Sexual harassment affects women worldwide but is more widespread in developing countries like India and other South Asian countries where women are increasingly involved in the workforce. A new study published online on March 28 in the International Criminal Justice Review found that in India alone, 58 percent of women have been sexually harassed at least once in their lifetime.

Michigan State University criminologist Mahesh Nalla explains that harassment is even worse in enclosed areas such as the bus and other public areas like a park. In Delhi, 40 percent have experienced sexual harassment in these places over the past year that mostly occurs during the daytime.

Nalla also cites that this problem has probably worsened due to India’s patriarchal society where many citizens believe that women should stay at home. Because of these, 33 percent of women have stopped going out in public and 17 percent have even quit their jobs just to avoid harassment.

Protest at India Gate related to 2012 Delhi gang rape case. Photo from Wikipedia/ramesh_lalwani

Protest at India Gate related to 2012 Delhi gang rape case. Photo from Wikipedia/ramesh_lalwani

“What this means is that women, despite Nirbhaya (2012 gang rape victim on a moving bus in Delhi), are still afraid,” adds Nalla. “Women in India do not feel safe being in public spaces, which is clearly a human rights issue.”

Sexual harassment of women in public spaces is known as “Eve teasing.” This has been rampant especially among young Indian males.

In collaboration with Stockton University’s Assistant Professor Manish Madan, Nalla investigated the perceptions and history of sexual harassment, use of public transport, public safety and police intervention of 1,400 men and women from New Delhi.

The researchers found that sexual harassment includes whistling, asking a woman to do sexual favours, squeezing women’s breasts and patting their buttocks. Men consider these things less serious than women.

The researchers recommend that gender equality and sexual harassment consequences must be included in the country’s curriculum, starting in grade school. They also suggest increasing public awareness through public-service messages and signs that read zero tolerance on sexual harassment, posted on bus stops, buses, and roadsides for better visibility.

Additionally, the team urges beefing up law enforcement in public spaces. More security cameras must also be installed to improve security.

“The findings from this study highlight the importance and immediacy of addressing women’s safety in public spaces and women’s human rights,” Nalla concludes.