Preventing sexual harassment
Sexual harassment has forced a number of women to quit their jobs and stay away from public life. Commenting on the topic, a number of experts, scholars and women called for taking stringent legal action against men who resort to verbal or physical sexual harassment.
Muna Ahmad said she quit her job at a private company after she said a number of her male colleagues sexually harassed her.
“I couldn’t find a private driver who could take me from my house to my workplace and back. So I had no choice but to use taxis. Whenever I would wait in front of the company’s gate after work to hail a taxi, men who worked in the same company would approach me in their cars and try to pick me up,” she said.
Despite facing a financial crunch, Ahmad had to make the hard decision to quit her job and sit at home. She urged authorities to punish sexual offenders.
Echoing the same view, Hind Adel, who worked at a retail store, said she quit her job after male customers harassed her. She is currently looking for a job where she won’t face sexual harassment.
Azizah Abdul Qader, a businesswoman, said fear of Allah and holding fast to Islamic teachings was important for both men and women. She urged women to handle such situations bravely and wisely so they don’t fall victim to sexual offenders.
According to Abdul Qader, wearing Islamic dress and decent behavior will help women protect themselves from all forms of harassment.
“Even though I have to deal with a large number of men as part of my business, I manage the situation elegantly by holding fast to Islamic principles, especially in my behavior with unrelated men. If a woman follows Islamic principles and does not mingle with men freely, she can escape from all forms of harassment,” Abdul Qader said.
Muhammad Al-Badli, however, said such views put the blame on the victim. Instead, he said, it was segregation between men and women since childhood that was the main reason women face sexual harassment.
“When men and women are denied the basic freedom to interact with one another, some of these men grow up not knowing how to act around women and they tend to harass them whenever they get an opportunity. Parents give all freedom to boys while denying them to girls, and this creates a feeling among girls that they are being sidelined and their rights are being deprived,” he said.
Al-Badli noted that inculcating mutual feelings of respect among young men and women when they interact in public is one of the best ways to curb harassment. “At the same time, all men who try to exceed the proper bounds of the decency of behaving with woman, whom they should treat just like a sister, should be subjected to stringent penal action,” he stressed.
Agreeing with Al-Badli, Kuathar Ismail said decent, civilized and respectful behavior among men and women in society would decrease cases of harassment and added that complete segregation between men and women is counterproductive.
“Men and women should be allowed to enter public places as long as they adhere to the restrictions imposed by our religion and customs. Strict punitive measures should be taken against violators of regulations in this regard,” she said.
Well-known Saudi director and actor Fahd Ghazouli said he hopes the phenomenon of sexual harassment will one day disappear from Saudi society and urged parents to shoulder their responsibilities of monitoring their children’s activities and interactions with others.
“All this free time that young men and women have is one reason why women face so much sexual harassment. Young men and women find nothing to do in their free time and therefore they frequent commercial malls and public places, and this leads to incidents of harassment.”
While many people said segregation between the sexes is the main reason young men harass women, others insisted that segregation was effective and one woman even suggested that senior and juniors in high schools be segregated to curb the increasing number of harassment cases in girls-only schools.
“A lack of proper religious awareness is a contributing factor. Segregation works and senior and junior students should be segregated so as to prevent a further increase in the number of sexual harassment cases occurring between young adults,” said Nida Ali.
Shadia Jonabi, a community specialist at the reconciliation committee in Makkah, said that cases of verbal and physical sexual harassment do not only occur at places where men and women interact with one another but also in women-only places like schools and colleges.
“We receive complaints of harassment from girl victims and the offenders are also girls. There are several factors such as delays in getting married, unemployment and free time that leads to harassment,” she said while blaming satellite TV and the Internet for the rising cases of harassment.
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mosleh, secretary-general of the International Organization for Scientific Wonders in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah, urged authorities to take strict legal action against men who harass women at malls and public places.
He suggested several methods women could use to avoid sexual harassment, and they included strengthening religious awareness, preventing women from mingling with men, educating children about Islamic principles with regard to mingling with unrelated people and conducting awareness programs by civil society organizations, the media and daawah (preaching) organizations.