Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Three years in prison for sexual harassment in the work place

When it comes to sexual harassment, Pakistan seems to be the place to look at for lessons. Last week, the work of a group of activists finally paid off, when the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Law and Justice recommended a draft law which punishes sexual harassment in the work place with up to three years in Prison.

Sexual harassment is a global problem. No matter where you go, you will find women struggling with sexual harassment. The burden becomes easier to tolerate when women get to speak up about it. Unfortunately, women are rarely encouraged to do so, most of the time, the "don't ask, don't tell" strategy seems to be the preferred option.

Not that society doesn't know, in fact sexual harassment is such a common fact in a woman's life that parents often advise their daughters not to go around at any time, to avoid harassment, and husbands believe their wives should work only if that is a necessity, to avoid sexual harassment in the work place.

In Egypt, a pioneer study was made a few years ago, by the Egyptian Center for Women Rights. Where they surveyed 2500 women (Egyptian or not) and men in the streets. The result was a report stating that about 98% of women in Egypt have been victims of Street Harassment. Now the situation in Egypt tends to be extreme, but if you look at the situation in the rest of the Arab World (at least the Arab world that I know), it isn't any better.

No one can really tell why sexual harassment is very frequent in one area and not the other. There are certainly some obvious theories. The first argument presented by most Arabs is that "the girl's outfit was provocative. The first argument that is repeated in the west is "sexual frustration". Sometimes feminists scream "OBJECTIFICATION". Parents on the other hand, often just shake their heads "it's just the way things are, we have to deal with it". A disturbingly common answer I've heard over and over again from sexual predators (and just because the name hints that they may be an awkward minority, in fact they are the majority) is that the girl wants it, she enjoys it.

It scares me to think of all these theories. Street harassment is very complicated and difficult. But still Egyptian sisters managed to make a breakthrough by pushing mainstream media to talk about it. And now Pakistani sisters have managed to at least make the first step to introducing a law that protects from sexual harassment at work. As far as I know, that is a first for most countries in the region.

It kind of makes me dream of the day when my little Lebanon will make its breakthrough also.

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