The one equaliser in our world – sexual harassment

30 Nov

Driving through the streets of Dushanbe I go past a market and see a young woman walking along the street and a young man pinches her arse. In Public.

If you sit in the blame-the-victim camp then you would at this point be thinking, ah, she shouldn’t have been wearing what she was wearing. “That miniskirt was just asking for it.” Right?

The question I ask of people from that school of thought is – how do you justify blaming the victim and using her clothing as an excuse for the man’s behaviour when in this case the victim is Muslim and covered up, quite literally from head to toe? Hijab and all?

Women of all cultures, wearing all manner of clothing are exposed to sexual harassment. Look at Egypt, where by no stretch of the imagination do women dress in a provocative manner and yet, according to a survey conducted by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in 2013, more than 99 percent of Egyptian women are harassed on a daily basis, ranging from catcalling in the streets to gang rapes.

I was recently at a training in Jordan with colleagues from the Middle East and we had an exercise to do with sexual harassment in the workplace. The case study for discussion related to a flirtatious woman who wore tight clothing at work and whose male colleague sexually harassed her. During discussions about this case study, the majority of both women and men at the training concluded that she was asking for it.

The fact that whether a woman is wearing Hijab and gets harassed or whether she is flirtatious and gets harassed shows one common denominator – men who harass. And this will not change, men will not change until we stop blaming the victim.

We live in a culture which expects different standards from women and men: where it is still believed that women should always monitor, control and adjust their behaviour whilst men reign free and wild and do as they like.

Society won’t function effectively unless we put blame squarely where it lies – with the rapist, the harasser, the man who pinches your arse whether you’re in a Bikini or Burqa.

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