Yemeni Woman Finds Tool to Cope With Sexual Harassment

Article Summary
Women in Yemen still routinely face sexual harassment, and attempts by the authorities to crack down on groping and catcalls have resulted in little progress. Najlaa Hasslan reports on one woman's all-too-common story: Imane has used her hijab pin to fend off aggressive men, but wouldn't dream of going to the police with a complaint.

Imane, a young Yemeni woman, fastens the scarf around her head with a long pin, which she uses as a weapon against any man on the street or public-bus passenger that harasses her.

“I stabbed his hand,” says Imane, recalling the incident of sexual harassment she endured. “I was riding the bus on my way home from college and I was extremely exhausted when I suddenly felt a hand caressing the lower part of my body.” At first, the young woman could not absorb the awkward reality. “My veins dried out and I could not move. Without thinking, I pulled out the pin that I use to fasten the scarf, grabbed the hand of that man, and then stabbed it several times until he cried in pain and got off the bus.”

In Yemen, there are striking gender differences, with strict kinship roles between the sexes. Yemeni society is a very conservative community steeped in tradition. But today, many Yemeni men, or rather male harassers, try to break with tradition, if indirectly. Those harassers blame women for inappropriate, seductive garb, although women who wear the veil from head to toe are as harassed as frequently as those who only wear a simple abaya (overdress) and headscarf. This stark reality is confirmed by young Yemeni women whose wardrobes vary from the formal, demure cloak to the traditional scarf.

“Why are you shopping at this hour?” Imane was asked in a hostile manner. This question was a slap in the face. She was running errands when a man sexually harassed her. “No one stands beside you if you are a woman. Whenever you go out, you are prone to being sexually harassed; worse yet, you are held responsible for such harassment!” she cried.

Moreover, police and court records include very few reports of sexual harassment incidents. According to the limited studies on sexual harassment, women rarely report their unpleasant experiences to the authorities, because they fear the finger of blame would point to them and their reputations might be sullied. Harassed women even hesitate to use a toll-free phone number to report such an incident.

Security forces have lately deployed “unarmed” forces in markets and crowded places, especially during holidays and Ramadan. Yet, sexual harassment incidents have not decreased as hoped.

Although Yemeni law provides for the imprisonment of any person that harasses a woman, harassers are free to walk the streets with impunity as women still fear to report their personal incidents.

Since that incident, Imane has chosen the pin as her trusty weapon. Although she has not faced further sexual harassment, she always carries with her a pin and confirms that she will never report any similar incident to the police. “I don’t tell my parents about the sexual harassment I suffer in streets. There is no way I would report such incidents to the police! This is out of the question,” she said.

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