An Afghan artist wore literal body armor to protest street harassment

Street harassment has the power to make women feel defenseless. As multiple videos have recently exposed, no matter what a woman wears, or how she behaves, she’s still vulnerable to the very real threat of catcalls. This week, a 25-year-old Afghan artist decided to protest by arming herself against street harassers – literally.

In a performance called “Armor,” artist Kubra Khademi took to the streets of Kabul in a full metal bodice. The armor was part of a protest against the street harassment she experiences as a woman living in Afghanistan, where women are often subjected to harassment including verbal insults, physical assault and, in extreme cases, even acid throwing.

According to the Human Rights Watch, there are currently no laws in Afghanistan specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, or protecting its victims – so Khademi decided to make a statement about protecting herself. Sadly, according to Al Jazeera, she’s been forced into hiding after her public act of protest.

Her act of bravery was a reaction to multiple episodes of harassment and public groping, one of which she was subjected to at the age of four.

“Nobody saw that man. Maybe he was among the people shouting at me,” Khademi told the Independent. This stuff happens daily and I see it. But if I am a ‘good girl’ I shouldn’t say it, not to my mother, not to my brother, I shouldn’t say it in public. But I will say it.”

While there has been significant progress integrating women into education and government, this seemingly mundane street harassment poses a significant obstacle to women who seek employment or participation in public life.

The performance soon went viral in Afghanistan, but its message is global. Men in the USA are still guilty of defending catcalling as innocent behavior. Meanwhile, last year a 27-year-old woman in Detroit who rejected a street harasser was murdered. Clearly, this behavior isn’t innocent, and needs to be punishable as such globally.

“Afghan women and girls should be able to study, work and participate in public life knowing that they will be treated with dignity and respect” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. The current political and cultural moment, she continued, is “a unique opportunity to back sweeping reforms on sexual harassment that could dramatically change women’s role in Afghan society.”

Khademi’s work has the potential to motivate this reform. On March 4, Peru finally took the step of outlawing street harassment for the first time, partially motivated by a viral video feminists created called “Catcall your mother.” Now, catcalling is punishable with up to 12 years in jail, exposing just how valuable this kind of activist work is.

Women like Khademi are vital in calling attention to just how dangerous street harassment really is, and why it needs to be stopped everywhere, right now.

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