Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sick and tired of harassment, women seek help line number


JEDDAH: Women in the Kingdom, fatigued by repeated cases of harassment, are calling for a help line number.
Nawal Bukhari, 45, called for more security measures on behalf of all her Muslim sisters, saying it is imperative the law derives a method to protect women in emergencies.
Nawal and her daughter Madiha, who were on Sari Street in Jeddah on a recent weekend, told Arab News they were followed, chased, and profusely invited to sit in the cars of men, asking for their phone numbers for almost an hour.
“There is no barrier, every age and class of men who were there that night — maybe doing it for a thrill — asked us for our numbers and even opened doors to their cars for us to sit with them,” said Nawal. “It scares me to think how our sisters deal with this situation. I was scared, helpless and the worst fear was that I could not protect my daughter if something happened.”
Nawal says her husband was out of the country at the time, and because she uses taxis to get around she faces harassment on the street frequently and has never been able to call for help.
“Who do I call? It is not a crime, what these men do, so it would be an awkward situation calling 999,” she said. “But in the Kingdom, for women this is a real emergency situation. I barely see police cars patrolling an area looking out to help in these situations.”
Describing what happened that weekend, Nawal said that even after she and her daughter waved down a taxi, ill-mannered men temporarily blocked the car from moving, telling the cab driver they would give them rides. Before they could enter the cab, the driver became scared.
“This taxi driver locked the doors and did not let us in. Instead he sped off,” she said.
Nawal had to call a friend with a driver to pick them up. And even then five cars of men were trying to block them from crossing the road to enter the vehicle.   The incident — which occurred at night — left her afraid to go out on her own for weeks.
“Women are esteemed and highly respected in Islam, contrary to current state of affairs,” she added. “Would these men be okay with this if it happened to their mothers and sisters?”
Marwa Nasser, 21, said the prevalence of sexual harassment in her day-to-day life needs to end.
“This passé attitude toward the harassment of women, and passing it off as nothing, is ridiculous. It is about time they enforce the law that is there to protect us.”
Marwa described one incident in a mall with her friends when several young men were following them, insisting on getting their phone numbers. An onlooker took a “blame the victim” mentality.
“This passerby just glared at us and murmured, ‘you girls deserve this for roaming around without a mahram (male guardian).’ I didn’t know with whom I was more furious with: the men chasing us or this man who could not help the situation and instead lashed out at us.”
Marwa stated a lot of her friends have faced similar and even intense situations and have had no one to help them.
“Someone to call for help or to simply assist you out of this situation would help us,” she said. “It is about time men on the street realize we are not chattel they can use or abuse whenever they like. They should be made to understand by the authorities that they cannot get away with this.”
Women here say they feel caught between the lecherous behavior of some men and the self-righteousness of others when it comes to how they dress.
Maha Hamran, 25, recalled an incident at Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport where a group of men “pretending to be religious” sneered at her and her friends.
“Even though we were in abaya with our hair covered, one of them demanded with a look of disgust: ‘Cover your face.’ I just told him I would do no such thing and that he should take his Taleban approach elsewhere.”
Maha said fanatical approaches like this tarnish the face of moderate Islam, that men who fixate on women who don’t cover from head-to-toe only reflects poorly on what they are thinking.
“Firstly, why are you looking at me and my lady friends? It is lecherous and demeaning, especially  if you come up to me and talk about it. And, if you have a problem, then look away.”

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