OP-ED

Harassment as charity

National Yemen

Asma Al-Mohattwari

Asma Al-Mohattwari

In the wake of the Arab Spring, with nations across the Middle East toppling their dictators, it is clear that women’s liberation is not a priority of these movements.

In Yemeni society, women are still considered to be inferior to men. Yemeni women want their basic rights secured, including the right to walk safely on the streets without being sexually harassed.

It is common knowledge that when women walk down a street in Sana’a, men crawl from out of their qat corners to cat-call them. It is safe to say that men on the street who treat women like this are scum. Some people dismiss harassment as the actions of a few uneducated men, and suggest we just ignore them.

But what is truly unbelievable, is that these actions also come from the very men who are meant to protect us. Their duty is to protect the entire country, and women are citizens too. Women are harassed by soldiers, and not just the ones loitering in the streets. A colleague of mine who reports from the Ministry regularly is constantly harassed when all she wants to do is her job.

Where is their respect for women? For their profession? For themselves?

If those charged with protecting the homeland are the ones in our way, how can we expect better behavior from those not tasked with defending us?

When men are asked for the reasons behind their harassment, they’re only defense is that women “force us to do this because of the way they dress.”

It seems that these men, regardless of where they are in the world, have the same unimaginative response. Whether you’re in America dressed in shorts and heels or in Yemen dressed in an Abaya and Niqab, men feel entitled to police women’s clothing and women’s bodies. Our clothing does not bring on sexual harassment. No woman invites harassment because of the way she is dressed. As Yemeni men have demonstrated, you can literally be showing only your eyeballs and men will scream “temptress!” at you.

What really surprised me is when one man said that he will harass a woman to “raise her spirits.” If he does not harass her, she may become depressed.

So delusional are the men who come up with these justifications that they actually believe they are giving to charity when they harass. They should consider starting an NGO for this noble goal.

It is painful that people view harassment so nonchalantly. The problem is when women are silenced about such harassment. A woman should be strong and not tolerate the cat-calls. She shouldn’t let culture and tradition prevent her.

It’s time for men to start taking responsibility for their actions. We want a country where men are our equals, not out harassers.

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