MES in Rwanda

These observations were written by Megan Strickland, the founder of BOPM. She is a white American woman in her mid 20s. At the time she recorded these observations (June 2013), Megan was living in Rwanda and splitting her time between Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, and Gisenyi, a small rural town on the western border of Rwanda.

Day 1

I boarded my airplane in Little Rock today to begin my long journey back to Rwanda after a very brief and hectic visit home. I spent most of the day oscillating between sleeping and watching movies while on the airplane. Normally the consumption of so many movies and TV shows all at once would inundate me with images of gender-based violence, including everything from annoying gender essentialist and stereotypical depictions of women to gratuitous rape and violence against women used in story lines for entertainment purposes. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better at trying to select which movies and TV shows I want to watch based on the likelihood that I think they will feature GBV. I wondered on the airplane what it would be like to be able to consume whatever media I find entertaining without having to worry about whether the media would be triggering, anger-inducing, or otherwise hurtful.

Day 2

Even though I was only in the U.S. for just 2 weeks, I was still amazed upon arrival at the airport in Kigali at how gender exclusive jobs are here in Rwanda. Clearly things aren’t much better in the U.S., but I notice it more in Rwanda. As soon as I got off the airplane in Rwanda, I could see immediately that every single one of the airport staffers, which have what I assume are well paid and highly sought after positions in Kigali, was male. The airport was a sea of uniformed men standing around doing nothing but getting paid to do so.

Day 3

I met a globally recognized figure tonight at a dinner party. I was excited to meet this man because I admire the work that he’s famous for. I soon came to realize over the course of the evening, however, that he is yet another well respected man who seems to have very little respect for women. I’m choosing to protect his identity in this post because I do not wish to open myself up to the harassment and threats that women tend to experience when they expose men in power for being misogynist.

We were at an intimate dinner gathering at someone’s house in Kigali. Somehow we got onto the topic of GBV. The famous man claimed that "the kind of rape that happens in college is complicated because the girl will get wasted and then throw herself into the boy's bed". Instantly my heart began to race, my body began to exhibit all the signs of extreme stress, and I was transported to a flashback from college. I responded by saying, “No, there's nothing complicated about it. When a man has sex with a woman without gaining her consent first, he has committed the black and white definition of rape.” The man raised his voiced, cut me off, and said, "There is no way you will ever convince me that there's nothing complicated about rapes that involve alcohol". Then the man summarily shut down the conversation. He was able to move on from the topic immediately like it was nothing, while I was left traumatized and having to pull myself together quickly as the dinner was, after all, of a professional nature for me.

This guy’s lack of respect for women was also evident in the way he treated the women in the group, including his wife. He never once tried to speak with any of the woman in the group and instead focused all of his attention on the men present. At one point toward the beginning of the evening, we were left for a few moments with just the two of us in the room. Trying to make polite conversation, I responded to something he had previously said in a way that would drive the conversation forward. In response, he didn’t make eye contact, and he clearly tried to shift away from me and indicate disinterest. By the end of the evening, once the entire group was crowded around a table together sharing conversation, I had stopped paying much attention to the guy, but he kept snapping his fingers at me and waving his hand in front of my face as if he wanted me to pay attention to him. It’s not like I was being rude or ignoring him; it’s just that there were many side conversations going on, and I simply chose to have my side conversations with people who were not him.

After reflecting on this experience, an experience that I found very disappointing because this man is quite famous for doing positive things in the world as is regarded as someone who works for social justice, I reflected on the man’s career and realized that he’s only famous for work that involves other men. I think it’s so fucked up how even within the field of social justice the people who are famous can be so misogynistic.

Day 4

I had made plans with my boss to get a ride from him to travel from Kigali to Gisenyi. I was so relieved I’d be able to ride with him because at this point I’ve experienced so many instances of GBV while riding that bus—on top of the scariness of an impending accident, the discomfort of the crowded and filthy seats, the potential and occasional horrific reality of hitting a pedestrian—that each time I have to get on that bus, which is nearly twice a week, my body starts shifting into fight, flight, or freeze mode before the journey has even begun. My boss told me in the afternoon that he had a change of plans and that he wouldn’t be able to give me a ride after all. I know that I can’t expect anyone to change their plans around my desire to avoid trauma, especially not my very busy boss, but it was another stark example, just like the day before, of how people who haven’t experienced the trauma of GBV can think things like having to change plans to ride the bus or discussing rape on college campuses are small and unemotional, whereas for me they are very stressful and present as pain in my body as well as emotional turmoil in my mind.

Day 5

Today one of my colleagues helped me find a place to live in Gisenyi. The place for rent was a small room within a compound containing about seven other small rooms for rent. I felt really uneasy there because the only people in the compound during my visit, besides me, were men, including one young man who popped his head out of his door and continued to ogle me during the entire time I was there. I asked the landlord whether it was only men who lived in the compound. He assured me that there is actually only one resident who is a single man and that all the other residents are either families or single women. I went ahead and agreed to take the room as it was the right price and I was desperate to find a place quickly, but I wondered what it might be like to be able to make housing choices simply based on whether I like the place and not have to consider the gender dynamics of the place.

Day 6

I went to a party at a friend’s house tonight. I enjoy dancing, but I haven’t been able to go to a club in ages and ages because all the clubs in Kampala and Kigali (the two places I’ve lived in the past year) that I’ve tried to go to so far have incredibly fucked up gender dynamics in which the men act entitled to the women’s bodies, touching us without permission, pulling us around the room, and acting as if we must impress them without doing anything themselves to entice us. It’s as if the men think that because they have a cock they automatically “deserve” any woman in the room, regardless of how smart he is, whether he has a job, whether he is kind, etc. So it was nice to have the opportunity to dance outside of a club setting inside of a friend’s home. As I was dancing with a group, completely absorbed in what I was doing, this dude that I don’t know interrupted me by putting his hand on my back without my permission. He leaned in close to me and yelled, over the music, “Can I take your picture?” I didn’t even know the guy! Why the hell did he think it would be okay to interrupt what I was doing to take my picture? I do appreciate that the guy bothered to ask my permission—it gave me the opportunity to say “no”, which I did—but the fact that he even considered it to be a reasonable thing to do indicates that he must feel entitled to my body and my time to some degree.

