By Johanna Higgs and Amal Ben Hadda
Rabat – Sexual harassment, lecherous stares in the street, inappropriate, degrading sexual comments, stalking and unwanted touching. Throughout the world, it’s a problem. Depending on where you and who you’re with, such actions can occur everyday, all day.
Sexual harassment affects your ability to move peacefully throughout the day. Relentless taunts and aggressive staring make it impossible for you to go peacefully to school or to work, to travel on a bus or go down to the shop to buy food. In fact, it ruins your ability to do just about anything peacefully.
You fear going out on the street because you never know when the harassment is going to happen, or whose going to do it. But it happens frequently enough to know with certainty, that it will happen.
So you move about your day with a certain amount of fear.
Though the real problem with sexual harassment, is that it is incredibly demeaning. As men holler out sexual obscenities or stare with unabashed aggression, it sends a message that you are nothing more than a sexual object. You are being told that you have little worth and that you are not quite fully human.
The degrading nature of sexual harassment is made worse by the suggestion that it is somehow, acceptable. Many suggest that men are allowed to harass women if they decide her clothing is ‘too sexual.’ What is ‘too sexual’, is of course completely up to the harasser.
The problem is global. Regardless of what country you are from, what colour you are, what religion you have or what social class you come from, women everywhere are subject to this offensive, sexual behavior from men.
And everywhere around the world, women don’t like it.
We are two women from incredibly different backgrounds. Coming from Australia and Morocco, we were brought up in very different cultural climates with different religious beliefs.
Yet we share the same problem.
We came together to write this article to show, that regardless of where you come from, women are sexually harassed. Most importantly, we want to say that regardless of where you come from, women are offended by sexual harassment.
Morocco is a largely traditional Muslim society where women are judged on the way they dress. Most women are subject to a kind of intuitive checklist where it is decided whether her clothing makes her eligible to be respected or not, at least in the eyes of some arrogant and disrespectful men.
Are her pants tight or loose? Is the skirt under or above the knee? How long are the sleeves? Is she walking with heels? How bold is her make up?
For men who believe that women should be dressed in Islamic clothing, there are “official” Hijab rules, where she is expected to cover in a certain way and ensure that her curves are not visible. If she does not comply with these rules, then some of these men may decide that it is acceptable to harass or insult her instead of “lowering their gaze” as they’re really asked to do by the Quran.
Some men think even that women should be thankful for their rude comments believing that their behavior is “flattering”. Yet, when asked if they would like to see their female relatives being the recipients of such “flattering” behavior, they often go silent or try to justify their argument with ridiculous statements.
In Australia, similar disrespectful attitudes and behavior exist. While the style of clothing that women are expected to adhere to may be a little different and less conservative than those in Morocco, the idea that a woman should be covered to a certain extent, in order to be respected, is the same.
There are still those who believe that if a woman is sexually assaulted or raped, and her skirt was ‘too short’, then she is to be blamed. Such attitudes translate into behavior that justifies sexual harassment.
According to the Australia Institute in 2015, 87% of women interviewed reported verbal or physical assault when walking in the street.
In Morocco, it is difficult to get accurate statistics on sexual harassment for a number of reasons. Most women do not report sexual harassment because they believe that they won’t be believed or will be accused of having provoked the aggressor. Many women are also fed up and feel that due to the relentless nature of the harassment, it won’t do any good to complain.
What is of the greatest concern however, is that some women have forgotten that they should have the right to walk in the street peacefully, so they just accept harassment as normal.
Fortunately, in Morocco feminists, who have the support of a large proportion of respectful men, have been successful in implementing a new law which punishes men who sexually harass women. The new law proposes that, ‘any person who commits physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature, in the public space, shall be sentenced from one to six months in jail, or will be subject to a fine or both.’
In Australia, the feminist movement is also growing. Women, and men, are increasingly standing up to these misogynistic attitudes that not only promote violence but justify men’s right to disrespect and assault women. Yet it is not enough. Violent attitudes that defend men’s rights to disrespect women on the basis that her clothing or behavior is too ‘provocative,’ are still far too prevalent.
Much more action is needed.
Sexual harassment is a direct attack on another human being. The intention of sexual harassment is aggression and no excuses should not be made to understand it in any other way. Women should not have to fight to make it understood that this behavior from men is disrespectful, rather it should be just understood that sexual harassment is a crime, like any other criminal act.
It is absolutely essential that we change attitudes and demand harsher punishments for the men who sexually harass and assault women, so that we can bring to an end this terrible behavior that disrupts the ability of so many women around the world to live their lives with the peace and security that they deserve.