An Invisible Gender-based Violence : Exploring Iranian male university students’ thoughts on street harassment

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Abstract: Background and Aim: Street harassment is an international and trans-cultural phenomenon that has short and long-term negative effects on its individual targets impacting millions of people, mostly women and young girls, everyday. Most studies on the subject have been focused on defining the problem from a law point of view leaving a knowledge gap on how social structures and the various political, economic, and cultural means interact to (re)produce and perpetuate this social phenomenon. This study aims to explore the thoughts of young men in Iran in order to discover possible underlying mechanisms reinforcing street harassment.   Methods: A qualitative study consisted of four focus group discussions, with male university students, was conducted in Tehran, Iran. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data with social constructionism as the theoretical lens.   Results: Two candidate themes were developed: “Normalization and trivialization of the problem” and “Socio-cultural and political silence”. The first theme represents the discussions about street harassment as normal, inevitable, and harmless. The second theme embodies the systematic silence around the subject of sexual harassment. Both normalization and the silence construct street harassment as an invisible problem not only to men who are not directly harmed by it, but also to the society as a whole which led to developing the overarching theme describing street harassment as “an invisible gender-based violence” in Iran. Conclusion: The participants were unaware of the relation between power, gender inequality, and the concept of patriarchy, which in itself is a sign of an androcentric culture. Street harassment was conceptualized as normal and invisible since it doesn’t concern them. However, most participants were eager to discuss the topic developing their arguments as the discussion went on and stating that this topic needs to be discussed and studied which confirms that just providing a safe space and the opportunity for discussions can raise people’s awareness of this social problem.     Key words: Street harassment, male university student, conceptualization, Iran

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