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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Covered women get harassed in Arab world

From the Saudi Gazette:
The sexual harassment of women in the streets, schools and work places of the Arab World is driving them to cover up and confine themselves to their homes, said activists at the first-ever regional conference addressing the once taboo topic.
This is a neat inversion of what we are normally told by extremist Muslims. They claim that they want women to cover their bodies and faces because they respect them so much; in reality the women are being forced to cover themselves up in an attempt to avoid being treated like dirt by these "respectful" men.

However, these attempts are in vain:
The harassment, including groping and verbal abuse, appears to be designed to drive women out of public spaces and seems to happen regardless of what they are wearing, they said.

Amal Madbouli, who wears the face veil or niqab, said that despite her dress, she is harassed and described how a man came after her in the streets of her neighborhood.

“He hissed at me and kept asking me if I wanted to go with him to a quieter area, and to give him my phone number,” said Madbouli, a mother of two. “This is a national security issue. I am a mother, and I want to be reassured when my daughters go out on the streets.”

As many as 90 percent of Yemeni women say they have been harassed, while in Egypt, out of a sample of 1,000, 83 percent reported being verbally or physically abused.

... In Syria, men from traditional homes go shopping in the market place instead of female family members to spare them harassment, said Sherifa Zuhur, a Lebanese-American academic at the conference.

Abul Komsan described how one of the victims of harassment she interviewed told her she had taken on the full-face veil to stave off the hassle.

“She told me ‘I have put on the niqab. By God, what more can I do so they leave me alone,”’ she said, quoting the woman. Some even said they were reconsidering going to work or school because of the constant harassment in the streets and on public transpiration.

But even in Yemen, where nearly all women are covered from head to toe, activist Amal Basha said 90 percent of women in a published study she conducted reported harassment, specifically pinching.

The religious leaders are always blaming the women, making them live in a constant state of fear because out there, someone is following them,” she said.

If a harassment case is reported in Yemen, Basha added, traditional leaders interfere to cover it up, remove the evidence or terrorize the victim.

In Saudi Arabia, another country where women cover themselves completely and are nearly totally segregated from men in public life, women report harassment as well, according to Saudi activist Majid al-Eissa.