Are women unsafe on Saudi streets?

Are women unsafe on Saudi streets?

Shahd Alhamdan
Saudi Gazette

[button color="" size="" type="square" target="" link=""]JEDDAH[/button] — Numerous videos have appeared online showing women facing harassment while walking in cities such as Dammam, Jeddah and most recently Taif.

Today, many women worry about facing verbal, or even physical, harassment while walking alone, especially in public places such as streets, shopping malls or the Corniche.

According to a 2014 study on women aged between 18 and 48 years in the Kingdom, 78 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment directly, 27 percent said they had been verbally harassed and 15 percent reported being physically harassed.

Of the respondents, 92 percent believed sexual harassment was on the rise in the Kingdom.

With statistics like this, many women feel not safe enough to walk the Kingdom’s streets alone.

Shahad Ziyad, a Saudi student in her 20s who spoke with Saudi Gazette, said: “Harassment is the terror of this era. I cannot feel safe any more with what is happening.”

Dalya Yousef, a Saudi woman in her late 20s who works in the private sector, said: “I don't go out a lot, to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

I feel safe in the streets to a certain level, but I cannot walk alone because I get harassed by teenagers, who are not only Saudis but of all nationalities.”

Many blame what they perceive to be a lack of awareness on women’s rights and point to the Kingdom’s restrictions on gender mixing, which they believe is to blame for harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Yet some females have found ways to feel safe on the Kingdom’s streets. Heba, a graduate student in her late 20s who spoke with Saudi Gazette, explained that she does not feel uncomfortable walking down the street.

Athari Homod, a graduate student in her late 20s, said: “I feel safe in the streets because I learned how to protect myself and avoid such situations.

Also, I do believe that these kinds of cases are still rare in our society and I hope it will disappear soon.

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“As a Muslim country, we should show to the world how women are respected in Islam, not the converse.”

Homod says harassment is never justified, regardless of the assailant’s reasons or where a victim may have been walking. She believes that any woman has the right to go out and be at any place she likes.

“How each individual woman behaves in the street does not give anyone the right to harass her or insult her. In fact, if you do not agree with her behavior, you should simply ignore her, because in the end Allah said, ‘No one bears the burdens of another’.

Allah is the only one who can judge our intentions and actions. Furthermore, if you dislike her action, you can advice her, not harass her,” Homod said.

Some blame the diverse nature of the country’s population as one of the reasons for increasing harassment cases, while others blame a lax enforcement of the law.

Ziyad argues that society as a whole is at fault, followed by the government. She says there is no law against harassment.

“The reason is there is no awareness and education. It's not a new thing but it's getting worse because of the diverse nationalities living in the country.

And the population is getting bigger and bigger. The most important thing is, we don't have any pedestrian rights. With no rules and regulations to follow, people's behavior is getting worse,” Yousef said.

For some women the rate of sexual harassment cases has remained the same, the only difference is the wide publicity they receive now. “I don't think there is an increase in cases of harassment.

The only reason why we hear about it now is because of social media. Everyone has a new phone with camera in their pockets these days,” Homod said.

She argued that people are now more aware of their rights and are not afraid to speak out against harassment and ask for it to stop.

She said she used to hear about cases of harassment in the past, but at that time videos were not available as evidence.

“Women are the country’s new economic force, and they will be everywhere. I am kind of happy that these issues become discussed in public so the government can take action to stop it for ever,” Homod said.