Later on, as I was trying to move from one room to another at the party, another dude that I don’t know at all—I don’t even know his name—stuck his butt out, blocking my way, and trapped me between a piece of furniture and his body. He started bumping his ass against me and wouldn’t let me go. Thankfully, I was eventually able to push past him. I’m sure he thought he was doing something cute and fun, but that just goes to show, again, how devalued women are. The fact that this guy who doesn’t know me thought that it would be flirtatious and fun to inhibit my movement and to physically trap me is so fucked up. Our scripts for how to flirt with women are so intertwined with the notion that women’s bodies exist for men to do what they want with them.

Day 7

I was out at a public event this evening saying hey to all the people I knew there. This guy who I only barely know decided to greet me with a kiss on the cheek even though I hadn’t made any effort to lean into him, I had already offered my hand to shake by way of greeting, and he had to lean waaaaay forward across a table to connect with me. The kiss on the cheek greeting felt really out of place, and it made me think about how often we fail to read the body language of those around us for cues about how they want to be touched.

Day 8

I spent most of the day today moving into my new place in Kigali. While trying to buy a mattress for my new place, my moto driver took me to the wrong location, a mostly abandoned industrial park with small dirt roads. I was upset with the driver for clearly having lied to me when earlier he had insisted that he knew the place where I had told him that I wanted to go. I got lucky and another moto driver passed us by, even though we were in a sparsely populated area of town, so I seized the opportunity to escape from the lying moto driver. I flagged down the new moto driver, hopped off the moto of the driver who had lied to me, and told the new driver where I wanted to go. As I was trying to pay the first moto driver, however, an argument ensued. The first moto driver insisted that I pay him waaaaay too much money, especially considering that he had lied to me, taken me to the wrong place, and failed entirely to get to me to my final destination. I got immersed in the argument, which extended to the limits of my knowledge of Kinyarwanda, so I wasn’t paying that much attention to any thing other than what the moto driver was saying to me. When I finally looked up, however, I was flooded with a feeling of horror when I saw that I was surrounded by circular a mob of about 20 men all screaming, shaking their fists, and facing inward toward me. I was absolutely fucking terrified. In that moment, I had no idea what would happen next. The mob very easily could have beaten me up and gang raped me. From there, my memory blurs into a mass of fear and the image of angry, shouting male faces. I’m not sure how I did it, but I finally managed to stuff some money into the first moto driver’s hands, hop onto the back of a new moto, and zoom away. This experience would have been scary for anyone, including man, but it was so much more terrifying for me as a woman because of the way that women’s bodies are already so devalued. I had no idea what that mob of men was going to do to me or even why the mob had formed in the first place.

Day 9

Something quite hilarious happened today. Before leaving my temporary place of residence in Kigali for the gym, I thought a lot about whether I wanted to go ahead and change into my skin-tight yoga pants at home and risk the stares and harassment I’d almost certainly experience while on the way to the gym or whether I wanted to wear loose clothing on the way to the gym and change into my work out clothes once I got there. I decided that at least on this day I wanted to exercise my power by wearing what was convenient for me to wear. While walking from my guesthouse to the place where I knew I’d find a moto, I was hyper aware of the fact that I was wearing skin-tight yoga pants. I could feel how the fabric was laying against my butt, and I could feel how men were looking at me. As I walked down the little dirt road lined by bars that ran between my guesthouse and the main road, I grumpily noticed crowds of dudes ogling me. Two dudes inside of a small open front shop stopped what they were doing and gaped at me with their mouths hanging open. As they stared, a plastic chair fell from where it had been stored on a top shelf and hit the men on their heads! They had been too absorbed in starting at me to notice that a chair was about to fall on them.

Day 10

I find that it’s really hard for me to have conversations with men about the experiences of women. I had a long conversation with a colleague when we were in the car together about how men and women can have very different experiences in a gym. I think that it was overall a positive conversation, but throughout it my colleague kept drawing inaccurate parallels between the experiences of men and women. For example, he said that “scrawny” men can feel equally as intimidated in a gym as women can, so he questioned why women should get any kind of special treatment in a gym that scrawny men don’t like, for example, a women’s only space. My colleague kept saying that the existence of women’s only spaces or dress codes for men that are intended to make women inside a gym feel more comfortable are “sexist”. My colleague failed to understand that reserve sexism, just like reverse racism, isn’t a real thing since both sexism and racism are systems of power and oppression, not guidelines that insist everyone be treated exactly the same, and thus cannot be reversed on an individual basis. He seemed to equate women’s tendency to fear or be suspicious of strange men (especially those with heavy pieces of metal that can be used as weapons, such as gym equipment, in their hands) with weakness, and he insisted that any woman who feels uncomfortable in a weightlifting gym must not be sticking up for herself enough (i.e. victim blaming). I struggled to explain to him that women experience the world in fundamentally different ways than men, even scrawny men, because women live in a patriarchal society that constantly oppresses, dehumanizes, and subjects them to violence. He sorta seemed to get the message, but I was struck again by how my experience in a conversation like this is so different from the experience of the man I’m talking with. For maen, conversations about gender-based violence are all theory, maybe igniting a desire to defend maleness, or “not all men” syndrome. For me, it’s a flood of traumatic memories; it’s feeling like I can’t come across as too emotional or too weak because then my viewpoint won’t be taken seriously while simultaneously wanting to fight back against the patriarchal notion that the only appropriate way to communicate is to be emotionless; it’s feeling like all of my traumatic experiences are being invalidated, that I’ve made them up or that I’m weak for not being able to deal with them; it’s an internal dialogue about how I can stand up for what I believe is right without assuming victimhood; it’s feeling angry that women have to jump through so many hoops to be taken seriously; it’s all of this and so many other complicated things; and it’s trying to force my body not to go into fight/flight/freeze mode.

