I get attacked since there aren’t enough people around very early in the morning. I cannot walk back home from a friend’s house if I’m alone because what if I get followed and harassed and I cannot even think about walking at night.

Fear drives human beings to be alert of the dangers around us. But when it comes to women, a woman’s fear can be easily driven by a man because he is simply a man. For countless women there aren’t many things scarier than walking alone at night or walking on a deserted street. Fear of the dark and the absence of a crowd that lurks there, is built into us from the moment we become conscious of what it really means to be a woman. “Night” is synonymous with violence, assault, eve-teasing and the menacing power of the male gaze. We constantly hear of new stories about sexual violence, murders, rapes that occur during an evening jog, or early in the morning or on your way home at night. You see as a woman, young, middle-aged or old, you work out a map in your head, the map of “safety and risk” every time you decide to go anywhere alone. We’ve been taught from a very young age that outside at night is simply a place we are not welcome. We forgo a nighttime event because we cannot travel home alone afterwards and have to be an additional “responsibility” on the men we know, we forgo an evening run alone because running post sunset is a luxury only men possess, we forgo an outfit or even a friendship because it might imply an invitation we don’t wish to convey. We’re told to act clinically insane if attacked by a man, to kick them in the balls, carry pepper sprays and pocket knives, we’re taught to ask ourselves if a leisure walk at night can end up turning into a fight for our lives. We’re taught all of this is just part of being a woman. And you know what men are taught? NOTHING.

There’s not a woman today who has not experienced incidents of cat calling, eve teasing, groping, sexual assault or crimes like these of varying degrees. Women take a moment to search “I’m home” in your messages. You will be shocked to see how many times you’ve sent it. I too have had terrifying experiences with men on the streets, in the lifts or at parties and weddings. Anytime I see a man approach me when I’m alone, my heart starts to race, I immediately look down, increase my walking pace and sometimes even pretend to be on a call with my dad. I never fully exhale until I’m safely home. The United Nations released a powerful video of women stating all the things they would do if they didn’t have to live in fear of men, and the answers were as simple as “walk alone in the city and just breathe” or “bike rides with my girls without other guys having to be there for safety”.

This is our reality. And we are so angry, so exhausted and so scared. It is truly exhausting to self-police, self-govern every damn move you make. We already do everything that we are meant to do and still get harassed, abducted, raped or killed. And yes, we know “not all men” but we don’t know which man it is so we’re scared of all. Not all sharks attack humans, but you don’t take the chance and stay in the sea if you see one. Every woman, if lucky, has good men in her life, our fathers, brothers, friends. There are wonderful men but it might be time for these good men to start a conversation about those who are not. Because I want to know, I really do. Is it a failure of education or a sickness, what is this thing or a lack of that makes a man a monster? It’s high time we find out and understand and work on it. Because I’m done. I’m not prepared to be a 20 year old girl having to choose a city to study or work in according to its crime rate against women nor do I want to be a mother in the future teaching my daughters about chili powder, outfits and restrictions instead of telling them to be wild and free.

So, this article is less for women and more for men. If you are a man and you’re reading this, ask yourself have you come across these guys, honestly? Have you sat in their company knowing there was something “off” and wrong and offensive but you let it slide because maybe they’re drunk and well it’s just how men talk. Have you been a part of the boys’ locker room talks and felt disgusted but stayed silent? Have you let your boys questions a girl’s character and integrity because of the way she dresses? Are you a father of boys and have you had open discussions about consent and respect for women at all times, even in their absence?

- Have you done enough?

P.S- Take a look at the picture attached to read the horrors of the Hyderabad Gang rape of a 27 year old in 2019. This is just one among the many, how many Nirbhaya’s do we need to change?

-By Muskaan Shivani