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Learning the hard truth about being a girl

Passengers on a train in Istanbul. (Bilge Nur Güven/YJI)

As a girl you are raised to be careful. Be careful of what you wear, what you say, how you act and how people intercept you.

As a woman, you have to be careful because no one else – especially men – won’t be careful for you.

Adults who want to keep you safe tell you, “It’s not you I don’t trust, it’s the others.” 

You are just 13 or maybe younger when a man stares at you. It’s not something you are used to, so you don’t get it at first.

Why would an old man stare at me, you wonder. You’re too young to understand and too old to forget it ever happened. 

You grow up and read books with romance in them, where the men have manners and respect. You wonder if there are any men who act like the ones in the books. 

You watch a movie and see that men go on adventures while the women cook, look after the children, clean and serve men. You convince yourself that this is not how it will go on for you – you won’t be like that, you will have your own adventures. 

But whenever you decide to go out with friends, you get a warning from your parents telling you to be careful. You go out and there are eyes following you. You are being stared at and what is worse is that the majority are men, as old as your father. 

You learn about a video asking women what they would do if men were gone from Earth for a day. Most of the women who answer say that they would go walking, cycling or just hang out at night. 

That’s when you realize that you have never felt safe being out at night without either of your parents with you. Nor did you ever feel comfortable taking the elevator with a man or sitting or standing next to them on public transportation.

The government interferes and tries to help make you feel safe on public transportation by creating female-only buses, trains and taxis, but you know a solution will never be found to these problems if men don’t stop. 

Also, wrapping women in safety-proof materials by separating them from society won’t work. 

Why aren’t men separated?

If men are the problem, they should be kept away, since they are dangerous. Women and girls shouldn’t be kept away from them. A girl must be able to walk on the street, ride a bus and feel safe.

Instead of separating women from society as if they are precious artifacts that can be broken by men, we should issue harsher rules for the attackers.

We women are not precious artifacts that can be broken by a small nudge. Women are strong and we deserve the respect and safety that men get from society. 

Lina Köksal is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this commentary.

Bilge Nur Güven is a Senior Reporter and Photographer with Youth Journalism International. She made the photograph.

This article is part of the No one is safe project about sexual assault around the world. It is being published in five parts of six article each on Mondays and Thursday, beginning Nov. 29, 2021. For links to the published project, click below.

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