Day 11

I started feeling really antsy toward the end of a stressful workday today, and I really wanted to go for a walk to loosen my body and clear my mind, but I kept talking myself out of going for a walk because I just wasn’t up for being followed by strange men, subjected to incessant yells of “muzungu muzungu”, and stared at by men with angry and antagonisitc expressions. I didn’t want to feel threatened and to have to constantly question whether the ubiquitous groups of men that are always roaming the streets of Gisenyi would try to touch me or talk to me without my permission. My body and my mind really needed a walk, but I also really needed not to be harassed, so I didn’t go on a walk. I desperately wish I lived in a world where I could go on a walk whenever and wherever I need to without having to fear for my safety.

Day 12

I traveled back to Kigali today after being in Gisenyi for work. I have experienced absolutely horrendous instances of GBV in Kigali. In fact, the gropings and stalking I’ve experienced in Kigali have been among the worst instances of GBV I’ve ever experienced in my life. In general, though, I experience less day-to-day violence in Kigali than I do in Gisenyi, so it’s always a relief to return to the relative safety of Kigali.

Today I’m going to write about an experience that actually happened last Friday on the way back to Kigali from Gisenyi, but since I already had a story that day and since I don’t have much to say about today, I’m going to tell that story here.

I was thankfully able to ride with a colleague on the way back to Kigali from Gisenyi. We had only been on the road for about 20 minutes when we reached a massive line of traffic that was standing completely still. The person who was driving parked the car and waited while another colleague and I got out to investigate. We walked up the road beside the long line of parked cars until we finally saw what was causing the problem: a gigantic truck had flipped over on its side, completely blocking the road. None of the piled up traffic would be able to move until a piece of construction equipment came to clear the flipped truck from the road. Resigned to a long wait, we piled back into the car. After just a couple of minutes of sitting in the car, a crowd of at least 10 boys accumulated outside of the car window where I was sitting. They pressed their faces up to the glass of the window and looked in on me as if I was some kind of zoo animal. From my perspective on the inside of the car looking out at the boys, the glass pane looked like a solid mass of dirty skin, peering eyes, runny noses, open mouths, pointing fingers, and heads jostling around each other. The boys were all atwitter talking about me to each other, and they kept shoving at each other, all competing for the best view of my body. Even though they were children, it was still extremely unnerving to have so many boys all looking at me at once, their faces only inches away from mine and separated only by a thin pane of glass. A big reason why the boys acted this way is because I’m white and they’re unaccustomed to seeing white people, but they were also so comfortable with objectifying me because I’m a woman. There was definitely a gender dynamic at play. I know this because all of the children who were staring at me were boys; none were girls. Also, there was another white person in the car, but he is a man, and the boys did not crowd around his window to stare at him. When I tried to shoo the kids away, they were unperturbed and continued right on with their gawking. I mentioned to a colleague who was in the car with me how uncomfortable it made me feel to have a massive crowd of boys all inches away from my face looking in at me and pointing at me, and he just smiled and said something along the lines of, “Oh, they’re just admiring you because you’re a beautiful woman”. It’s disgusting to me how boys are taught to objectify women and to treat women as less than human from such an early age.

Day 13

I worked from home all day today, so thankfully I didn’t experience any GBV.

Day 14

While at the big open air market picking up some groceries, I noticed that the male vendors must make so much more money than the female vendors. Men kept grabbing me and yelling at me, either asking me for a job (to carry things for me) or demanding that I buy from them. I tried to support the female vendors when I could, but sometimes I couldn’t help but give in to the pushy, yelling, grabbing men. For example, when I needed a more specialty item like okra, I had to ask the guy who was leaning in too close and aggressively asking me what I wanted.

On my way out for the evening to grab some dinner, I could have chosen to walk to where I was going, but I decided to take a moto instead because I didn’t want to have to deal with the mental angst of always worrying whether I was being followed or whether the men I passed by in the street would reach out to grope me (something that has happened to me many times in Rwanda). On my way to find a moto, a man did pass by me and I grew really nervous, waiting for him to say something inappropriate to me, grab me, or follow me. Thankfully, nothing ended up happening, but this experience indicates just how terrifying it can be to simply leave the house when you’re a woman.

Day 15

As I was walking back to my house after doing some grocery shopping, loaded down with bags, I passed by these two dudes who, when they saw me, greedily looked at me and gave me a thumbs up and made lewd “very nice” comments, clearly somehow referring to how I looked and giving me their approval, as if I was asking for it.

Day 16

I worked from home all day today, so when I got dressed in the morning I just went ahead and put on my comfy yoga outfit in anticipation of my evening yoga class. Once it was time for me to leave the house for my class, however, I debated for a long time about what I should wear in transit because I felt quite uncomfortable leaving the house dressed in my yoga pants, even though my skin was completely covered and I wasn’t wearing anything inappropriate, though the clothes were form fitting. Thankfully, I didn’t have too many bad mishaps while wearing the outfit this evening, though the fact that I was so flooded with anxiety over what to wear on the way to my yoga class is indicative of how GBV affects my daily life so thoroughly.

This exercise of daily observations is really cementing something I’ve known for a while: the GBV/street heckling isn’t nearly as bad here in Kigali as it is in Gisenyi, though I’ve also had horrible things happen to me here in Kigali. In Kigali, I’ve been stalked for months by a peeping tom, I’ve been horrifically groped between my legs in broad daylight, I’ve had strange men stroke my leg while I’m sitting on a moto, I’ve had a group of drunk men surround me and all heckle me at once, I’ve been in moto accidents because the men around me lost their shit at the sight of me, etc., etc., yet Gisenyi is still worse than Kigali in terms of street harassment.

Day 17

I road the bus to Gisenyi today. I got lucky and a woman was sitting next to me (by my own design) for the first half of the trip. I was filled with nervous dread when a man sat down next to me to take the woman’s place once she got off (I didn’t have any control this time over who would sit next to me, unlike when I had first gotten on the bus), but thankfully he did not grope me. It’s so sad that bus gropings are so common for me that NOT being groped is a much appreciated blessing.

