The LA Times has just reported that the King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, conducted a survey and found that 80% of the Saudi population “blame the scourge of sexual harassment plaguing the country on the ‘deliberate flirtatious behaviour’ of women.”
The same article noted that the World Economic Forum global gender gap map gives the country a “zero” on the measure of women’s political empowerment.
One Saudi activist was quoted as saying that “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. Our society is not built on mutual respect or accepting differences, even when it comes to something as God-given as gender.”
Lack of exposure to the opposite sex was also given as an explanation: only 16% of Saudi women are employed, Saudi women aren’t allowed to drive, and in most regions are discouraged from appearing in public without a male relative or the abaya, hijab and niqab.
Seems that in traditional and/or closed societies, efforts at “modernization,” or attempts to change or break traditional cultural models — especially rapidly — often result in death-grip holds on the old ways by those who feel most threatened, which can lead to or include harassment or other violent acts, efforts to restrict birth control or abortion, disparate wages, etc. And casting the victim as the cause of his/her victimization is part of the syndrome.
What is to be done? Seems that besides appropriate legislation, there must be education, outreach and sensitivity training and social condemnation for such acts. In the Saudi case, this may take some time.