Interview: ‘Croatian Girls Shouldn’t Need Pepper Spray to go Out’

One woman wrote that because of her experience of male harassment, she “broke up with half of her family”. They accused her of misunderstanding the man’s harassment because he was “a cousin, married and has children”.

“Even today, I don’t know how you can misunderstand groping on legs and ass,” the same woman wrote.

Matejcic believes that women who encounter sympathy and understanding for their plight are in the minority. Too often, the blame for such situations is put on the women instead.

“From an early age, we teach boys to have power and girls to obey that power, which leads to extreme situations where girls experience paedophile attacks,” she said, adding that some women do not realize for a long time that these were the “perverted, sick acts of people who need help”, while their women victims “carry trauma and guilt within themselves”.

“I just read that we are all actually hysterical and that none of this [written in the past days on social networks about the movement] is true. It takes us all back to the beginning: just because we were raised to [consider something as] normal doesn’t mean it’s normal,” Matejcic said when asked about the reaction of Croatian men on social networks.

She insists that the campaign is not about starting a “war” against men, “which is a completely missed thesis that can be read from some comments on social networks”. Moreover, she added, many men understood the magnitude of the problem.

“All day I read #zeneujavnomprostoru and I feel nausea and anger because of everything that women go through, and pride and admiration for the courage of the women who spoke,” Bojan Glavasevic, a Croatian MP, tweeted on July 24.

Matejcic says the campaign has had multiple effects already: “Stories were told that had been carried inside for years; a certain dose of solidarity has been achieved; men who were aware of the problem, but never thought about it, concluded that it concerned not only women but also them personally, as allies who understood that their position is to educate other men.”

“Maybe certainly in a smaller percentage than women, men also experience violence,” Matejcic added, explaining that “patriarchy is the pattern that prevents us from accepting the fact that we live in a violent society where everyone experiences violence”.

“Women as a vulnerable group are in a significantly higher percentage and that’s why I started the hashtag ‘women in public space’,’” she said.

The change will not happen “if a synergy is not created between all actors,” she warned.

She believes the state needs to develop effective policies designed to eliminate “or at least reduce this percentage of violence in the coming years”, through education and through adjusting the legal framework that addresses such violence.

“If there was a magic formula [to solve the problem of harassment of women], I’m sure we would have used it already and not talked about it now,” she concluded – “but we have to work together, spread stories in virtual and real space, connect, show solidarity… and ask those who can make changes, to make them.”

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