I moved into my new place in Gisenyi today, and at one point during that process I was walking down the road holding all of my bedding in my arms, trying not to drop all of it in the dirt. This dude drove by in a car, rolled down his window, slowed to a crawl, leaned all the way across the passenger seat to be closer to where I was walking, and just gawked at me and he slowly drove next to me until I finally made it inside the gate to my new place. Generally, there’s a lot more leering at me and I feel a lot less safe while walking down the road in Gisenyi than I do in Kigali. There are several moments quite like the one I just described throughout the day any time I am outside in Gisenyi.

Day 18

All evening my bedroom in Gisenyi was surrounded by men who were talking very loudly in what seemed like angry tones. Because of the layout of my new place in Gisenyi, it sounded like they were directly outside the door of my bedroom, which is impossible for me to lock. I was terrified all night and barely got any sleep at all because it reminded me so much of the horrible peeping tom/stalker situation that I had in Kigali and that ended in violence. When I finally reported that incident to the police in Kigali, all they said was, “Well, what do you expect? You’re a young girl. There’s nothing we can do. That’s just what happens to young girls.” Thus, I felt horribly unsafe tonight when I heard those men outside of my bedroom because I knew that the police would not be on my side if the situation turned violent towards me.

Day 19

Today I had to ride the bus from Gisenyi to Kigali. I’ve had to learn over time to be proactive about only sitting next to women on the bus, even if it means taking a seat that has less space, that is sure to give me horrible back pain, or that will increase my car sickness. I forced myself to be brave and risked an outburst of conflict by directly telling men entering the bus that they could not sit next to me because not sitting by a man is the only way for me to prevent being groped by the person sitting next to me. Even though today a combination of luck and my tactics allowed me to sit by women for the entire ride, I did still experience some GBV while on the bus. At one point the man who had been sitting behind me hit me in the head when he stood up to get off. He apologized as if it was an accident, but the way he hit my head and then continued to keep his hand in my hair and pull it didn’t seem like an accident. This is the state of mind that constant GBV puts me in: I’m constantly questioning the intentions of the men around me.

Day 20

I worked from home all day today. When I did leave the house for dinner, I was with a man, so I did not experience any street harassment today.

Day 21

While I was on my way to dinner, a dude that was passing by me on the sidewalk leaned his torso onto my side of the sidewalk and yelled, “Yooooooo!” at me. Later, on my way home from dinner, two teenage guys started following me. I sped up, and they sped up as well, matching their pace with mine. Eventually I started practically running as I listened to the boys talking about me behind me, trying to get my attention. It’s so fucked up that these little teenage boys feel entitled to my body. It demonstrates just how ingrained it is for men to feel entitled to women’s time/attention. It didn’t matter to those boys that I am much older than them. The only thing that registered in their minds is that I’m a woman and they are men. Also, I’m sure my foreign whiteness was a component of their harassment of me as well.

Day 22

I have this persistent problem if getting unwanted messages from unknown dudes on WhatsApp. I have no idea how they get my number, but they’ll message me with “hi” without ever identifying themselves. Usually when I immediately ask, “Who is this?”, I don’t get a response and the person disappears, but there’s this one guy who has persisted in harassing me for months. Every single time he messages me, I tell him using very clear language, “Stop contacting me. I do not appreciate receiving messages from a man who I do not know and have never met.” Today, after sending this guy several messages telling him to quit contacting me and why, this guy said to me, “I love you.” Then, he asked me why I don’t ever respond to him. Finally, I figured out how to block people on WhatsApp and I don’t have to hear from this particular guy ever again, but I’m sure there will be others in the future.

Day 23

Everyone here is all excited about the World Cup, which of course is a massive celebration of men’s sporting teams. I wonder if there will ever be a time when we’ll get as excited about the women’s World Cup, or if there will ever be a time when saying “World Cup” doesn’t by default mean men’s teams and instead includes women’s teams as well.

Day 24

I rode the bus from Gisenyi to Kigali today. Because the jump seat (the most uncomfortable seat on the bus that folds down to form a seat in the aisle between the normal bus seats) doesn’t have a proper back rest to lean back onto, the person sitting in the jump seat is forced to lean either to the right or to the left onto the back rest of the seat next to them in order to survive the bus ride without being in too much pain and without being jostled too much. Invariably, if it’s a man in the jump seat and I’m sitting in the bus seat next to the jump seat, he’ll choose to lean to whatever side I’m sitting on. Unsurprisingly, this happened on my way to Gisenyi today, so I had to put up with a man’s head, shoulder, and arm jamming into me for the entire ride, never quite sure if he was intentionally rubbing up against me or simply trying to survive the bus ride in as little discomfort as possible. I had to remain vigilant for the entire four hours of the bus ride to check to make sure he wasn’t trying to grope me.

Today I interviewed candidates for several enumerator positions that I am hiring for, and, sadly but tellingly, there was only one female candidate. I think this was partly because I recruited candidates with an environmental science background, and I guess that course of study is considered to be masculine in Rwanda, but I think it’s also because in Rwanda there’s still a very pervasive pressure for women, even young women, not to work and to focus on getting married and having babies instead.

Day 25

I find that it’s really hard for me to keep track of all of my experiences with gender-based violence. This afternoon when I read back through the observations I’ve recorded up until today, especially the observations that I recorded while in Gisenyi, I noticed that they don’t really seem to capture how I feel, or the many little instances of GBV that I experience and then immediately forget like, for example, having to walk on the street because a man who is passing by refuses to adjust from walking straight down the middle of the sidewalk. I pretty much always feel on edge or threatened in Gisenyi, and most of the time in Kigali as well, but the things that I’ve managed to remember and record don’t really seem to capture that. I know that the whole point of BOPM’s 30 days of observations is to be able to capture the every day acts of GBV that I experience relentlessly, but I still feel like I’ve failed to do so adequately to give readers a sense of how it feels to be a woman living in a patriarchal world.

