Friday 28 January 2011

Sexual harassment of expat women in Saudi Arabia

I was shocked this could happen in Saudi Arabia, a country where sexual overtures are clamped down with iron fists. I had heard incidents like this happen in malls in Riyadh and Jeddah to fellow Indian women. When one such incident happened to one of my closest friends, when accompanied by her husband in a mall in Khobar, i could not just digest it. Indian men behaving bad in Indian roads and shopping malls, that i have seen many, but bringing such bugging to Saudi Arabia, it is something beyond imagination. My hatred just keeps burgeoning on those Indian expat men who bring their dirty baggage to Saudi malls.
 And i learnt my lesson, the veil doesnt protect women from sexual harassment, its just the adverse.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required to cover up with the burkha, irrespective of their religion and country. Westerners usually cover their body with black abayas and Indian women usually drape their salwar dupattas over their heads. It is indeed a complex issue, Saudi Arabia practises gender segregation everywhere except in hospitals. I am not going to deal in detail about the abaya here, but its about an incident that took place in Lulu Hypermarket Khobar last wednesday. My friend always does her week end shopping in Lulu Khobar on Wednesday evenings, to avoid the hectic rush on week ends- Thursdays and Fridays.

She entered the vegetables section with her two children with her husband tagging behind. He insisted on selecting some vegetables by himself, to save some time and scurried to the other side of display. Left with her two children, she started picking tomatoes when she felt someone prodding her back and when she turned swiftly there was an Indian expat, a male around forties standing with a foolish grin. If it were in India, he would have returned home with a broken tooth atleast, but oh dear, this was Saudi Arabia. Gritting her teeth she hurried to her husband who was standing on the other side and promptly complained to him. He went around and stood a few minutes plainly staring at the offender who now was wary and slowly shifted to the other section. They noted he purchased nothing, simply loitering around the shopping area. This prodding the back always goes on in shopping malls around the country. Especially the Asian women are being targeted by expat men. These maniacs are careful not to lay their fingers on native women, but the same fear must be there when confronting Asians too! The Muttawas always move around these malls and how it goes unnoticed by them is confusing.

Most Asian women just have learnt to live with it, leave alone complain to Religious Police which is a long gruelling process and out of shame and ignorance of the rules regarding this. In other cases, they feel sorry for these men who live alone for years together in solitary confinement. But dears, this is no excuse for prodding unknown abaya clad women in the crowded malls! This menace is growing by leaps and bounds and i am sincerely in the dark as to whom to complain to or what legally can be done in a case like this. Or should Indian women in Saudi Arabia simply grit their teeth and learn to "adjust" with these sexual offenders? Is it not high time something is done to curb this sexual harassment?


  1. Sorry to hear that, but with no knowledge of their legal system, I can't comment on what remedy women, under such circumstances, have. But am absolutely sure that they shouldn't be silently tolerating this. There would be a provision to deal with this.

    As you have mentioned, if that incident had happened here, we know what he would've got and what risk we might be facing on reacting in such a manner. Probably he might decide to back off with that broken tooth or he might return with his colleagues or he might complain to police that you injured him for no fault of his. But in all such eventualities we know what our rights are and our reaction would depend on whether we are comfortable going through that process.

    So, if you ppl know what your rights are, and you want to enforce them, then you shouldn't hesitate to go through the process as per the laws of the land. - Vijayan.

  2. Thanks for your comment Vijayan. In most cases like these, ignorance and inaction remain our bane. Either we just dont want a pandemonium on the issue or we just cannot devote time and energy to go through a legal process. I shall deal with another incident in detail where a friend of mine was shocked to see the police, lawyer network. Will post on that problem soon. Again, many thanks for your valuable comment:)

  3. It was sad to know about your friend.I am very well aware that harassment of women is on the rise here in the kingdom.Offenders need to be punished and this can only be made possible by introducing stringent measures when it comes to the safety of women.I have recently started a group on facebook, "We are against the harassment of women in Saudi Arabia and world over" and am surely going to pen a few words about the same on my blog too.

    But I quite disagree with you that veil does not protect women.How can that be justified?

  4. Hi Salman, thanks for your valuable time and comment on my blog. I am so happy about the Facebook page too. Glad you are taking up the right initiative in the right direction. I don't say a veil does not protect women. All i wanted to say was- despite the fact that women remain veiled, harassment continues, which must obviously be curbed!

  5. Yes indeed.Anyways,I must say your blog is one of the best I have seen.Your writing screams out for attention.How on earth did I not turn up here before.Would be a regular reader henceforth.May you ascend to even higher levels of success.Good going!!!!

  6. Thanks again Salman. Glad you love my blog. Do visit often and pen your valuable comments:)

  7. Dear sister, you should never ignore such behavior, because it encourages such men to continue harrasing more women, and may happen again to another man's sister, mother or wife.

    Belive me, in Saudi Arabia, when it comes to women being harrassed by men, the law is completely on your side, almost to the point that it is sometimes too harsh on the men.

    Immediately report it to the police or call for the authorities. In malls, there are mutawas, so if you have to, make some noise and create a scene to grab attention.

    Protecting your honor is your right.

  8. I would like to suggest this; that someone create a website for posting notices of alleged harassment. Women can try to get names, as often harassers are known. Also they can take pictures. Then anonymously they can post their allegations on the internet for all to see. Posters would need to accept terms of truthfulness and risk of libel complaints. But I think risks of legal action are low provided the site is moderated. Perhaps even a threat of posting a complaint might be enough to cut off some harassment in progress.


  10. Hello CLoud Nine!
    Lovely blog! Can i get your email address please?

  11. Teach ur friend revolution n nt b Gandhian

  12. I lived in Saudi Arabia as an expat for nearly two years and was grabbed, rubbed against and harassed nearly every time I went shopping in town with my mother. In fact, all expat women and young girls I knew experienced this treatment frequently and many times the perpetrators were Saudi men not just men from other Asian or other Arab countries. Sadly, I think with great, heavy-handed repression comes a great deal of perversion.


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