Shoko Noda, the UNDP Resident Representative in India started her career at the UN two decades ago. In an interview with Makers India she reveals her personal experience with sexual harassment and how she dealt with it.
Global estimates published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that about one in three women (35 percent) worldwide has experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. In an interview with Makers India, Shoko Noda, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in India, reveals that she too is among those women who have faced sexual harassment.
“I think globally when we talk about one-third of women in one way or another being harassed that means we have them all over. And I am no exception. I have also been harassed in the train, in Japan, on the street and also in a park, in the darkness. So I am one of them. I am sure that there are so many of them who have experienced this,” says Shoko, who started her career at the UN two decades ago.
It is not easy to talk about gender violence and for long, several people, including Shoko, have been hesitant in discussing it. “Have I myself spoken up? Not really, because I just didn’t until the Me-Too movement came out. Just right before this interview I was discussing with my colleague what to say and it triggered that I have to say that I am one of them... If a person like me also has a bit of hesitation, just imagine those women who would be so scared to speak up,” Shoko discloses.
But being scared and not speaking up adversely affects the confidence, behaviour, and future of girls and women experiencing a difficult environment, she adds.
“At home and also in school, we need to have proper education for girls and boys to talk about it and make sure the teachers also do not dismiss or underestimate the potential of girls,” Shoko says.
A look at the statistics in India reveals a worrisome state. According to the National Family Health Survey, 30 percent of women in India in the age group of 15-49 have experienced physical violence. Six percent of women in the same age group have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. About 31 percent of married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses.
One of the ways to get more women to come forward and report such cases of sexual violence could be to have female representation in the judiciary.
“I was checking the percentage of female judges at the High Court; it’s only 11 per cent I think. There is no space for those women to speak up, to go and seek support, and that is something we really need to change. How can all male judges fully understand what happened? I think it’s frightening to talk about what happened in front of only male judges. So we really need to look at the judiciary and also have more women in the court as well as female lawyers. I think that’s very important,” she says.
Shoko says she grew up in a relatively privileged family in Japan and believed that she did not face any discrimination growing up as a girl. But a couple of years ago while going through her school reports, she found out something that left her angry and made her realise that she did indeed face discrimination.
“I was going through my school reports and I found out that my teacher was writing things like ‘As a girl Shoko is too active, she has to behave better’. And at that moment I was a kid, I probably took it personally and took the feedback because the teacher told me. There was no way for me to challenge. But, 30 years later, I read it and I feel very angry,” she says.
Shoko says her journey in life has been about overcoming such stereotyped comments and biases. “I am very proud of how far I have come,” she says.