Also, I’ve realized just how much I was relying on immediately forgetting and suppressing instances of GBV, street harassment in particular, as a coping mechanism. I had thought that I was hyper aware of GBV and that I noticed it every time I experienced it. Doing these daily recordings, however, has been really exhausting and depressing because it feels like there’s too many instances to even be able to remember them all over the course of a single day, and the act of holding them in my head and then writing them down at the end of each day is really sad because it forces me to keep them in my mind rather than suppress them. I believe that this exercise has immense value, but doing it has made me realize just how much I suppress the GBV that I experience.

Day 26

As usual, there was a huge crowd at the bus park in Gisenyi as I was trying to get onto my bus to Kigali. A fight broke out between two guys right next to me in the crowd. It was really scary because the fight became violent and punches were thrown. Eventually one of the men involved in the fight got pushed to the ground. The fighting men were yelling, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. From the way the other people in the crowd kept looking at me and then back at the men, I suspected that the fight had something to do with me. Uncertain situations like this one are to be expected since I’m living in a place where I’m an outsider and thus lack a deep knowledge of Kinyarwanda and Rwandan culture, but these situations quickly escalate from confusing to terrifying for me because, as a woman, the treat of violence, particularly sexual violence, is always eminent.

The process of recording my daily experiences with GBV really began to weigh on me toward the end of the 30 day period, so I started to slack off with my recordings. As I was going back through my observations to edit for clarity, on this day I had recorded the above story as well as, “The bus ride from hell.” I realized, however, that I had no way of knowing exactly which bus ride from hell I was referring to. I have so many hellish bus ride memories, but I don’t know on this particular day which specific hellish memory is the one that took place. I actually went through the exercise of listing out a handful of truly traumatic and awful bus experiences that stick out in my memory, but that list is for me to share another time as it is too long for me to put into this daily observation. Here’s what I think is relevant for me to try to convey in this daily observation: I experienced some form of getting nonconsensually groped, hit, touched, stroked, laughed at, spat on, yelled at, talked about, mumbled about, leered at, or just generally mistreated pretty much relentlessly every time I rode the bus between Kigali and Gisenyi, which I had to do for work twice a week every week. The many numerous hellish moments that I’ve experienced on the bus have faded away in my memories through a combination of survival-motivated suppression as well as the forgetfulness of sheer proliferation.

Day 27

Today a male visitor from out of town arrived at the airport in the morning. Since I spent most of the day with him and since he’ll be around through the end of my 30 day period, I suspect I won’t have much GBV to record from here on out since the presence of a man greatly diminishes the level of GBV that a woman experiences. This phenomenon demonstrates just how devalued women are. When we appear in public with a man, no matter what the relationship we have to that man is, to passersbys—in some subconscious or sometimes completely conscious thought process—we’re considered the property of that man, an object that can’t be touched, unlike if we’re were seen out and about without the presence of a man.

Day 28

As expected, I encountered zero harassment today since every time I appeared in public I had a man with me.

Day 29

I traveled to Gisenyi today, and this time I thankfully was able to ride in a colleague’s car. It’s too bad the one time I was able to ride in the protection and comfort of my colleague’s car I didn’t even need it since I had a man with me.

Even though I didn’t experience street harassment or groping, I did have an experience in which I felt marginalized that I’m pretty sure had to do with my gender. Also riding to Gisenyi in my colleague’s car was an important investor. My male colleague began describing to the investor a big project that I’ve been working very hard and independently on. My colleague is far removed from this project and doesn’t know much about it, yet when I tried to interject in the conversation and more accurately describe the project and present it to the investor, my colleague cut me off and spoke on my behalf, even though the information he shared about the project was inaccurate and ill-informed and even though I was the sole lead on the project. He spoke about the project as if he himself had been the one to do the work, not me. Maybe this had nothing to do with the fact that I’m a woman and had more to do with the fact that I am less senior in the company than my colleague, but it’s difficult for me not to think that my gender was a factor considering the proliferation of the devaluing of women’s labor.

Day 30

My visitor and I decided to walk the ~20 minutes from our office to the restaurant where we wanted to eat dinner. On the way to the restaurant, we were followed for a long way—even after I started walking really, really quickly—by a guy who seemed drunk and unstable. He begged us to give him a job the entire time he followed us, and he told us in detail about the struggles that he and his family face. The encounter was really upsetting to me due to a confusing confluence of my white and economic privilege as well as the oppression that I experience as a woman. Even though I was walking with a man, the drunk guy who was following us really scared me because he seemed unpredictable and like he might lash out in violence at any moment. On the other hand, it was heart breaking to hear about his struggles with poverty, and I felt in that moment just how privileged I am. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, I was shaking and in tears because I was feeling so triggered and so unsafe and like I was going to be attacked at any moment but also because I was so sad that there wasn’t anything I could do to help the man with his problems other than continue pursuing a career intended to help poor people, which doesn’t help him directly at all. It really sucks that because of the proliferation of GBV I wasn’t able to engage with the man since I couldn’t be sure whether he would hurt me and instead I felt like I had to ignore him in order to protect myself. The entire situation was just so fucked up.

C in Rwanda

These observations were written by a Rwandan woman who is a university student living outside of the capital city of Rwanda.

Day 1

I was just trying to find the bus in the bus station of Musanze, then 4 men came around me and one of them grabbed my bag and another tried to push me into his car while the other pulled my sweater until I was about to fall down. So that is my own story of GBV.

Day 2

A woman was gone to the market when she passed before the bar where her husband was inside drinking beer. The other men showed the husband that his wife was passing, and the husband came and called her and scolded her. The other men also started to laugh but in the form of assisting that man.

Day 3

The policemen pushed the women who were selling the legumes in the street. They pushed them even though they carried their babies.

Day 4

When I was conducting the household census in Musanze and first arrived in a household, I started by asking the woman. She told me that she can't answer when her husband is not around and that he ordered that no one will answer any questions about their living style expect him only. I have seen that the woman feared her husband.

Day 5

I saw women in a compound where they transported heavy stones for construction, and one of them fell down because the stones were so heavy.

Day 6

I had arrived in one of the households that I was interviewing, and the man told me that he can't do anything at home and that his wife is there to do all the activities at home.

