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 break this contention except last year when the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques ordered the interior minister to prepare an anti-harassment law.
The new law has been finalized, where the last step was for it to be approved by the Shura Council then by the cabinet chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Opening the doors for women to attend art events, go to the cinema, sports stadiums, places of business as well as commercial stores and others requires the law’s protection against insults and verbal intimidationAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Significance of an anti-harassment system
The law has been approved four weeks before the decision allowing women to drive cars goes into effect. It is an important measure in a critical moment as the decision is not exclusively about driving but is related to all aspects of life. We all know that verbal abuse is as harmful as physical abuse.
The new system is straightforward and clear in criminalizing harassment. The penalty is two years in prison which can be extended to five years in specific cases, and its aim is to “strengthen the protection of human rights and preserve individuals’ privacy and dignity.”
The significance of this system is to organizing society and protect its members, particularly women, from bullying. Thousands of women will drive their cars soon and may be subjected to verbal harassment in the street, and on platforms, 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 gotten used to some of these jobs and this large amount of women workforce, where there are still some who completely reject this idea.
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Opening the doors for women to attend art events, go to the cinema, sports stadiums, places of business as well as commercial stores and others requires the law’s protection against insults and verbal intimidation. This is also required for mixed workplaces where how to deal with cases of sexual harassment has been foggy.
What’s strange is that sexual harassment was viewed by some as a good deed and as a deterring tool that aims to hold back women by humiliating them. The new system ended years of negative neutrality and it now categorizes sexual harassment as a crime that is severely punishable. The system is now the reference. It governs society and there’s no place for one’s guardianship over another.
The new Saudi Arabia
The new law reaffirms the new Saudi Arabia. It emphasizes the depth, quality and seriousness of modernization that the government bravely and fairly introduced. Women were not only given the right of an ordinary life like men, like we’ve seen in the developments in the past two years, but also institutionalized a system that supports them.
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We all know that the new anti-harassment system is not new, it merely reflects religion and the society’s morals and original values which now needs to be written out and placed into legal molds after they were infected with foreign diseases and arrogance of Jahiliyyah.
Yesterday’s culture thinks working and practicing life outside home is a vice; therefore, it was difficult to confront this culture. Who accepts that a woman be insulted or humiliated? Why accepts that the strong bullies the weak? Those who feared for their female relatives to work in shops justified this fear by saying they were afraid they’d be harassed.
The system is now their support, and it confirms that the state has the sovereignty and that its rules are everyone’s reference.
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The law develops like everything else in our lives. Combating sexual harassment is another pillar in modernization and organization. We’ve noticed how the drafted system 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 impolite, but it’s a crime in which there are courts, provisions and penalties that include serving time in prison and paying fines.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.