I have lived in the Middle East (Saudia Arabia and Egypt) for 30 years now. In both countries I have witnessed and been a victim of sexual harassment. One of my earliest memories is of, going to the Mall in Saudi Arabia with my family for an outing and I would be holding either my mother or my father’s hand and Saudi men would try to pinch my behind or try and pinch me in other inappropriate places. At the time I didn’t understand why they would want to do that, I still don’t know what it is about  10 year old girls that would turn on a man. I begged my father to buy me an Abbaya (long black cloak that women wear in KSA to cover themselves up). He fought me tooth and nail and opposed the thought of his daughters having to cover up at such a young age, but when the situation was explained to him, he gave in and willingly bought it. It’s odd how a black cover would act as a protective shield against unwarranted and wanted attention.

When my family and I moved to Egypt in the early 90s, shortly after the first Gulf War, I experienced different kinds of harassment and on different levels. I remember going for walks with my younger sister and mother (who is blond and blue eyed), and constantly being harassed. The men would walk up to her confidently and ask her “how much?” or offer her “1 pound” for her services. The fact that she was married with children didn’t faze them in the least bit! (What high morals they have and great examples of  ‘Good Muslim Men’-NOT). If that wasn’t enough, some men would be a bit sneakier in their approach and try to follow us home to find out where we lived. Luckily we were very observant and would notice their predator tracking behavior and go in to a shop, where we would know the shop keeper and tell him that someone was following us. He, his sons and employees would come to our aid and go out and ‘greet’ the prowler with heavy slaps on the back and rough him up a bit. Other men in the neighborhood would then join in and descend upon the poor guy like a pack of wolves encircling their prey.

As I grew older and matured, the same would happen to me. I would be very conscience of what I would go out wearing in public. I would check and double check that I was conservatively dressed and wouldn’t attract unwanted attention, (Shoulders covered, check! Cleavage covered, Check! Shirt or t-shirt  is below  waist length, Check!) I became paranoid! (I still am to some extent)

The funny thing about that is, it wouldn’t matter how much clothing I wore I would still get harassed by men in the street. I have had cat calls some very flattering but mostly very degrading! I have been groped, grabbed, pinched, rubbed against, followed on foot, followed in cars by men of all ages (including those who are meant to serve and protect us), pushed up against a wall where a guy tried to smother me with his lips and have had someone jump in to my car window and try and put his hands all over me. I have also ( I think everyone has had) the crank callers, the heavy breathers and the ones who are gutsy enough to describe their dirties fantasies on the phone too.  I have so many stories and instances that the list just goes on and  to this day, it still continues to grow…

The instances mentioned above are mine, but I know of many other situations that have happened to people I know. Can you imagine coming out of a building and having a guy push you back in against the iron gates of the elevator and ejaculating on you?! Now tell me that she asked for that, when all she wanted to do was get to her car and go back to the safety of her home.

After an attack like that, you feel dirty and violated. You just want to cry a river and cleanse yourself, but not matter how much soap you use or scrubbing, you can’t get rid of that feeling. It takes a lot of talking, time and support from people who care to get over something like that.

I am tired of having to torture myself by replaying the events back in my mind, action for action wondering and question if I wore something that provoked the attack or if it was my body language, did I look the person in the eye and did they take that as an invitation?  I constantly wonder if I did something to provoke them. Every time, the answer is the same, ‘NO’. If you are going to debate the matter with me and tell me it’s because I’m not veiled then, please stop reading and continue your web browsing elsewhere. Don’t you dare insult my intelligence and say that the reason it happens is because my hair isn’t covered! Don’t! The truth is even women who are veiled are subjected to the same kind of harassment, if not worse!

When are people going to stop being in denial and face the facts?!

We don’t enjoy it and we certainly don’t provoke it! So, if it isn’t us, then hmmm…. I wonder who might be the problem. Whose brain might need to be rewired?

Why is it that (those kind of) men think it’s o.k. to treat women with such disrespect? We aren’t sexual objects or rubbing posts. That isn’t why we were put on the planet. I know that Islam is all about treating women with dignity and respect. So,  can someone please tell me where are they learning this form of behavior? Why have the women been quiet about this for so long?

Last year Community Times dedicated a page every month to sexual harassment and I was one of the contributors. I took the step to come forward because I wanted other women to have courage to speak up and know that they are not alone!

Before the revolution an Egyptian an Arabic movie 678 came out and hit the cinemas across the country. It’s whole purpose was to shed light on sexual harassment in Egypt and how even when you tried to report the incident at a police station women were be belittled or made to feel that they were the reason behind the act. In my opinion it was a powerful movie with a strong message. I hope women here and in the region will answer to the call and stand up for their human rights and take a stand against sexual harassment and bring an end to the tolerance and the acts.

I still think twice about what I’m wearing before walking out the door to go somewhere, but when I am out. I will not allow anyone to touch my body. It is my temple and I will defend it. I will not allow them to turn me in to a defeated or whimpering victim.

I am against sexual harassment and you should be too!

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