Day 7

Another husband intimidated his wife during an interview. When she was going to answer, her husband told her to shut up and that she is ignorant since she didn't attend the school so she can't know anything.

Day 8

My neighbor told me that she can't visit anyone, neither her friends nor the neighbors, because her husband prevented her from approaching her friends.

Day 9

I have seen men who touched girls in a sexual manner, but it was against the will of the girl.

Day 10

I saw a woman disputing with her husband, then the man started to recall her past mistakes.

Day 11

I saw women who were stopped on the bus, and the conductor talked to them saying that he knows the women always have many bags, so he can't let them enter onto his bus with such bags.

Day 12

I met a woman who didn't have access to her salary. When she gains money she can't save it because she is obligated to give all of her money to her husband. I was so shocked to hear this, and she was in so much pain when she was telling me this.

Day 13

I have also seen a woman who has 6 children, and her husband can't help her. He was just watching the way she was struggling with all of these children, and he also gives orders only.

Day 14

I met a girl in one of the families I was interviewing who has been obligated to marry a man she didn't want just because her family is a friend of that family.

Day 15

I have seen a little girl who didn't attend school because her father refused to let her go to school. I met her at the tap where she was just coming to collect water. By curiosity, I asked her her age because I have seen that she was carrying a 20 liter jerrycan. She told me that she's 10 years old. Then I asked her if she is studying, and she said that her father had refused.

Day 16

One day I was in a car for a project in a rural area of Musanze. Our driver saw a woman who was walking by foot, then immediately he stopped the car and called her. He asked her to enter into the car, then the driver started to ask her some private questions without even asking her if she would mind answering them. He asked if she is living with her husband, how old is she, etc. With fear, the woman answered all the questions. When she was going to get out of the car, the driver asked her to give him her number as a recompense for carrying her for free in his bus so that he will come visit her when her husband is not around. The woman was afriad to give her number, but the driver insisted that he would help her to get out of her bad rural living conditions. He said that he could even carry her to the city, and he continued to lie to her about many things until the woman gave him her number.

Day 17

I visited my friend, and she told me that when her father has money he only uses it for drinking beer, and even when he doesn’t have money he goes to the bar and drinks and calls her mother to pay. When she refuses, after arriving at home he insults her. He can't even buy anything for his family. Her mummy is the one who buys all things at home.

Day 18

I met an unmarried lady who has a child, and her family has isolated her because of this. They even chase her away from home. Now she is living alone with her child. Even the father of her child refuses to help her. Now that lady is suffering alone with her child.

Day 19

A girl has been obligated by her boyfriend to commit an abortion.

Day 20

A friend of mine has been obligated to leave her boyfriend because her father doesn't want that boy because he is from a poor family.

Day 21

My former classmate in secondary school has married a man that her family doesn't want her to marry. Since their marriage, her family isolated her. No calls. No visits. They have isolated her completely.

Day 22

I visited one of the households in Musanze. The woman there had many activities to accomplish. When her husband came, he ordered her to stop those activities she was doing so that she could give him food. The woman asked him to take food in the cupboard. The man insulted her immediately. He left the house, and then when he arrived at the gate he told her many bad words by saying that she is lazy and that she is doing nothing at home. Although by my view I saw that the woman was so tired.

Day 23

In one of the families that I visited, there were 6 children, 5 boys and 1 girl. The girl is the one who does all things at home. Her brothers say that they can't do anything because the women have the ability to do many things in a short time. The girl is sometimes absent from school because of those household activities.

Day 24

My friend experienced GBV when she refused to have sex with her boss, then the boss chased her from the work.

Day 25

One day I was in a party. There were 2 girls who were wearing short dresses, then the men started to take their pictures unwillingly.

Day 26

Another friend of mine experienced GBV while volunteering. When the boss promised to give her a job after the volunteering period was over, she asked him about the job then the boss asked her to have sex in order to get that job.

Day 27

One day we were waiting for the bus in Nyabugogo bus station. When the bus arrived, all men started to push us so that they could enter in the car first. While they were trying to enter in the car, some women fell down and other men started to pull our bags so that they could steal from us.

Day 28

We were in the bus when the conductor opened the door. The bag of a woman fell down into the road. The woman tried to stop the car, and the driver continued to drive. Also, the conductor refused to take that bag. We insisted that the conductor turn back in order that the woman could have her bag, but other men were together in the bus and refused by saying that women are always lazy and careless. They said, “Let us move. She will take another bus to search for her bag.” Then the conductor moved.

Day 29

My friend experienced GBV when she was obligated by a man who was trying to give her a job. He obligated her to have sex to receive that job.

CJ in Peru

These daily observations were submitted by CJ, a white American woman in her 20s who lives in Peru. 

Day 1

Today I originally had forgotten about the write-up I was going to do tonight, so it wasn't on my mind. Although sexual harassment here is so frequent that I feel like it's ALWAYS on my mind, today I actually had a little mental break! And then, a smooch from a taxi, drive-by style. Then later, I was walking in the market with my god-daughter on my shoulders and accidentally made eye-contact with a man sitting outside his store. What a sin, to make eye contact with a man!! He took it to mean I was interested and told me in a creepy way as we walked past how beautiful I was and a few other things I tried not to hear. He was twice my age. Thankfully, my young god-daughter didn't seem scared or bothered; since I didn't react, neither did she.  

If it only happened once in my life, maybe I wouldn't mind someone creepily telling me I am beautiful or wanting more details of my life than what is appropriate for strangers. But it happens so often, I am totally sick of it. Unfortunately for each well-intentioned but completely sexist man who unsuccessfully tries to strike up a conversation with me by catcalling me or getting too personal in public, I am reminded of every other time it has happened, especially the creepiest or most offensive times. By now, even an "hola" from a man I don't know on the street makes me very uncomfortable. I know what is coming after that "hola" if I stick around for even 1 second longer; I've heard their machista piropos a thousand times. 

