Activists slam findings of Saudi sexual harassment study
Eighty percent of those surveyed believe female “deliberate flirtatious behavior” to be the source of the problem
A study conducted by a research center in Saudi Arabia has garnered mixed views amongst commentators, after 80 percent of people in the national survey attributed an increase in harassment to the “deliberate flirtatious behavior” of women.
The survey, undertaken by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue in Riyadh, quizzed 992 participants across the country. Roughly equal numbers of men and women were surveyed.
Many of those questioned said women deliberately wore their clothes and makeup to attract male attention, while a majority of 91 percent said “lack of religious restraint” is another reason behind gender-based harassment in the Kingdom.
“This report reflects an ongoing cycle within our community that blames any negative connotation within our society on the weakness of one’s religious beliefs, and on women” said Yara al-Wazir, a columnist for Al Arabiya News who focuses on youth and women's rights.
“Society is not built on mutual respect or accepting differences, even when it comes to something as God-given as gender,” she said in response to the statistics.
Muna Abusulayman, a prominent media personality in the Arab world, says all countries have had to deal with sexual harassment adding, “laws and regulations were implemented.”
However, almost 80 percent of those surveyed said a lack of “systems to stop sexual harassment” is another factor, while 77 percent cited “lengthy penal processes.”
Not yet worked out
Abusulayman chose to discuss the novelty of a mixed-gender work environment in Saudi Arabia in response to the findings of the survey, “and as with everything new, the process has not been worked out” she told Al Arabiya News.
“There needs to be a dress code as well as regulations and training at the workplace that are for both men and women to help explain what is appropriate” she explained.
Commenting on the 80 percent who said “deliberate flirtatious behavior” was a reason behind harassment, al-Wazir explains that a lack of exposure to the opposite sex “in the formative years leads to inexperience, which encourages overanalyzing of simple actions such as a smile, suggesting that is flirtation.”
Since little information on the methodology adopted for the study is revealed, and only one age bracket is identified in the survey, the findings may well be an indicator of the center’s “own beliefs,” she added.
However, Wazir brands the study as “a milestone in addressing the fact that women are indeed subject to high rates of harassment in the region.”
“Perhaps it will encourage legislation against perpetrators, both in the public, and especially in the workforce,” she added.
According to a statement on the center’s website, 77 percent of those surveyed said a lack of legal consequences is another reason behind sexual harassment, while 81 percent cited weakness of social responsibility.
The results of the survey are available in a video on the center's Youtube Channel.
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