Although they are a few years shy of entering the world of work, Cayman International School students Somerset Lovett, Rosana Stroh and Lily Foster are hoping, by the time they get there, things will be different for women.

The teenaged trio have been exploring the issue of sexual harassment in the Cayman Islands as a project for one of their classes and they have also been following the Cayman Compass series addressing the same topic this month.

Their research has mirrored the Compass in some ways, in that they, too, launched a survey and have been encountering stories of harassment.

Stroh said the most concerning issue for them is the lack of harassment-specific legal protection, flagged by the Compass last week.

From left, Lily Foster, Rosana Stroh and Somerset Lovett, are looking at the issue of sexual harassment. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

“Reading all these stories I am very, very scared and very nervous. I almost want to prove people wrong. Prove that I, as a woman, can do just as much as a man can in the workplace, but I am very scared and nervous and afraid that this assault or harassment will happen to me when I’m older, or someone I know,” she said in a recent interview with the Compass.

Research opens the conversation

The 14-year-old students said they opted to focus on sexual harassment as a final project because they were attuned to women’s rights issues, but also because they believed that harassment was prominent here.

Lovett said they set out to explore that theory through their class project – sexual assault and harassment in Cayman and how it can impact anyone mentally and physically – and what they found surprised them.

“I knew it was a pretty prevalent issue where I used to live. I thought it was less so in Cayman and it was pretty shocking to find out how many things go unreported, how often it happens, how so many young girls, young people experience it and say ‘No, it’s just a normal thing, happens all the time’ because it is so normalised in our society,” she said.

Stroh said, although it was a coincidence that their project and the Compass’ Issues series were aligned, she also believes it speaks to people having been silent for too long.

“I think that mindset that ‘Oh, I must always be safe. I always have to carry my protection, for example pepper spray or anything like that,’ I don’t think that should be in anyone’s subconscious – women or men. I think that you should always feel safe around other people,” she said.

Around 97% of the young girls in eighth-grade reported they had been either sexually assaulted or harassed.

The eighth-grade students conducted a survey in their year and Stroh said it found that around 97% of the young girls in their grade reported they had been either sexually assaulted or harassed.

“The most prominent way that we saw was probably catcalling and different comments. It didn’t get too physical, she said, adding that when the survey numbers started to go up, she was very surprised.

“It makes me very self-conscious and aware now knowing that anything I do can impact how I’m treated by a man. What I want to do is hopefully spread the idea that women and men are very equal; obviously [they] share different qualities, but [they are] very equal and none should be treated less than the other,” she said.

“I think women and young girls should be able to grow up with a mindset that they want to do whatever they want. They can work however they want, be a boss at what they’re doing or just be really good at their job,” Stroh said.

Boys are impacted, too

Foster said they were told during their research that they should also focus on boys and not only girls, but she said the reality is more women are affected by the issue than men. However, she said that is also part of the problem.

“I feel like when people try to talk about it… it’s a lot of like ‘Oh, we don’t talk about that… like, be quiet about it.’ Because it is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but it happens so much here and people don’t even know that it’s happening,” she said.

The girls said they do not want to have to feel that “you must protect yourself in order to be secure or safe”.

“I’m hoping that this stuff will be more worked on when I get older, because I don’t really want to be treated like ‘less than’ because I am a girl,” Foster added.

Teacher Monica Watler says the students ‘felt the injustice’ of how sexual harassment is handled. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Monica Watler, the student’s homeroom teacher, said the initiative has turned into a passion project for the girls.

They started to look at different issues that they are faced with in Cayman, examining the sustainable development goals for the United Nations, and they were able to then investigate, she said.

She said the girls chose to pursue the issue of sexual harassment.

“They felt the injustice of the way that it is handled here. They saw that there are some gaps. They feel like it’s something that many people experience in one form or another, and it’s something that they don’t want to just stop investigating now…  [I]t’s something I think that they’ll continue to work toward in high school. There’s a service component in high school and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them continue this going forward,” she said.

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