Day 2

Today I was whistled at only once, like you would whistle at a dog, by a man who was trying to impress his girlfriend as I walked by in a park. I didn't react but I heard them talking about me, "la extranjera". It was quite different than the usual way I am whistled at by a lone man hoping that I will magically be interested and go to talk to him. I just can't believe that with a nearly 0% success rate, they are getting anywhere with this nonsense. 

Day 3

No street harassment today! Just stares, because I don't look like a typical Peruvian. But the lack of street harassment could be because I took side streets, slept in, and didn't make eye contact with anyone. 

Day 4

No harassment today, but that is because I hardly left the house at all. Just got honked at by a bunch of taxis, which is more of a class and race problem in Peru, as in the US: assuming that all white people are rich and deserve a taxi more than brown or black people. I am always amazed at how many taxis bother me, even stopping in the middle of a busy street because I am being white while walking, which is apparently the same thing as hailing a taxi. Some Afro-Peruvians have a hard time getting a taxi to stop because of the racism here. 

Day 5

Thought maybe today might go by without a catcall or other harassment, but unfortunately not. I was walking with my male coworker down the street, and a group of dirty men in their 30s or 40s was staring at me from a broken-down bus that was getting fixed. One said, simply, "Hola" and when I did not respond, continued with some bullshit about how beautiful I am. It wasn't with a sweet voice either; it was with a "HEY, LOOK AT ME!" tone. Look, I do not want to hear that from a stranger. I actually hate it and would like to be uglier so they would just leave me alone. I feel like I have to look at the ground when I walk or put a scowl on my face so I don't "invite" commentary. But it comes anyway. 

The only good thing about this event was that it inspired a healthy conversation about street harassment with my coworker. But he is the type of man who does not catcall women and seems to respect them as his equals, mostly.

Later at night, a man tossed a "drive-by" catcall at me, just saying, "Guapa" close to me as he quickly walked past. Even though the word is technically a compliment, the fact that there is no possible way to respond or even identify who it is, is very uncomfortable. In the US sometimes people yell "Slut!" or "Bitch!" out their windows at me just to be funny to their friends while I'm walking down the street, or biking, in normal clothes. It all feels about the same by now: shitty. 

Day 6

No harassment today. This project is helping me to realize that I am harassed only about 5 days of every week. Then I think, "ONLY?! It sucks to be harassed 5 days per week!!" 

Day 7

Today a man said, "Asssssssssss" as I walked by, which is part of a Peruvian phrase, "a su madre", frequently abbreviated to "Asu!" Its meaning is similar to, "Damn!" as in, "Day-um". The point of this is a mystery to me. It would be real cool if men could keep their comments to themselves. I often feel like I am being critiqued and objectified for simply walking down the street in my regular, completely non-flattering clothes, often stressed, usually tired, and feeling like I don't belong.  

Day 8

A stranger made a loud kissing noise at me from his car as I was walking home from dinner. Do I even need to explain that that grosses me out? 

Day 9

Today I was putting out a trash fire, a common occurrence in the shantytown where I work. A young man with an evident developmental or social disorder approached me and offered very enthusiastically to help me out. I said, "No, it's fine, the fire's almost out," but he grabbed my bucket anyway and caressed my other hand in a very uncomfortable way. This was repeated 2 more times, as I tried to get my bucket back and leave quickly. My coworkers had come with me to protect me from strangers, because they had seen him follow me and it is not always popular to put out a trash fire. They said, "If we weren't here, just imagine what he would do to you." They knew him from the streets and knew he had been in the military previously. Later, he came looking for me near my office; a coworker told me he was hanging out waiting. Since I have been sexual assaulted previously, maybe I have the right to say: at least for me, the lifelong, constant fear of being attacked, physically or sexually, can be as damaging mentally as an attack itself.  

Day 10

Today I was traveling all day, in taxis, planes, and buses. I did not experience any harassment, thank goodness. But there was a moment when I was afraid I might. I was in an airport shuttle and was supposed to be dropped off at my lodging; we had previously arranged that and pre-paid. I knew the driver's assistant had the address, but she got off somewhere along the line. The bus kept driving and passed my hotel, taking another woman, the last passenger, to the bus station far away. When she got off, that would leave me alone in the bus with the driver, far from my lodging. In the US maybe this would be normal, but in Peru I have read several accounts of drivers/cobradores raping women in buses. 

It has gotten to the point where I am afraid to be alone with a man, especially one I don't know. Isn't that sad? The vast majority are nice men, family men, students, who would not hurt anyone. But I can't be sure of that and feel fear, plan my escape, plan how I would fight.

Day 11

No harassment today. It could be because I was always accompanied by a man at all times and spent a lot of time sleeping because I had altitude sickness.  

Day 12

No harassment today. It could be because I spent the whole day working and in meetings. Most of my coworkers are women.

Day 13

I did not experience sexual harassment today. I thought I would, because I was venturing into the past: in some parts of the rural zones of Puno, people still live as they have for hundreds of years. No electricity, running water, gas stoves, or Western-style feminism. But although these men may have antiquated views about women's roles in the family and society, their expression towards a foreign women was nothing but respectful, did not include catcalls, and did not touch on issues that would make me uncomfortable. I felt like we were able to communicate well in Spanish and Quechua.  

Day 14

Today I was asked by urban folks in Puno why I don't want to have children. Or more like, I was grilled for a long time. Why is that the craziest thing in the world? Why am I being asked these intrusive, personal questions at so young an age, by people who don't know me but "mean well"? 

Day 15

I had an uncomfortable sexist moment today. I was on a tour, climbing a hill with two Quechua-speaking women who were carrying an insanely heavy amount of beer on their backs in blankets (4 huge boxes of full glass bottles) for a traditional festival. They were walking bent over under the weight. When I realized they were uncomfortable, a male tourist and I decided to offer help carrying one box between the two of us.  The women gladly accepted. It was heavy even for two people, but we were happy to help.

