Female Harassment! [Archives:1998/33/Focus]

August 17 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!
By: Najla T. Salim,
Harassment of women is a disease that large cities have become plagued with. Not that I’m a feminist, but I should mention that the problem lies mainly with the male species.
I have heard many complaints from female friends that they can hardly walk a few steps without a man abusing them, either orally or physically. Aah, those awful pinches, and those ugly words!
The situation to which women are exposed are many, disgusting and humiliating. Here is a sample of true stories.
Woman # 1:
I hired a taxi one night at the end of a women’s gathering I was invited to. Upon reaching my destination, I asked the driver to stop. Instead he ignored me and continued to drive. ‘I asked you to stop!’, I repeated with a shrieked voice when I realized what was happening. ‘This guy was kidnapping me.’ Immediately he pulled the car to a halt. On trying to come out, he reached for me. Before I realized, I gave him a good punch in the face. Blood started gushing down his nose. ‘Khalas imshi,’ he shouted at me. I grabbed my bag and dashed out.
Woman # 2:
My place of work is quite far from my home. I have to use a dabbab (micro/mini-bus) to and from work. Every time I board one, I end up frustrated and mad because some man tries to touch me or actually does touch me. One time, I sat opposite a man whose persistent stares I ignored at first. ‘God! If looks could kill, I would be dead by now’, I thought. Unconsciously I looked back at him. He had raised some of his clothings, and was exposing his private parts to me.
‘Stop!’ I screamed to the driver. The driver halted, and on my way out I collided with some girl who wanted to board the same dabbab. I pushed her back and said, ‘Don’t go in there, it is horrible’. That was a nightmare. I felt so dishonored.
Woman # 3:
One late afternoon I hired a taxi. I was alone. Although my destination was not far, though I needed to get here on time.
The driver took off with me on a different route. When I started shouting for help, he pointed at his jambiya. This did not hold me back. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pistol. ‘It is loaded’, he warned. This put me into dead silence.
I crouched myself into a corner and prayed. It was now between me and my Lord. My tears were flowing down my cheeks. He drove for at least an hour and then stopped at a strange place I have never been there before. It was already dark by then. My whole body trembled. ‘Out!’, he shouted. One hand was holding the trigger and the other I noticed was loosening his belt. ‘Please fear God’, I begged repeatedly between tears. He fired the pistol into the air and I remained motionless just mumbling my last prayers. To my surprise, he entered the car and drove the same way he came. He dropped me in town and then disappeared.”
Well that’s a bit of what I’ve heard. Others are just too embarrassing to jot down. It’s a pity that this is happening especially considering that Yemen is a Muslim country – a religion in which women are highly regarded. In contrast, there are countries highly populated with non-Muslims and women walk uncovered and they are hardly bothered. Why should it happen in Yemen?
Well, this leaves a lot to be questioned. I’m not sure who to appeal to, in order to try and correct this situation. Though, as a lady I do feel concerned and here are a few tips to my sisters:
1) As it seems that dabbabs and taxis are the “action zones,” you can do the following.
* Avoid taking a taxi alone, especially at night.
* Do not agree to sit sandwiched between two men. Request politely to sit in a corner. Or else, if a man is sitting in the front seat, ask politely to change seats with him. He can join the group in the back seats.
* Avoid empty dabbabs.
* If there is another lady, sit next to her.
* Avoid taxis whenever you can. Dabbabs are actually safer, as they are a means of group transportation.
* Before you board a car, make sure it has a yellow number plate. Don’t get into a private car.
2) If ever harassed, don’t take it quietly. For example, if a person is making gestures or is trying to talk to you against your will, shout, make any noise. He will withdraw as you attract attention of others.
3) Avoid provocative dresses, or strong perfumes.
4) Respect yourself. Behave in a mature and self-collected way.
5) Self-defense classes might be a good idea too!
I should point out that there are a lot of helpful gentlemen out there. Remember you are not alone. You can enlist the sympathy and support of many people. Thank God, perverts are still a small minority.
(Names of victims with-held at their request).