Streets tell stories of power relations among people. They tell stories about economic, political and social power. We may walk back and forth in a single street till we become familiar and unconsciously accept the power dynamics that exist without questioning how they came to be the way they are. One day, I woke up with the intention to understand how street harassment is related to power expression and actions that occur daily in public spaces that are difficult to describe as “harassment”.

I write while the Lebanese October 17th protests – ‘Thawra’- is still ongoing on the streets from the north to the south of Lebanon. Since day one, women were on the front lines, protesting their corrupted system, raising their voices by leading chants in the streets, organizing themed protests, forming buffer zones between military men and the rest of protesters to ensure peace, and even kick armed men in the nuts who threatened to open fire on protesters.   

Pursuing my masters in Trauma Psychology, I had to leave Lebanon and its revolution to attend my classes in UK for few days. My classmates were asking about the situation back in Lebanon; they had heard lots about it from the news. While explaining that some violence is happening from citizens who are defending their politicians, one of my classmates commented: “that’s so similar to the relationship between an abused woman and her husband. Don't you think?” We delved so deep in this conversation to try to understand the situation further.

Coming from a very traditional society as Yemen, I always seek to find common grounds between Yemeni women's Muslim identity and their belief in gender equality.
My privacy was publicized by familiar hands that turned out to be foreign. Then, I was still a child.

Growing up, I was always taught not to walk the streets alone, especially at night, and if I had no choice but to do so, I was taught to walk fast and avoid eye contact to not give men walking around any ideas if I were to unconsciously look at them. I was taught to cross the road if a funny looking man was walking on the same lane “just in case”. I was taught to avoid shortcuts.

I had just started to hit puberty when my grandmother called me over.

“If you see a spot or two of blood on your underwear one day, don’t be afraid. Come and tell me right way and I’ll tell you what to do. This happens to girls, it’s a good thing that means you’ve started to become a young woman. It happens to us all,” she said.

When I mention my profession as a case worker with women in prostitution, all I get are clear question marks on people’s faces. Exclamation marks follow when I mention my regular visits to Hbeish police station in Beirut and my continuous conversations with women detained for prostitution.

Spoken and unspoken questions follow their wondering and surprise.