Another male tourist approached me unsolicited and said, "Let me get that!" and grabbed my side of the box even though I told him no several times. He was forcefully pulling the box away from me when I yelled, "Hey, what's with the machismo?!" His female friends said, "Don't be machista!" So he finally let go of the box. I said, "If you want to be real macho, go help the women; there are still 3 heavy boxes!" He did, and this inspired the female tourists also to help the women with their overloaded blankets. But I cannot emphasize enough the horrible feeling of the assumptions that 1) I, a woman, am physically weak, and 2) my "No" is meaningless. There was also a racist component: why is it unacceptable to "let" a white woman carry half a box, if he was indifferent to watching a Native woman struggle to carry 2 enormous boxes on her back?

Day 16

Because this week had few sexual harassment episodes in traditional Puno, I thought maybe I was in the clear. Today at 6am I was bundled up under 5 layers of clothing, waiting for an airport shuttle pickup, which of course was late. A group of 5 young men, possibly coming back from drinking, came along, stopping at their low-budget hotel on the other side of the street. They immediately started making comments about me. The ones I heard were "Sexy" and "Look, she's all alone". I then realized I had no weapon with me if they were to try to attack me and take me into their hotel. The streets were nearly empty. I thought about going back into my office to get a kitchen knife, and cursed myself for forgetting my pepper spray.

I was so filled with helpless anger that my eyes watered; I wanted to scream at them to leave me alone and that I would beat the shit out of them if they came closer. Of course, voicing that latter thought would be so counterproductive; they outnumbered me. In the end, silence and avoiding eye contact are the only possible defenses facing such a threat: don't provoke the wild animals. They entered their hotel. I later noticed one of them watching me from a window. He didn't move or leave when he saw I could see him.  When other people came out of the hotel, each noise of the door opening filled me with fear. Later on the shuttle, I treated a young man poorly because I was still afraid.

Day 17

A guy smooched at me on the street. Everyone knows that is not appropriate, right? If it happened once in my life, maybe ok, whatever. But how about making me think about everything else shitty that has happened previously this week? Is that really what they want? Smooch at a dog or a baby to get their attention, but not at a grown woman.

Day 18

I was whistled at today while walking with my 5-year-old god-daughter through her neighborhood. 

Day 19

Today I got a really uncomfortable "once-over" look at me up and down on the bus by a grungy looking old guy in the seat next to me. He was taking up more than 4 inches of my leg room. I changed seats so I wouldn't have to touch his leg just to sit, or find out if he was going to do anything uncomfortable.  

Day 20

No harassment today. Just stares, sometimes 180-degree stares as I walk by. Older men, like 60s or 70s, turning around 180 degrees and lifting up their glasses when I walk by, mouth open, watching me like I'm some sort of freak on display. And no, I am not wearing flashy clothes! I wear loose jeans and a t-shirt and a bulky sweater, for crying out loud. Sometimes a baseball cap and a hoodie, and when I do that, people assume I'm a guy and call me "sir". No catcalls then.  

Day 21

I was wolf-whistled at by a passing stranger.

Day 22

No harassment today, but that is because I did not leave my house today. 

Day 23

No harassment today, but that may be because I went home early and slept from 6pm to 6am.

Day 24

The harassment I witnessed today was not like other days, because it was not directed at me, but it was definitely sexual in nature. I was taking my god-daughter and her baby brothers and their mom for their first trip to the dentist. These 3 children are all under the age of 6 and quite a handful. As their mother was getting her teeth cleaned, the babies started crying, and I was caring for them in the waiting room. Other women in the room came over and scolded me for not minding my children or for them not behaving properly. I explained that they weren't mine, and that babies always cry and act up. When they realized that these children come from a very poor family, they began to judge the mother for having more children than she can take care of, without considering that maybe their births have more to do with unequal relationship dynamics, a complete lack of sex education, and very unreliable access to contraceptives due to poverty, rather than someone who is in control of her reproductive life and chooses to have many children. When she came out of the dentist, one of those ladies told my god-daughter's mom loudly and in front of her 3 kids, "Please do not have any more children." I gaped at her rudeness.

Day 25

Because yesterday was very stressful and exhausting for me, I did not leave the house today and just relaxed. Thus, no catcalls or street harassment today!!

Day 26

I audaciously decided to go for a jog tonight with a male friend. I was wearing regular exercise shorts, but to avoid comments, I also wrapped a sweater around my waist so you couldn't see my backside. Still, I got hollered at from a passing car. When my friend and I took separate paths to jog different routes, I got a lot more unwanted attention from men I didn't know. I crossed the street to avoid passing through a group of young men chatting on the sidewalk. I took alternate routes and avoided eye contact so I would not be harassed, but it happened anyway. A tall, older man walking in my direction slowed down and said, "Hey, beautiful, sexy" and something else. Because he slowed down, I was worried that he would then follow me. 

Day 27

Another driver whistled at me from his car then quickly drove off. I'm sick of it but it's practically a daily occurrence. I honestly feel like I can't do anything to make it stop. Even if they had given me enough time to chew them out or explain to them why what they are doing is inappropriate, it puts me at a huge risk, especially if I am alone and they have a car. As a rule, I usually do nothing if I have my laptop with me because theft is already a big problem in this city and I've already lasted almost 2 years without being robbed, unlike most of my friends here. 

Day 28

A smooch from a passing car in the morning, unwanted, as I was buying bread. Then another again later in the evening. The funny thing is, I actually have some positive experiences with men I don't know, despite living in this sexist culture and dealing with all of the crap I get that I consider harassment. Some men on the bus or in a cafe or taxi drivers strike up a casual and uninvasive conversation that neither objectifies me nor makes me feel like they are putting me on an absurd, Caucasian-obsessed pedestal. They also are BRIEF, show no signs of trying to follow me or hang out with me later, and seem not to have intentions with me, just want to chat a little. Sometimes we talk about Quechua, societal problems in Peru, the need for ventilation on the buses, or that we should report bus drivers who drive like maniacs. These are all fine! Why can't all men be decent like this? Fortunately (maybe), young men in the middle and upper classes here seem to be showing some respect to women, at least on the street. In the rural areas, elderly men also have shown me a nice amount of respect. It's refreshing.