Women of Yemen - The Taboo of Sexual Harassment


Although a traditional society which system and values are fiercely embedded in Islamic tradition,s Yemen has a long way to go when it comes to social justice, especially in regards to women.

A report published by al-Hayat - Pan-Arab newspaper - in 2012 alleged a study had shown that 90% of all Yemeni women had at one point or another in their life been subjected to some forms of sexual harassment, verbal or physical, without their perpetrators having ever been challenged by the authorities or the law. Although the figure was challenged by many Yemenis, it is the pernicious and widespread "habit' al-Hayat was trying to draw attention to.

Not surprisingly, given the nature of the problem and the social taboo as well as stigma it carries, women tend to not report such incidents and infringements to their human rights, allowing somewhat such behaviors to persist and perdure.

Yemen is by definition a "Men's World"; and while women are ever increasingly part of the workforce, men still very much feel a women' place is at home, looking after her children and extended family. The fact that many women in this current economy actually have to work to make ends meet seems to be completely beside the point when it comes to men. Many continue to dismiss a woman's desire or need to work down to a selfish whim, a western trend Yemeni girls are trying to emulate to feel more attune with their western counterparts.

More disturbingly, many men continue to be under the impression that working women have looser moral and therefore are partly to be blamed if indeed they become the subject of unwelcomed attentions.
This set of mind has on many levels made the issue of sexual harassment a difficult issue to tackle as women are perceived as being part of the problem rather than the innocent victims of a vile act.

Sadly sexual harassment is not limited to the work place.

Because Yemen society continues to look down on the "fairer sex", women will continue to be victimized and harassed wherever they go.

Many activists have actively campaigned against sexual harassment in Yemen, calling on the government to establish a legal framework which will protect women and punish their attackers, sending a strong message to society.
However, legal reforms alone will fail to address the root of the problem; society's perception of women and women social status in Yemen.

At some point Yemen will have to learn that its women -- its mothers, sisters and daughters -- have as many rights as any other citizen and as such deserve to be respected, protected and more importantly listened to.

Legal Framework
So far no law actually recognizes "sexual harassment" as a violation. Yemen only has an "Offending Acts in Public" which interpretation is often left to the judge.
Article 273 of the Act provisions as criminal "any act which offends public morality or honor, exposes private areas or involves speaking indecently." Under the regulation, the guilty party cannot be condemned to more than six months of imprisonment or fined above 1000 YER - $5 - Because the law fails to define what acts are reprehensible, the authorities are left free to interpret the law as they please or how it best serves them.

Ghaida al-Absi - an activist who wrote on the matter for Open Democracy in 2012 - reported an instance where a young girl in Taiz had been harassed by a policeman and taken into custody when outraged at the comments the man was uttering she dared confront him in public and challenged his behavior.
Because her harasser was in a power position the young woman was taken to jail under the Offending Act, the very law which should have protected her.

Such cases of abuse are rather common in Yemen, mostly in urban settings where men and women are more prone to occupy the same public space -- work, school, markets --

Blame lies with the victim
Although Yemeni women are much more covered than many of their Arab counterparts, a good majority wearing not only the traditional black Abbaya but also the Niqab - black veil covering a woman's face - women are still for some reason considered a highly desirable object for men the second they step away from their home.
A young Yemeni woman joked that Yemeni women should come up with a devise making them invisible to men in order to be left alone. "We need to invent the invisible Abbaya ... And then maybe we will be able to walk down the streets without wanting to hurl something at someone," commented Alya a Yemeni history student in Aden.

Although the logic of their thinking often evade men themselves, many continue to entertain the idea that on some levels women actually instigate the harassment -- by the way they walk or not walk, talk or not talk --
In Yemen very few women can claim to have won the blame game.

This tacit social agreement that women are always to blame, means women tend not to report harassment, by fear of being branded unrespectable or worse, accused of seeking men' attentions.

Safe Streets an NGO focusing on sexual harassment published a series of testimonies highlighting realities on the ground back in 2012 as part of their campaign for women' rights.

It recalled how on one instance a young girl sitting in a public bus dared to confront a man who had been trying to slip his hands through the front seat to stroke her back. Angry she raised her voice, hoping no doubt that her attacker would be shamed by his peers.

Quite the contrary ... Men in the bus complained her behaviour was not "adequate to that of a woman of moral standing" and that she should have, as a woman, remained quiet and respectful. The fact she was being preyed upon by some stranger was completely overlooked and brushed aside as if beside the point.

Fatma, a women working for Yemen LNG reported how for months she had been harassed by her manager by email, not knowing what to do about it. "He used to email me throughout the day, complimenting me on my appearance, my work, my manners ... Anything and everything. He knew I was married and he knew full well he was making me uncomfortable. Because he was my manager I was scared an official complaint would mean I would have to lose my job and suffer ugly gossips. Fatma managed to move department. However her predicament is that of many Yemeni women, who in silence have to suffer abuse.

Commenting on sexual harassment in 2012, Sheikh Jabri Ibraheem Hassan, a religious preacher at the Ministry of Endowment noted how Yemen society needed to change its perception of women before anything positive could be done on the matter.“If the harasser views women as his sister or mother, then he will realize the gravity of the harassment he commits.”

Source: Yemen Post



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