I wonder how Richard Dawkins would see this – as an example of something he cares passionately about, or as an example of something women should just put up with because there are worse things?
“May God protect you and your family,” it begins. Perhaps not considered harassment to some, but to the women who experience it daily, the intent is obvious. “I want to know you.” “Good Morning.” “What nice eyes. “Nice body.” “Let’s have lunch together.” Yemeni women are used to hearing phrases like these the second they step away from their homes.
Some women have become accustomed to such harassment and see it as an inevitable but minor daily annoyance. For others, it can be emotionally exhausting, leading them to change the kind of clothing they wear, the route they take to school or work, and the transport they take to get there.
Street harassment is not limited to Yemen, but is a world-wide phenomenon. The blame for harassment is often put on women instead of the male perpetrators.
It’s a world-wide phenomenon. Hmm. So is the solution to the Dawkins Dilemma to decide it’s bad when it happens in Yemen, India, Egypt and the like, and harmless when it happens in the US? (It’s not clear to me what Dawkins’s view is of UK women who complain of harassment. Are they bad because not Yemeni, or good because not American? I don’t know. He did specify it’s American women who make him impatient, but maybe that’s because the reporter he was talking to is American and he wanted to be polite.)
Whether the harassers believe their behavior is acceptable or not, they know they can easily get away with it. Men are often excused for bad behavior, with some people reasoning that it’s simply ‘the way men are,’ while women are held responsible.
That’s true in a number of areas. That too is not limited to Yemen.
While teenagers are a major source of harassment directed towards women, middle-aged men are by no means exempt. Even children sometimes harass women in the streets.
Rawan, an 18-year-old high school student, said while she was walking in the street, a child, who she guessed was around the age of 12, approached her and said “Let’s have lunch together today.”
On the other side of the age spectrum, Lamia, a 22-year-old Sana’a University student in the Faculty of Arts, notes there are also a lot of middle-aged harassers. Lamia said she felt most afraid of this demographic compared to young men because they often say more obscene words and can be more persistent.
As the famous Yemeni proverb says, “what you don’t accept for your sister, don’t accept for others.”
While there are notable organizations in Yemen promoting women’s rights, there is a lack of effort towards discouraging and solving the issue of verbal harassment in the streets. At least that is Abdu, a pharmacist thinks. “I call on civil organizations, the media, policy makers, and the security personnel to join in solidarity with this issue,” she said.
I wonder how many famous Yemeni men there are telling reporters how impatient they get with Yemeni women complaining of street harassment when there are women in Mali who can’t even afford to buy a burqa.