Harassment is No Longer Impolite

Harassment is No Longer Impolite

Friday, 1 June, 2018 - 08:00
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.
The irony is that harassment is a problem of civilized societies and not the opposite, and the challenge lies in how to curb it.

A new measure has been taken in Saudi Arabia where an anti-harassment system was launched following years of deliberations. It would not have been possible to end this debate without last year’s order by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to the interior minister to prepare an anti-harassment law.

The new law was finalized, approved by the Shura Council then by the cabinet, chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The law has been approved four weeks before the decision allowing women to drive cars goes into effect. It is an important step in a critical moment as the decision is not exclusively about driving, but all aspects of life. We all know that verbal abuse is as harmful as physical abuse.

The new law is straightforward and clear in criminalizing harassment. The penalty is two years in prison, which can be extended to five in certain cases. It aim is to “strengthen the protection of human rights and preserve individuals’ privacy and dignity.”

The law is significant because it protects the members of society, particularly women, from bullying. Thousands of women will drive their cars soon and may be subject to verbal harassment in the street, and through media outlets and social networks.

Thousands of women are now working in new unprecedented fields and in companies and shops. Meanwhile, the Saudi patriarchal society has not yet grown accustomed to some of these jobs and this large amount of women in the workforce, where some people still completely reject this idea.

Opening the doors for women to attend art events, go to the cinema, sports stadiums and places of business, as well as open commercial stores and others, requires a law that protects them against insults and verbal intimidation. This is also required for mixed workplaces where ways to deal with cases of sexual harassment has been unclear.

It is strange that sexual harassment was viewed by some as a good deed and as a way to hold women back by humiliating them. The new law will end years of negative neutrality and it now categorizes sexual harassment as a crime that is severely punishable. The law is now the reference. It governs society, leaving no room for some sides to impose their will on others.

The new law reaffirms the new Saudi Arabia. It emphasizes the depth, quality and seriousness of modernization that the government has bravely and fairly introduced. Women were not only given the right to lead an ordinary life just like men, as we have seen in the past two years, but a system has been institutionalized to support them.

We all know that the new anti-harassment law is not new, but it reflects religion and society’s morals and true values, which now need to be put into legal terms after they were infected with foreign diseases and arrogance of Jahiliyyah.

Yesterday’s culture believes that a woman working and leading a life outside the home is a vice and it was difficult to confront this mentality. Who would accept that a woman be insulted or humiliated? Why accept that the strong bully the weak? Those who feared over their female relatives working in shops justified this by saying they were afraid they would be harassed.

The law is now their support and it confirms that the state has the sovereignty and that its rules are everyone’s reference.

The law develops like everything else in our lives. Combating sexual harassment is another pillar in modernization. We have noticed how the drafted law strongly leaned towards protecting the weak, such as children, people with disabilities and those who work under the authority of those who harass them.

Harassment is now no longer a misdemeanor or a sign of poor manners, but it is a crime linked to courts, provisions and penalties that include serving time in prison and paying fines.

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