Sexual harassment: Women’s stories

Some men think they can get away with this kind of behaviour

I’m a 36-year-old mother of three and I sell fruit, vegetables and root crops at the big market in town. My youngest, a boy, is four years old and sometimes I take him to the market with me if my sister-in-law is busy and can’t look after him. Every Wednesday, I wake up very early, while it is still dark, and take a carrier into the centre of town. We stop to collect other women from villages along the way. It takes us two hours to get there.

We sleep at the market every night until Saturday evening, when the market closes and we go can finally go home. It’s not an easy life but we have no choice. We need the money for our families and to send our children to school. I have heard some real horror stories in my time from other women in the market – about men saying sexual things to them and touching them, even when this is a big taboo in our culture. One time, when I had my son with me, a man made a sexual remark to me, saying he would give me money if I went with him. I gave him a stern look and he backed off but I was very upset that day and the next few days. Because we are women selling at the market, some men think they can get away with this kind of behaviour. They think they are above us and we are nothing.

The market used to be an unsafe place for us women, especially at night, when we are sleeping. There were a few incidents some years ago, when drunk men found their way in. But two years ago, the town council built a shelter for us women, so things are slowly starting to change and improve. We have also been learning about our rights and we have formed an association where we can voice our concerns. Our association works with the town council, so our needs are now being considered when plans are made, and safety for market women is now being considered.  We feel, when we work together, that we can make some changes. We are entitled to be respected and safe.